Tag Archives: Productivity

Overwork: Preventing burnout

Rules-of-ProductivityAs discussed in the previous post, overwork can easily lock you into a vicious cycle leading to complete burnout (even if it is related to a subject that really inspires you). Burnout is a terribly frustrating experience, especially if you are used to being highly productive. It destroys inspiration and natural interest and, if not properly dealt with, can lead to months of grinding below-par productivity. It is certainly to be avoided at any cost.

This post will therefore discuss a few ways in which you can build an environment in which burnout is automatically prevented. As with all other guidelines given on this blog, the central principle is constructing a micro-environment where doing the right thing happens automatically and naturally.

The first and most important guideline is to set up a range of relaxing activities which you have no choice other than to attend. Regular sports practices, music practices, poker evenings or family outings fall in this category. These are typical events which you might resist going to at first, but, when you are actually there, you suddenly become very glad that you actually went. A fixed schedule of such activities will give your mind a welcome (and automatically enforced) break from your primary occupation and will definitely have a significant positive influence on your productivity (and your general life satisfaction).

Secondly, it really helps to ensure that your immediate working environment contains some healthy distractions such as a musical instrument, a pair of free-weights or just a fairly quiet walking path where you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Whenever you feel like your focus is waning, it can be very helpful to take a break and make use of one of these distractions. And no, Facebook or YouTube don’t count as healthy distractions.

Finally, it is very helpful to ensure that your environment contains some opportunities for quiet time whenever your mind becomes overburdened. Just a few minutes on a quiet rooftop, in a quality massage chair or following a slow yoga routine can really provide a very welcome rebalancing of your internal chemistry after a period of sustained effort. Taking a few minutes to just decouple and take a step back can also lead to valuable productivity-boosting insights. 

I again have to emphasize that it is vital to build these guidelines into your environment. If you just make a new-year’s resolution that you will maintain a better work-life balance, but leave your environment unchanged, I can guarantee you that nothing will come of it. Invest the little bit of effort necessary to set up this intelligent micro-environment. It is definitely worth it.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Overwork: The vicious cycle

work-vs-inspirationThe vicious cycle of overwork is one of the biggest enemies of highly productive people. It goes like this: the more overworked you become, the less productive you become, the longer hours you feel you have to work, the more overworked you become. This is frustrating, demoralizing and unhealthy and can kill your healthy obsession before you ever get the chance to really produce something of note.

Breaking the vicious cycle of overwork is quite simple really (in theory): You simply have to realize that there exists an optimum number of hours you can work in a given week, month or year before your productivity (and various other areas in life) start to suffer. The less simple part is finding out where that number lies and sticking to it in daily life.

One thing that really helps in this regard is to actually work all the time you work. It is amazing how many people think that working and going to work is exactly the same thing. It’s not. Two people can be at the office for exactly the same number of hours, but have vastly different outputs, simply because the one allows himself to be constantly distracted by everything imaginable, while the other puts his head down, really gets into the job and then allows the brain’s natural interest in the subject to drive him forward, forgetting about time, forgetting about eating and never even thinking about the myriad of distractions that plague the working man of today.

If you really have found your healthy obsession, it will take only a few minutes of conscious focus to kick-start a long period of near-optimal productivity. In fact, this is one of the most natural tests of a healthy obsession. If you repeatedly fail to get your brain to naturally focus on the subject matter at hand, you really should carefully consider whether this really is your calling. And remember; you always have the option of shifting down instead of shifting up.

If you have truly found your healthy obsession, however, one of the best skills you can develop is the skill of recognizing the vicious cycle of overwork already at an early stage and taking corrective action regardless of how difficult it might be. Ignoring these warning signals can bring only grief and frustration. The next post will look at some strategies for preventing the vicious cycle of overwork and get out quick if it starts to suck you in.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Taking mental control to the top level

There is this old saying: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” Earning the title of the busiest person – the person whose time is constantly in high demand – is not easy, especially in the tough economic times we face today. Doing this requires a sustainable shift up in performance as described in the previous section of this mental control category, but even this is not quite enough. The following few posts will therefore discuss the last few details necessary for complete mental control.

OverwhelmIn particular,  two primary “busy person” challenges will be discussed in quite some detail over the following posts: overwork and overwhelm. If not managed well, these two factors can completely ruin potentially great contributions to society by sapping energy, enthusiasm and focus. However, if you manage to set up your working environment in such a way that you can capitalize on the most lucrative opportunities coming your way without burning out or getting lost in a marsh of multitasking, some very cool things can happen.

Making a truly meaningful contribution without falling prey to overwork and overwhelm is very challenging though. It requires a good deal of discipline, some honest prioritizing and regular, but polite use of the word “no”. Most importantly, however, it requires an intelligent micro-environment where a healthy balance and sufficient focus happens automatically. We will build such an environment in this section.

the brainFinally, to put the next few posts in the correct perspective, it can be useful to quickly summarize the mental control philosophy followed in this category of the One in a Billion project. Mental control is about using your limited willpower to set up intelligent micro-environments where the desired behavior happens automatically (basic control), harnessing the brain’s most powerful drivers for good and productive purposes (intermediate control), and taking good care of your brain when you reach that high performance zone (advanced control).

Such a brain can sustain remarkably high performance and creativity almost effortlessly and, frankly speaking, is quite possibly the most valuable thing in the world. If you want to become truly wealthy (in every sense of the word), developing such a brain is the best place to start.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Mythical utopia manipulation: Shifting up – Part II

do what you love what you doNote: In order to make sense of this weird heading, please check out Part I of this post.

OK then, let’s continue the discussion on how we can tap into the brain’s most fundamental drivers in order to gain the productivity needed to make truly meaningful contributions to society. As discussed in the previous post, this is best achieved by gaining something called a “healthy obsession” – a state where your mind automatically returns time and time again to some important idea that can add great value to society if further developed.

In order to gain access to this magical and extremely productive state, we have to utilize the fact that free creative expression is one of the most direct routes to happiness and fulfillment. And in order to do that, we first have to understand the distinction between creation and labor.

In simple terms, labor is production for the primary purpose of earning a living while creation is production for the primary purpose of personal growth and fulfillment. Labor is typically incentivized by a financial reward such as a salary or a commission, while creation is typically incentivized by the desire to know more, do more and be more.


It is important to clarify right away that you will never be able to develop a healthy obsession about work that qualifies as labor. Indeed, you will only be able to develop a healthy obsession about an idea or problem that you care about very deeply – something that you would be willing to work on for minimum wage if need be. In other words; you have to be willing to trade the happiness to be gained from consumption for the happiness to be gained from free creative expression (which is an excellent trade of course).

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people living in our modern society would choose consumption over free creative expression any day of the week. That is why the vast majority of people are laborers and not creators. But anyone who is willing to make the initial material sacrifices needed to start building a healthy obsession will be rewarded with much happiness and fulfillment and, eventually, also the great financial rewards that must come to anyone who makes a great contribution to society.

einstein-learningSetting up an environment where you are free to start building on your healthy obsession can be practically very challenging and will be discussed in more detail in a future post. For now, however, it is only important to emphasize that a healthy obsession works as a self-strengthening spiral – a number of self-strengthening spirals actually: The more you learn, the more you want to learn. The more knowledge and ideas you have, the more building blocks you have from which to construct new knowledge and ideas. The more skilled you become, the more joyous the process of practicing this skill becomes.  The more value you add to society, the more motivation for further value creation you will receive from others. 

Once these compounding self-strengthening spirals build up a head of steam, there will be no stopping you. But, just like a train, your healthy obsession will probably require quite a lot of time and effort to get going. This process can be quite challenging and will be discussed in more detail in two posts’ time as promised above.

Before we get to that, however, we will look at the other option for mythical utopia manipulation: shifting down – a process with its own set of challenges and rewards.

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

Mythical utopia manipulation: Shifting up – Part I

Another post, another weird heading. For those who are frowning quite deeply right now, please allow me to recap: In a previous post, we saw that the brain naturally blows up the potential pain or pleasure that might come from any given future event, something I like to call “mythical utopias” or “artificial hells”. This primitive human drive towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain has a profound (and often destructive) influence on our actions and, as discussed in the preceding post, the aim of the next few posts will be to harness this power for good.

shifting-gears We also saw in the introduction to the mental control category that the amazing power available to anyone taking more complete control over his/her body/mind can be applied in two ways: shifting up or shifting down. Shifting up implies that you use your greatly increased productivity to increase your productive outputs, thereby making great contributions to society. Shifting down implies that you decouple from the materialistic rat-race to decrease your working hours (and your consumption) and devote more time and energy to ensuring the lasting health and happiness of yourself and your loved ones.

This particular post will explore ways in which we can manipulate our instinctive drive towards instant pleasure in order to shift up our production and make great contributions to society. You may not believe it at first, but I think that it is safe to say that the majority of the world’s progress is due to this kind of mythical utopia manipulation. In the personal development literature, the state I’m referring to here is often called a “healthy obsession”.

A healthy obsession is a state in which your mind automatically returns again and again to a specific problem or idea that, if solved or further developed, can be of great value to society. The greatest thinkers in history – people like Einstein, Newton, Tesla, da Vinci and Edison – have all tapped into the power of their healthy obsessions to work ridiculous hours for years on end in order to create the amazing material comforts we take so much for granted today.

Edison failure quoteA healthy obsession occurs when your mind naturally links great amounts of instant pleasure to productive actions. To give a simple example: it is safe to say that Thomas Edison linked at least the same amount of pleasure to the act of experimenting with thousands of different concepts for generating light from electricity in his lab as a normal person would link to watching a good movie with a big bowl of chips on his lap. People spending most of their time in front of the TV with a bowl of chips end up as broke and obese, while people spending most of their time chasing their dream in the lab end up revolutionizing the world. That is the power of a healthy obsession.

So, the next question is therefore quite obvious: how do I get myself one of these healthy obsessions? From my experience, this can be done by leveraging the fact that, as discussed in a previous post, free creative expression is one of the most direct routes to happiness. Because of this clear link between creative expression and happiness, creative work can easily develop into a self-strengthening spiral.

Setting up such a self-strengthening spiral of free creative expression will be the topic of part II of this post.

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

Fitness example: Keep on moving

One of the most important fitness realizations I have had on my journey to good health is the importance of a solid passive fitness environment. The human body was made to move regularly in order to accomplish the day’s work, but now that fossil fuels are doing all the work for us, our bodies regularly stagnate for hours on end. This is totally unnatural and it really is no wonder that we have a degenerative disease epidemic on our hands.

It therefore is vitally important that you incorporate some regular motion into your day (1, 2). And the good news is that doing this is quite easy and can significantly boost your productivity. Here is how I do it:

I have a typical sedentary job where my purpose is to sit in front of the PC and run reactor simulations the whole day. The trick therefore lies in finding ways to put in many hours on the computer and still move regularly throughout the day. The key ingredient in doing this is having a raise and lower desk which allows you to stand and work for extended periods of time. I have three of these: one at work, one in my home office and one in my little home recording studio.

The home office one is shown in the image below. I don’t even have to move that desk on the right hand side one up and down since I just stand while working on the computer and when my legs feel a little tired I move to the comfortable chair in front of the TV. My PC is connected to my TV via an HDMI cable so that it doubles as a large computer screen which I control via wireless keyboard and mouse.

Whenever I have to write a first draft of any kind, I take one minute to change the setup slightly (shown below) and put on my wireless headset so that I can walk around the room, dictate to my computer (which displays on the TV) and also use the keyboard and mouse whenever convenient. Aside from being very healthy, this is also a very efficient way of producing written material.

I’ll freely admit that this setup is probably only practical for a single engineer in his twenties and most normal people might want a more stylish solution 😉 But give this a thought and see what your mind comes up with. Such an arrangement is very practical, works very efficiently and is essential to maintain the good health of anyone who spends a lot of time on the computer. I highly recommend it.