3 tricks to be more productive

It’s been a busy month. Right now, I am sitting in a cottage in Oxford, with limited connection and signal. The rationing of social media, cooking, and long weekend has given me time to not talk to people, draft my article for Simple Programmer, rejig my investments, work on some documentation for Imperial College London’s computational medicine projects, get some reading and cooking done, and write this post.

When you have many plates spinning, you will hit slow periods. It’s unavoidable. However, I have received many emails and messages from people asking how I manage to get the stuff I am doing done, manage to write, and stay informed on the politics of the day. Many have started a side project and it never amounted to anything. In face to face conversation, I usually project a stereotype such as having no social life. This is down to politeness. A person talking to me in passing conversation doesn’t volunteer to be sat down and explained in detail. This is what this blog is for, people who set aside some time to read about a particular subject. Seeing as we are coming up to a time to slow down, meet the family, and travel home, here are three tricks to get the most out of my time:

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Love what you do 

This is fairly cheesy and most rational people will be rolling their eyes at this statement. I get what you’re thinking, every man and his dog tells people to love what they do. Telling people to love what they do is very easy and lazy, and because of this, there is no shortage of laid back…. relaxed people dishing this out as advice without any useful information. Lines like: “do a job you love and you never have to work a day in your life”, are about as useful as me telling a single mother in Norfolk who didn’t go to university that she could sort out her money problems if she became an investment banker in the center of London. A lot of people don’t have the luxury to do what they want, strategic considerations, what’s available, and what sort of situation someone is in dictates their job. Asking someone to be passionate about their job is a tall order. Even the privileged who get to do their dream job, struggle with this concept. Instead, focus on a particular part of the job you like. Work out the variables of that task, can it be improved? Are people doing this task a different way? Are there educational materials around this task? If not, could you make them? Once you’ve improved this task, can this improvement be applied to other jobs and fields? People who shook their heads at some of my quirky fascinations, and told me to “play the big game” are now writing to be asking for advice now my interests are spanning multiple fields and boosting my career. Now you’ve picked your focus what’s a good starting point?

Start Small 

With passion, it’s easy to run away with it and aim for the stars. This is how projects and goals fail big. I have had my fair share of failing projects. These happened when I had grand plans. This all depends on the risk-reward tradeoff that you’re willing to play with your life. You only get one, do not let Hollywood trick you into thinking it projects real life. To put this into context lets think of two brothers living in a village. Both are unhappy with the poverty, and unfairness in the world and they both decide to do something about it (they’ve already outachieved most of the moaners on the internet at this point). Brother A decides enough is enough! He is going to change the country, and influence how laws are made in central government. Brother B is a bit more humble in his goals. He know’s how the community works, and he has a plan. He is going to go to the local council meetings, put pressure on areas where he thinks will benefit the community. He aims to give one evening a week away for running a local soup kitchen, and he convinces a local lawyer to give legal advice to attendees of the soup kitchen. Nine times out of ten, which brother would have the more rewarding life? Which one is more likely to get up and keep working towards his goal?

The smaller projects that I have spent my time on, lead to me having a bigger impact.

Don’t Try and Mind Read 

This sounds like a bit of a joke, and I’ve gone on about it before, but seriously don’t try and do this. People from all walks of life keep trying to read the minds of others who they barely know or have never met. It’s all the rage in politics. He did this because he’s this, you’re saying this because you think this. I find myself doing it from time to time but my most focussed, fulfilling, rewarding and productive times usually come when I’m actively not doing this, and acknowledging gaps in my information because of this. This came to my understanding when after a few heated discussions with people who knew me a little but not very much. The motives they were claiming that I have been so out of whack, it was shocking. But why should I have been shocked? Mind reading has failed every scientific test.

We’re not being swarve or smart proclaiming that we know why someone is doing or saying something. All we’re doing it shows complete lack of empathy. A person has had decades of different experiences and learning opportunities. It’s nothing short of arrogant to think that you can mind read. It doesn’t offer any solutions, and you’re most probably wrong. Stick to the facts and don’t waste your time.

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