Overcoming procrastination: 6 common causes and 10 ways to stop

In Latin, the word for tomorrow is cras.
The combination of the prefix pro- (forward), and the suffix -crastinus (until the following day), make up our word procrastination.

Procrastination is the tendency to avoid taking meaningful action, usually way beyond “the following day”.

We all experience procrastination in some form.
Sometimes it’s particularly evident, like playing video games instead of working on a particular task.
Other times it’s much more sophisticated, like making over-complicated plans on how to tackle a particular task.
Don’t be fooled: inaction and unnecessary action are forms of procrastination, just under a different guise.

“Never confuse movement with action.”
— Ernest Hemingway

In this post, we look at the most common causes and forms of procrastination, and then list the most effective solutions to overcome and stop procrastination. (Click the links to navigate).
causes of procrastination

Causes of procrastination

What causes procrastination?
Hundreds of studies have been done on this phenomenon.
Here are the most common sources.

Past failures

Past attempts can set expectations for future ones.
If you’re working on something that…wasn’t very successful in the past, you likely have a negative association with actually completing what you’re working on. As long as you keep it “work in progress”, you’re in a safe place away from further failures.

For example, this could be…a bad experience giving a talk or sharing a presentation in the past. The longer you can drag preparing the new presentation, the longer you can avoid facing that fear.

Bad past experiences also set low expectations (“it won’t work anyway”), which can be pretty demotivating.

Poor focus and bad habits

Your ability to concentrate and give your attention to one thing at a time for…a sustained period of time it’s something we train through our everyday choices.
However, in today’s world most people train themselves to have very poor mental performance, accepting interruptions and doing multiple things at once.

This is a recipe for disaster. Studies have conclusively shown how multitasking is a lie: the brain keeps switching between tasks, losing power and effectiveness in the meantime.
By accepting distractions in your life, you are actually training yourself to have a world-class short attention span.

Unsupportive peer group

As the saying goes, “hang around four serial procrastinators, and you’ll become the fifth”.
Yes, I just made that up.

But the people around you have a massive impact on the standard you expect of yourself.
They will show you what’s possible and what’s acceptable.
Not only that: the wrong people will actually want you to get as little done as possible, just so they don’t have to question their own performance and feel bad.

Unclear goals

Having unclear goals like “change” or “…not my current situation” or “lose some weight”, are very difficult to be motivated towards, and are also…difficult to start.
Make sure you set clear long and short-term goals, and make them actionable.
You can start from here.

Unactionable goals

Big goals are great, but unless you break them down into milestones, they can be incredibly daunting. This can make you feel so far away from your destination, unable to take action: not only you don’t know where to start from, but the outcome feels so big and distant that we tend to overestimate the chances of failure and…decide not to do anything instead.
Make sure you break your goals down, then celebrate your achievements to keep momentum up.

Low energy levels

Having low energy levels doesn’t help when it comes to taking action.
Feeling sluggish can be due to a variety of factors, the most likely ones being…your nutrition, your fitness levels, and…your sleep.

If you feel sluggish, check your sleep first thing.
Sleep deprivation reduces your mental performance, your body’s ability to recover, and causes an overall reduction of glucose going to the pre-frontal cortex and parietal lobe. In other words, you become more emotional and less capable of rational thinking. Being less effective means that you need more time to get things done, and take even more time away from sleep.
This starts a (very) negative sleepless warp.

Taking a nap and giving yourself permission to sleep is totally cool, and it will help you work on what really matters.

Ultimately, procrastination is a form of fear.
Whether you are afraid of taking action and failing, or taking action and succeeding (and therefore having to deal with change, new unknown problems, but also with the possibility to lose what you have worked hard for), fear is fastening you to your current situation.

This isn’t bad news. It’s good news. Fear tells you what’s important to you.
Important enough for your emotions to be stirred up. It’s a compass for what matters.

Fear is good. It’s avoiding that fear that causes problems.

So how can you identify fear and…face it instead of avoiding it?
Here are the most common flavours of procrastination.

procrastination over time

Different ways to procrastinate

Sometimes, procrastination can be tricky because…it hides behinds a useful-looking activity.

Sometimes it’s planning, other times it’s quitting. It can even be…taking unnecessary action.
Sure, a few times these are actions are actually good and positive signals: it’s up to you to become a productivity samurai and recognise the difference.
But when in doubt, let me tell you…you’re procrastinating.

Here’s a list of the classic forms of putting off taking action, so you will never be fooled again.

Postponing things

This is the most common and expected form of procrastination.
“I’ll do it later…”, “I have a lot on…”, “One day…”
These are all forms of procrastination we expect.
Instead of taking action now, however small, we postpone it to a later, undefined time.

At least this one is honest and transparent.

Working around things

This is a trickier manifestation of delaying things.
Instead of working on things, we work around things. Usually, this happens in one of two ways: overplanning and prepping other things that “somehow” will make the main thing easier.

Overplanning is a classic. Spend hours or days creating and action plan. Then tweak it. At the end, it’s so perfect it has become a piece of abstract art: a beautiful but only symbolic representation of reality.

Overprepping is another one. Working on lots of small things that will eventually make working on the main task easier.

Doing small tasks first is another shade of this: wasting time on safe, insignificant wins, so you don’t have to take any risks, nor make any actual progress. For example…starting from replying to all emails, when what you really needed to do was writing that big presentation.

Leaving things unfinished

Never finishing things and putting things on pause is often a way to…avoiding problems (like a big deadline looming) and dodge responsibility. For now.
At least you got started.

Starting tons of things at once

Another sophisticated form of procrastination is…starting tons of projects at once.
This is just a way to stay in your comfort zone and ultimately…sabotage your efforts. Instead of pushing through your “comfort ceiling” and grow (by making mistakes), you start another task or another project. Because you start from scratch, you can remain comfortable and go through the same initial phases you have learnt to deal with in your previous endeavours.

Usually, the old project is used to justify the new one.
“Doing this first will make it easier” or “I put the other on pause for now, it just made sense.”.

External blame

Looking for external excuses (“there are no x available” is a classic one.) is a great way to put off taking action. Instead of accepting what’s not in your control and changing your action plan to influence what you can control, blaming circumstances is a great way to delay having to take things into your own hands.

overcoming procrastination

Overcoming procrastination

So what is the antidote to stop procrastination?
First of all, it’s important to set expectations: things won’t change overnight.

I like to say we’re always training.
If you’ve been training to accept procrastination for years, you’ve likely become a world champion.
The good news is that you can change your performance by changing your standards, but it will take time and disciplined training to become a master anti-procrastinator. Here are 10 tools and practices you can use from today to step up your concentration game and get stuff done fast.

I have listed these in order of mastery: start from the top ones, and make your way down. As you become better and more focused, these will help you to keep stepping up your game.
No more letting fear make you run around in circles.

Reduce distractions

The first step is to reduce external distractions.
From intrusive people to pinging apps, make sure your environment does not provide you with excuses to postpone action until…later.

You can detox your phone from distracting apps and notifications by following this step-by-step guide.
Setting expectations by letting other people know you are going to immerse yourself into deep work will also help you prevent interruptions.

Have a dedicated space

The name of the game is to eliminate distractions instead of avoiding them.
Avoiding distractions is…a distraction. And distractions eat away at your willpower.

Don’t work or study where you play or sleep. That will ruin both.
Instead, have a dedicated space for doing your best work and taking action. For example, I love to write from a certain bar. I only go there to write. Nothing else.
Equally, I have a no-laptop-in-my-bedroom policy, which makes sure I get the best sleep and…I don’t procrastinate when it’s time to get some rest.
Avoiding distractions is…a distraction. Click To Tweet

Pomodoro technique

I wrote a guide to using the pomodoro technique to train your focus: you can find it here.
Essentially, using a timer to force yourself to concentrate on one task at a time (after having eliminated all distractions) is a great training ground to improve your concentration. Read the full guide.

Get enough sleep

Making sure you get enough sleep, and enough quality sleep, will make sure your mind is sharp, and perform at your highest level.
Tiredness and sleep deprivation result in slower execution, a 12-14% reduction in the amount of glucose transported to the most rational region of your brain, and a decrease in short-term memory and reaction time comparable to that of having drunk over the legal limit for driving.

Getting enough sleep will make sure you are more effective and faster, supporting the quality as well as the quantity of your output. Sleep also helps replenish your willpower, making sure you can overcome the temptation to “do something else” and choose the right thing to work on.

Create a supportive peer group

We like to lie to ourselves and pretend we’re immune to the environment around us. But, just like where we work has an impact on our performance, so does who we have around.
In fact, the people you surround yourself with set the example you will follow. They set the standard you will expect of yourself. They judge your performance. They even impact your own biochemistry.

Procrastinating friends will actually be invested in your worst performance, just so they don’t have to question their own poor performance. Make sure you have the right people around you to support your positive efforts, rather than entertain your hesitations.

Set simple metrics and milestones

Instead of creating over-complicated plans, set some simple milestones and metrics to measure your progress. This will also help you break down scary goals into smaller, defined steps.

For example, if you want to read 24 books in a year, break that down into…one book every 15 days. 16 pages a day. 6 books a quarter. Much more manageable, and…measurable, so you can adjust on the way.

Set winning actions

As well as having checkpoints and metrics, it’s important to set daily actions.
I call these Winning Actions (read the full guide here): small actions you can take every day to make sure you make progress on your goal without having to think about what to do.
These are forward-looking metrics, keeping up your momentum and propelling you forward before it’s too late.

Accountability partner

Having an accountability partner is the ultimate peer group hack (provided you find the right person to match your drive). Being able to share your goals with someone else, regularly check-in on each other’s progress, but also see that you’re not the only one working hard to achieve your personal objectives, makes such a difference.

First, you’re guilt-tripping each other into taking action, then you’re sharing the results and celebrations.
Click here to read more about finding your accountability partner.

Set stakes

Having something to lose is generally much more motivating than having something to gain.
We value more what we already have than what we might have.

Setting stakes uses this principle to spur you to take action.
To do this effectively, it’s much better to do it with someone else. You could decide that, if you don’t do something by a certain date, you’ll have to go without your phone for a week. Or you’ll have to buy an Amazon voucher for someone else.
Bonus points if it’s someone you would never want to give anything to.

Find a coach

This is the ultimate procrastination hack.
Having the right coach gives you extra commitment to your own goals, as well as having someone who keeps an eye on your short-term actions and long-term goals, every week.
You also access the insight and lessons learnt by someone else and…the other people they work with, accelerating your own growth and progress.

I am lucky to work as a coach with a few high-performance individuals, to push their expectations and keep their actions aligned towards a clear direction. (It’s awesome.)

What now

Ok. That was a long list. Well done on reading till the end without postponing. Or delaying.
Now that you know how procrastination manifests, what causes it, and what to do about it, you have no excuses. Let me be clear: you will still catch yourself procrastinating, and as you do, you’ll find more and more sophisticated ways to delay taking real action.

But now you can recognise real action from movement, and do something about it.

– Matt

PS: enjoyed this post?
Check out my favourite two questions to help you choose what to work on.



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Is time management a waste of time?

We have an odd relationship with the concept of time.

“How do you find the time to do x?”
is one of the most deceiving and disempowering questions ever.

We all have 24 hours a day.
No exception.

Time cannot be found, yet that very expression encloses the widespread expectation that time isn’t here yet. That we are still missing something.
That there is a golden pot at the end of the pendulum.

Future expectations forsake the present, until we’re forced to look back and regret the past.
This is the most stressful form of time-travelling.

Like a horse wearing blinkers, we focus on what’s ahead, when the golden pot is sitting next to us the whole time.

Future expectations forsake the present, until we're forced to look back and regret the past. Click To Tweet

Time is actually simple.

Every day, we move through space in 3 dimensions.
Walk to work, extend your arm forward, nip to your favourite coffee shop, lean to your right while you wait, go for a jog along the river. You know what I’m talking about: moving.

We also move through time.
The difference is – we have no control over speed and direction.
In other words, we can only move forward, and only at a constant speed of…1 minute per minute.

time management is a waste of time

The doodle is actually 2D.
We move through space in 3 dimensions (using some combination of left-right; up-down; front-back).

Time management: a collective delusion?

Time cannot be lost or found, nor stored up.

From President Trump to the Uber driver you spoke to last week, from the person sitting next to you right now to Usain Bolt, (passing by you and me), we all have 24 hours a day.

Here are the biggest time lies.

Managing time

Time management implies you are in charge of time. This sets your up for disappointment.
Time moves, whatever you do (or don’t do), at a constant speed.

What you can actually do, is manage yourself in relation to time. More on this below.

Finding time and losing time

If anyone ever succeeded in finding time, please let me know.
If anyone has ever lost any time, also kindly let me know.
Like a banknote forgotten inside the pocket of an old coat, I’d like to find it (and keep it).

Wait, would that be a waste of time?

Wasting time and using time

These two are spin-offs of time management.
Let me be clear: you cannot stop time. What you do with your present moment, is up to you.

Sure, waiting for the bus or for someone who’s late may feel like “a waste of time”, but only if you forget to experience that time. The feeling of wasting time comes from your expectation of reality following the plans you made up in your head.
What if that wait was a gift? What can you experience instead?

Making time

Email me, I’d like to buy some freshly made time from you.

Spending time

…as opposed to saving up time?

I don’t have time

This is a case of poor priorities, masked as an external problem. 24 hours, remember?

This matters, because the ways you talk and think about time determine your expectations and attitude towards it.

If you are convinced you can manage time, you condemn yourself to daily frustration and guilt. When there’s nothing you could have managed in the first place.
If you tell yourself (and others around you) you still need to find the time, you subscribe to a lifetime of helpless procrastination.

Sure, you can still use some of these expression out of social convention – just don’t believe a word you’re saying. When you’re honest with yourself about your powers and your limitations, that’s when you can take responsibility and move forward.

If time management is a collective delusion, what can we actually do?

Time strategies

I want to propose a different view.
Time isn’t found or lost. It isn’t used or wasted.
Time is experienced.

I don’t mean you should let go of future plans, big objectives, and a general direction. Blasphemy.
I don’t mean you should indulge in the present, letting go of the direction given by the future and the lessons provided by the past.

What I propose is a shift of focus.

Rather than obsessing about the quantity of time, obsess about the quality of time.
How do you experience it?

Rather than focusing on managing time, focus on managing your choices.
What do you choose to do? What do you choose not to do?

The future is shaped by your present action.
The past is given purpose by your present reaction.

The only way to manage time is to manage yourself in relation to time.

What you choose to include and what you choose to left out is equally important.

The only way to manage time is to manage yourself in relation to time. Click To Tweet

Over time, your present choices will add up.

Like the most beautiful natural formations are the result of daily erosions and constant small shift, so your present actions will add up over time and create impressive results.
Consistency and patience is key.

So take the long-term view.

You have 24 hours a day.
So don’t focus on hours. Focus on days. Focus on weeks. Focus on months.
Show up, and manage your choices.

The only time management is actually a time strategy.

What will you choose? What will you leave out?

– Matt

PS: check out my favourite two questions to help you choose what to work on.


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The Art of Sailing through life: Wu Wei

There are three approaches to life.

Chances are, you’ve used all of them as some point.
But you probably have a dominant way of navigating through life.

But before we jump into it, I want to introduce you to the Phoenicians.

Facing the Mediterranean Sea, Phoenicia was a federation of coastal city-states located along the coast of today’s Syria, Lebanon, and northern Israel. Phoenician city-states began to form over 5,000 years ago and dominated the Mediterranean coasts for over a millennium, establishing trade routes and spreading new commercial tools (like the first widely-adopted alphabet).

I digress.

The Phoenicians moved from a few coastal cities, and settled across Mediterranean Europe and Africa, traded across the whole coast, and even reached the British Isles and West Africa.

Fast forward 1000 years, and another sea-faring civilisation expanded its horizon, settling over most of Northern Europe, Iceland, the British Isles, Normandy (in Northern France), the island of Sicily and the south of the Italian peninsula, and going as far as settling in Greenland and exploring what’s now North-East Canada: the Vikings.

One more?

Fast forward another 500 years or so, and we get to 1522, the year in which Ferdinand Magellan‘s expedition made the first voyage around the world, circumnavigating the whole globe. Boom. It was the so-called Age of Exploration, marking the beginning of modern globalisation (as well as mercantilism and colonialism).

There are more examples, such as the Ming dynasty in China, the Chola empire in India, and the Polynesians. What links these extraordinary leaps in civilisation and human history?

The Art of Sailing.

Three ways of navigating

Whether you’re exploring continents or moving through life, there are three ways to navigate your way: drifting, rowing, and sailing.

Drifting is easy. There are no skills required. Drifting is total passivity.
Lie down. Look up. Eventually, you’ll find yourself somewhere else. Or in the same place.

Because drifting is easy, it is hard.

At some point, you’ll either regret not taking the more difficult choices, or have to compensate with a sprint to sort things out. To finally move to a better landscape. To avoid a waterfall.

Then, you have to row.

Rowing is simple. It requires brute force. Rowing is forcefulness.
Set a destination. Get rowing. Or look at at the waterfall. Start rowing away from it.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a different place. Will you keep rowing?

Because rowing is simple, it’s exhausting.

At some point, you’ll want to stop and take a breath. Stop rowing against the current. Stop focusing on avoiding the waterfall. Finally enjoy the scenery.

Or you can sail.

Sailing is effortless. It requires harmony. Sailing is dancing.
Set a destination, and let the winds take you there. Go with the currents, not against them.
Move with the obstacle, not against the obstacle. Observe, then learn.
Eventually, you will get to your destination. You were there all along.

And you’ll know that the journey is the best part.

Effortless action (Wu Wei)

There are a time and a place for each style.
If you’re close to a waterfall, row. Get out of there.
If you need a nudge to get you in the right direction, row. Do it.

If you realise you’ve been rowing in the wrong direction, it’s ok to drift for a short while. Take a break.

But only sailing will take you to new horizons.
Only sailing will make you dance with the winds, not shiver.
Only sailing will let the currents help you, not fight you.

Wu Wei (无为), is a core concept in ancient Chinese philosophy.
Non (Wu) Forcing / Doing (Wei).

Action of non-action.

It sounds like a paradox, but it’s the art of aligning your actions with your environment.

It’s judo, not fist fighting.
It’s acceptance, not forcing.
It’s bigger picture, not short-term.
It’s dancing, not sprinting.
It’s talking, not picking up.
It’s appreciation, not expectation.
It’s enjoyment, not neediness.
It’s trust, not worry.

It’s sailing, not rowing.

— Matt

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Choosing friends: the 2.1 rule

How many times have you broken up with someone?
Or left a job? Or fired a flatmate?

These are awkward conversations. But they open a door to something better in the most important areas of your life.
So how come this doesn’t happen with friendships?

It’s rare to hear about friends “breaking up”.
When friendships don’t really work, they usually wither, are ghosted, or broken by events. They’re rarely stopped.
Usually, they coast along.

Levels of intensity

So, what triggers a break-up?
Whether it’s a relationship, a job, a client, or a flatmate, usually two things happen:

  • The level of pain we associate with continuing that particular relationship finally overtakes the pain we link to the actual break-up. The idea of not having that conversation becomes unbearable, and overtakes any fear of the change ahead.
  • Our expectations rise above the current situation. In other words, we feel like we’re missing out. Like quitting that job, firing that client, or quitting a relationship will actually make space for a better one.

choosing friendships

In short, the level of intensity of that connection is so strong, that we can’t bear coasting along.

Now, let’s go back to friendships.

The weight of friendships

Friends are probably the biggest influencing factor in your life: they form the largest part of your peer group, which we’re biologically wired to follow and conform to.
They show you what’s possible.
They set standards.
They set expectations.
They set boundaries.
They set rules and values.

Besides, friendships truly enrich our time.
They make us connected.
They make us stronger.
They show support and love.
They share a journey.

And yet, with such an important role, break-ups between friends are rare.

Most people feel a sense of obligation towards friendships.
Like they have to say yes. Like they have no saying in the matter. Like choosing friends isn’t an option.
The key here is to realise that cultural teachings and your own chemistry are taking over: back in the good old days, ‘choosing your tribe’ could cost your survival.
Once you understand you have the luxury to upgrade your friends, the next step is to realise that…if someone’s not right for you, you’re probably not right for them either. You’re following separant paths.

Let me be clear.

I’m not suggesting you turn your back on friends.
And I’m not saying your friends should all be the same either.
In fact, I am proud to be regularly in touch with friends that live in different countries, and to be surrounded by friends with different life experiences and ideas. They challenge my views and keep me growing, and make my life rich with their contribution.

Make sure your friendships add to your life rather than subtract, and that when you support a friend…they actually want to be helped. There are better and more meaningful ways to feel significant than martyrdom.

I call it the 2.1 rule.

The 2.1 rule

A couple of weeks ago, I was in London having dinner with a friend. While I was devouring the middle-easter starters, she told me about this friend who felt extremely drained every time she saw a particular person. Things were so extreme, a couple of times she even took medications to cope with the negative load.

“She needs to use the 2.1 rule” I said.

When you are on your own, what’s your base happiness and energy level? How do you feel when you’re in your own company?
That’s your baseline, 1.

Everyone’s baseline will be different, but it’s their 1.
Some people will be higher-energy, while others might have a low base happiness level when alone.

Together, if the sum of your friendship isn’t at least a solid 2, something isn’t working.
In the case of the person above, the sum was 0. She felt depleted every time she met with the other person.
Eventually, the level of pain and expectations will raise so much that she will break free of this negative connection.

The real danger are relationships that hover around or just above 1, because they make you settle: they’re not bad enough to trigger a break-up, so they coast along.

choosing friendships

As a mental exercise, I regularly check to make sure all my friendships are at least a 2.1. That is, the sum is greater than its parts, and we both become better people just from being friends, and the relationship itself is constantly strengthened.
That is a fantastic position to be in!

What to do next

It’s your turn to do a sanity check (and don’t lie to yourself) using the 2.1 rule.
Which relationships are holding you back and draining you? Which ones are just coasting along the way?

What to do next is simple.

Just spend less time on those relationships. Say no to that extra pizza night. Use the extra time on growing the most positive relationships.
If you don’t have any, meet-ups and social media are a great place to start finding interesting people in your city. Once you know one (or a few), it’ll be easy to introduce each other to more positive connections, and grow them into friendships.

Just don’t settle for 1.1. Or 0.9.

– Matt



Feeling stuck? Shift your focus, get unstuck.

When Police officers train for performance driving, they’re taught one simple principle.

When you’re speeding to an emergency or pursuing a suspect, anything can happen in the blink of an eye. If you lose control of your vehicle, you know to know how to get out of a tough situation, or you’ll crash.

The principle is simple, yet counterintuitive.
Focus on where you want to go, not on what you want to avoid.

Here’s a passage from a Police and Pursuit Driving manual:

“The key to performance driving is to look where you want to go. Don’t look at the obstacle or you will certainly drive right into it.”

Crashing into the wall daily

Have you ever felt so stuck and overwhelmed by your present situation, that you just couldn’t take action to make the future any better? Likely, you were focused on the obstacle.

When it comes to making change happen, we often get the formula the wrong way around: we think short term and we act long term.

We think about how to get to the end of the day, how to survive the week, and rarely look beyond that point.
We give 99% of our focus to what we want to get away from, and have nothing left for what we want to get closer to.

But here’s catch 22: by giving all your attention to the problem, you move towards it, rather than away from it.

Short-term thinking usually comes in pair with sporadic action happening in bursts. Instead of taking small action daily, we wait until a moment when we can take big action. In the end, we settle for the occasional space between a commitment and a firefighting, and use that to take some action.

This accomplishes nothing other than to make you feel even more guilty. You don’t make any progress, but you don’t let go either.

Feeling stuck? Switch your strategy

To get out of a rut, change your strategy: think long term, act short term.
think long term to get unstuck

Long term thinking…

Instead of focusing on what you want to get away from, focus on what you want to get closer to.

I learnt this the hard way.

Years ago, I spent months in a job that made me unhappy and unfulfilled. On some days, I’d have difficulties breathing. That’s how stifling it felt.
Things changed, and I decided to move on, once I switched my thinking onto what I wanted to create, rather than what I wanted to abandon.

The same happened with my fitness. I spent over a year wasting away, and not looking after myself. At the time, I hadn’t quite yet grasped the fact that nothing in life happens in isolation.
Getting my physical performance back boosted my relationships, mental sharpness, energy levels, clarity, which in turn all supported my physical fitness.
For months, I had focused on “I want to be less skinny”. Nothing changed.
Until one day, I browsed Pinterest and found a picture of what I wanted my body to look like.
Then I decided I wanted to be able to do handstands within 6 months. At that point, I knew.
Rather than hopelessly drifting away from what I didn’t like, I had a clear direction for my future.
In 10 weeks, I put on 5Kg (11Lb) of mass (having to eat that much isn’t something I wish onto anyone), and within 3 months I was able to hold a handstand.

Matt in Jordan

Whether it’s a relationship, fitness, your finances, work, skills, your own character and behaviour, or ANY change you want to create, focus on what you want things to be like, not what frustrates you.

This doesn’t mean ignoring your starting point and pretending things are different than they are.
That would be naive and get in the way of taking relevant action.
All you have to do is to shift your obsession. Instead of being obsessed with what you don’t want, become obsessed with your positive destination.

…short term action

Now that you’ve shifted your obsessive thinking, it’s time to take action and actually move closer to your destination.

Most often, our destination is so distant from the present, that we don’t know where to start from.
This is why I’m a big fan of monthly goals: once you know your long-term vision, how can you break it down and get closer every month?
Then closer to that every week. Then closer to that every day.

You see, it’s the domino effect.
A falling domino can knock down a block 1.5 times bigger than itself.

get unstuck with the domino effect

The key is constant progress, not odd bursts.

We often underestimate the impact of small action.
But, when taken daily, action compounds. Like a river eroding a gorge out of a rock, the effect will be very visible looking back.

Think long term, act short term. Click To Tweet

Your turn to get unstuck: take a pen and paper, think about the change you want to make happen, and then…write down exactly what they look now a year from now. Or five.
The longer your view, the more space you will give to your ambition.

– Matt



goal setting handbook

Availability Heuristics and Survivorship Bias: confusing visible for important

Why do flights seem scarier after the news of a plane crash?
Why do we get more cautious after we hear that a friend
…and why does starting a business seem easy?

Our brains tend to favour information that is easy to remember or carries a greater emotional weight.
This bias is called Availability Heuristics and is a common brain shortcut.
It may be effective at saving brainpower now, but it can turn into a costly irrational mistake.

Let’s explore it together.

Everyday Availability Bias

Look around you. What do you see?
Chances are, the scene around you is full of details.
People, conversations, colours, textures, movements, objects, smells, pathways, temperature, air pressure, noises, lighting…even if you’re staring at a blank wall, the richness of information is potentially overwhelming. And that’s just the room you’re in. Now.

Filtering and simplifying information prevents us from thought paralysis (and it’s also how the brain can work on “only” 300 calories a day).

Heuristics is just a fancy word for the simple rules the brain uses to constantly assess the situation around us. Availability Heuristics is one of the most common tools our brains use to evaluate our environment, quickly.

Essentially, information that is readily available carries more weight when evaluating the probability of something happening. Here’s what skews our judgement:

  • Ability to recall. How easy it easy to remember something.
  • Frequency and repetition. How much and how often we are exposed to something.
  • Emotional weight. The more graphic and emotionally intense an event or piece of information is, the more it will be given priority over the rest.

This built-in brain bias is a useful shortcut to make fast evaluations with limited information. However, because we tend to be unaware of it happening in the background we trust our perception blindly, turning a shortcut into a brainaccuracy *.

This has dangerous implications: whatever we are exposed to on a regular and intense basis, literally determines our perception and experience of reality.
This puts a lot of power over the quality of your life in the hands of the media and your peer group.

Your peer group (the group of people around you you actually listen to) determines your perception and sets your personal standards at a chemical level. They also decide which topics and point of views your conversations are going to focus on, shaping your reality through Availability Heuristics.

availability heuristics 2

The media, also has great influence over what information and viewpoints you’re exposed, deciding how often and at which intensity (often cranked up to capture your attention).
Like we will see in the next few examples, over time this shapes your perception of the world.
Whatever the media decides to focus on becomes the public’s concerns and priority, which in turn dictate governments’ agendas. Large scale brainaccuracies become reality.

availability heuristics 1

Examples and Studies

Crime rate: perception vs reality

Just before the last US election, 57% of voters said that crime had got worse since 2008.
When we zoom in on Trump voters specifically, that figure was 78%.
However, official government statistics paint a very different picture of reality, with violent crime falling by 19% and property crime falling by 23% between 2008 and 2015 (the most recent data yet available).

availability heuristics crime-rate

However, media coverage does not report the actual level of crime, but what’s “worth reporting on”.
2015 saw a minor blip in the overall downward trend (one of many), extensively documented episodes of violence happening in key cities like Chicago, and the Trump campaign repeating that crime is at a 45 year high triggered our good friend…Availability Heuristics.

Availability Heuristics

Personal safety and life decisions

Here’s a personal example.
On May 22nd, a terrorist attack happened in Manchester, not too far from where I live.
The next day, I had two conversations with people saying “I am considering moving abroad now”. Availability was skewing their perception of safety.
As distressing as that day was, you’re still twice as likely to die in an elevator than in a terrorist attack. When it comes to heart disease caused by poor diet and lifestyle, the odds of dying are over 100,000 times.
In fact, terror-related deaths in the UK in the past 17 years are at a record low: 36 times less than those between 1970 and 2000. A similar trend can be seen across the rest of Europe.

Gender balance

In a study, participants were read a list of personalities from both sexes.
Of the four possible lists, each included 39 names, read at a pace of one name every 2 sec.
Two of the lists included 19 names of famous women and 20 names of less famous men.
The two other lists consisted of 19 names of famous men and 20 names of less famous women.

The result?
More than 80% of participants erroneously judged the class consisting of the more famous names to be more frequent. Ability to recall and emotional weight skewed reality once again.

Everyday examples

More examples of Availability bias are: believing that divorces rates are going up after a few friends divorced; believing that shark attacks are deadlier than falling aeroplane parts; selling all stocks after a market crash; being worried about losing one’s job after seeing headlines of businesses closing down.
I’m sure you can add many more from your own experience.


Survivorship bias

Availability Heuristics gives birth to another dangerous brainaccuracy: Survivorship Bias.
This is the shortcuts to notice people or things that made it past a certain selection process, and ignore those that did not.

The classic example is business success.
Since successful companies get far greater exposure than those that do not succeed, information about successes is much more available and richer in detail. As a consequence, the perception of the difficulty of starting a business is heavily skewed, and often ignores and hides the very weak points that make most companies fold.

The same happens with famous entrepreneurs and personalities: from “Train like Andy Murray” to “Drop out of school like Steve Jobs”, survivorship bias ignores those that follows the same path but had opposite outcomes. It also assumes that these people succeeded because of a particular, decontextualised choice rather than in spite of it.

survivorship-bias

One of my favourite examples comes from the military.
During World War II, the Navy examined where US bombers were hit most often, in order to determine where to reinforce aircrafts and reduce losses. Initially, the initiative had little success.
Until the Navy realised that they were only assessing bombers that returned safely, ignoring those that were fatally hit.
The programme started to disregard the areas that were heavily hit, since the carriers were able to take damage in those points and still make it home, and started reinforcing the points that remained unscathed on surviving planes.

Through Availability Heuristics, Survivorship Bias makes it easy to misestimate the likelihood of something succeeding, and may actually hide the steps necessary for it to happen.

Now you know

Although the true probability of something happening is unknowable (especially in real time), being aware of what goes on in the background will help you balance Availability Heuristics and make better decisions every day.

In the next post, we are going to talk about why shortcuts and brainaccuracies are a thing in the first place.

— Matt

Now check out what’s the worst time of the day to make a good decision.

*Yes, I made the word ‘Brainaccuracy’ up (and now it’s miiine).



Learn to say NO to say YES

How good are you at saying NO on a scale from 1 to 5?

If 1 was a total people pleaser, unable to let go of the smallest opportunity (even when it’s not that interesting), and 5 was a laser-focused NO-ninja, ready to say no to protect a greater vision, what would your dial look like?no-ninja

Whether it’s to a person, to a skill, to an experience, or to an opportunity, saying no isn’t easy.
Will this opportunity ever come again?
Will the other person take offence?

Because we decide not to travel a certain road, we will rarely (if ever) be able to see what was waiting on the other end. Saying NO is a decision that never shows a clear outcome, unless we make one up.

To complicate things as usual, in come all sorts of cognitive biases to cloud our judgement.

Fear of Missing Out is the fear of having made the wrong decisions on how to spend time, and typically manifests in constantly contemplating how things could be different, and a need to stay connected with other people’s activities. Though the person doesn’t commit to a single decision, it can vicariously “access” several scenarios through other people’s experiences. It’s the ultimate yes-hemorrhage.

Loss Aversion is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equal gains: in other words, we cling to what we already have more than to what we want to have. It’s better not to lose $5, than to gain $5.
Saying NO closes an opportunity window you already have. No matter whether you would have sought that opportunity out in the first place, loss aversion will make it difficult for you to let go.

…finally, our good friend Decision Fatigue joins the group, making our ability to say NO dependent on our energy and what particular time of the day we have to make a decision.

Focus on a higher purpose

NO is the friend of focus.
NO is the friend of results.
NO is the friend of purpose.

Whenever you align your decisions towards a higher purpose, whether it’s a big personal change, helping someone else, or completing your personal mission; NO becomes easy.

It becomes your shield to fend off distractions on your way to your greater goal.

Better relationships, health, learning, personal growth, excellent work, tripling your output, all require laser focus. Which is a synonym for NO.

Set a clear vision of where you want your life to go, and then use NO to make it happen.

'NO' is a shield to protect the 'YES' that really matter. Click To Tweet

Don’t underestimate impact

Sometimes, it’s tempting to take a lot on.
Why not learning three languages instead of one?
Or start writing AND playing guitar. You just can’t help it.
Or take on as many business projects as you can so…at least one will succeed. Right?

Errr. 🚨

Having a clear vision of the future will allow you to identify which possibilities actually align with your purpose. And say NO to everything else.

Whatever’s left, prioritise you must.

You see, you don’t have to do everything today.
Seneca said it best, in 49 AD:

“Life is long, if you know how to use it.” — Seneca

What commitment will have the greatest impact on everything else?
Often, we look at the future without imagining it. We forget that circumstances will change as a result of our present decisions.
Find the commitment that will impact every other sphere, making it easier to take on the next challenge.
Whether it unlocks time, relationships, or resources, be strategic with your YESes, and you will make progress on everything else, automatically.

Fear opening another door

Whenever I catch myself being lavish with my ‘yeses’, I do a fear check.
Usually, it’s one of two fears that turns the yes tap on.

Fear of rejection

Fear of rejection is one of the deepest human fears, as we are biologically wired to seek belonging to our peer group.
The inability to say NO is often triggered by the fear of being judged and excluded by others.
Or a projection of the fear on the other person. That is, if you are particularly sensitive to being rejected, saying NO to other people and commitments will make you empathise with that same uncomfortable feeling. So you won’t do it. (That’s how a people pleaser is born).

learn to say no - rejection

Fear of change

Fear of change is a feeling of anxiety about the unknown.
It’s clinging to certainty, to what we already know, no matter how negative or boring it may be. It’s the root of self-sabotage.
Opening many doors and taking on new commitments all the time is a classic manifestation of this.
Whenever your reach your comfort threshold in any given activity, instead of grinding your teeth and pushing through to the next level…you can just take on a new commitment and start from scratch, so you’ll stay in the comfort zone. Easy right?

say-no-comfort-zone

Fear of change is really a form of fear of failure, which is ultimately…(you guessed it) fear of rejection.

No in disguise

Whenever you say yes, you’re actually saying many nos.
Your time, energy, focus, resources, all have a limit.
Whenever you say yes, you become unable to say YES to something else. Therefore, at some point, you have to say no. Sometimes with words, other times with actions. Or inaction.
No. Even though it was more important. Even though it was aligned with your purpose. Even though it would have had a larger impact.

Don’t say yes. Say NO.

Saying NO is saying YES to what really matters to you.

Learn to say NO

To become a NO-ninja, you have to start small and train yourself to say NO.
One does not go from NO-apprentice to NO-sensei in a day.

Check in with yourself: is this aligned with my higher purpose?
Check in with yourself: am I being guided by fear?

NO is the friend of focus.

Remember that every yes is actually many nos, and that saying NO is saying YES to what really matters to you.

NO. The new YES?

— Matt



Hedonic Adaptation: the dangers (and joys) of the new normal

Consider this. You are incarcerated.

Suddenly, you go from the comfort of your home and the freedom of your every day, to being confined to a seven-foot cell. Would you care if that was a nine-foot cell instead?
Chances are, you probably wouldn’t see much point in trying to get the “bigger” cell, as it wouldn’t much alleviate the loss of freedom and personal space. And that’s what a study on adaptation suggests, too.

But here’s the interesting twist: as you get adapted to living in the seven-foot cell, two things would happen. Your happiness would increase, along with your perceived value of the larger cell.

This is the power of the new normal.

Adapting both ways

We think of ‘the normal’ as a stable baseline for our level of happiness and fulfilment. A universal, firm concept. But ‘the normal’ is actually very fluid, and very personal.
It adapts to our expectations, as we adapt to our circumstances, in a phenomenon called Hedonic Adaptation.

Normal changes all the time.
Driving may feel normal to you now, but how did it feel the first time you drove?
You are taller now than when you were a small child. Does it feel any less normal?
There was even a time when you considered it normal to let your parents wipe your baby bottom.

Adaptation is a great skill, built right into our DNA.
When circumstances change, our expectations change with us.

But Hedonic Adaptation goes both ways.

In a 1978 psychological study, researchers evaluated the happiness levels of recent lottery winners and recently injured paraplegics, comparing them to those of the general population.
As you guessed, the lottery winners experienced a spike in their happiness levels immediately after their win, whereas the paralised accident victims experienced a dip.
But within (only) two months, both groups had returned very close to the average level of happiness of the control population.

And, when asked about their expectations for the future, and to rate their everyday experiences, both groups reported very close levels of happiness, with the accident victims having a slightly more positive view about the future.

hedonic-adaptation-chart

As the two groups adapted to their new circumstances, Hedonic Adaptation kicked in, establishing a “new normal” with updated expectations.

Whether it’s a new flat, a relationship, a higher salary, a new car, moving to a new city, all these things tend to become normal, fast.
Seeking happiness through buying things especially, though intuitive in a consumeristic society, can turn into a trap. As you get used to the short-term rush of buying something exciting, you have to continually raise your game as it gets swallowed by the new normal.
Reaching the same level of happiness requires more and more energy and money.

Hedonic Adaptation can be a blessing, or a curse.

Hedonic wellbeing

Let’s take a step back.
The word hedonism derives from the Greek word for pleasure, hēdonē.
Hedonic wellbeing is focused on maximising pleasure and minimising pain. This is done through increasing positive emotions (like excitement, relief, pride, and of course, happiness), and limiting negative states (such as fear, hate, and sadness).

The issue is that not only these emotions are dependent on fleeting circumstances: we adapt to them until they’re no longer exciting. They become the new normal.
This makes us slaves to a constant game of catching up, like running backwards on an airport’s travelator.

hedonic adaptation

Is there a way to cope with Hedonic Adaptation?

How to use hedonic adaptation to your advantage

Deliberate scarcity

Taking away what you consider normal for a period of time, and adding artificial constraints, is a great way to actually notice it. After the break, the contrast will make the usual feel special again.

For example, I like to sleep on the floor once a month, practice a 60-hour fast every so often, and add constraints periodically. No matter how simple it is, having breakfast after nearly 3 days without food makes that breakfast feel and taste amazing.

Appreciate abundance

I’m a big fan of practising abundance: raising the standard that you ask from yourself is a great way to keep raising your game. It also contrasts negative thoughts and scarcity mindset.

However, I like to be mindful of what I am doing and appreciate that abundance in my life. Which brings me to…

Practice gratitude to keep the focus on small things

Gratitude is a simple practice that can have a massive impact  on your everyday life.
Some of my favourite tools to integrate it into my everyday life are gratitude walks, being present in what I do, and the simple and effective 5 Minute Journal.

Maximise enjoyment

Knowing what makes you happy and fulfilled is key to maximising enjoyment.
It’s easy to follow what other people see as positive, only to find out (or never quite understand) that it’s not really for us. Fulfilment requires self-awareness.
Once you know what make you feel better, go all in and have fun with it, ignoring those activities that only have a marginal effect.

Remove, don’t add

When it comes to buying new things, I love to use a question that I learnt from the wise Mr Money Moustache.
“Will it remove a negative or add a positive?”
Removing a negative, like replacing a painfully slow washing machine with a new, fast one, will have a direct and long-lasting impact on something you already notice daily.
Adding a positive, like buying a new car for no real reason, will create short-lived excitement, and add unpredictable complexities, like the need for a new garage or the fear of damaging it, that will actually result in more negatives.

Fleeting vs long-term

To contrast the traps of Hedonic Adaptation, think long-term.

The notion of eudaimonic well-being has been accompanying the hedonic view for many centuries.
Instead of focusing on subjective and fleeting emotions, eudaemonic well-being derives from experiencing personal growth, facing new challenges, and a sense of purpose and contribution.

Unlike the emotions behind hedonic well-being, these continue over time and build on constant progress, rather than being isolated events. And, unlike spending on things, investing in growth experiences will keep paying back in happiness and skills.

Hedonic Adaptation turns most changes into the new normal.
To turn fleeting happiness into long-lasting fulfilment, train yourself to appreciate the present experience and think long term, beyond yourself.

— Matt

PS: learn how to shortcut your personal growth through other people.



How to plan your week and track time by creating your Week Map


We often struggle to “find time”.
Find the time to exercise. Find the time to read. Find the time to socialise. Find the time to finish an important task.

Balancing your available time can be a challenge.

And yet, whenever we do have a spare hour, or even the whole weekend, too many people treat it like money found in a coat’s pocket. Because it’s unexpected, it gets assigned a value of 0 and spent on whatever next (unnecessary) thing comes along.

To make things worse, available time is often too little, too scattered, or too unpredictable to be used on any meaningful task. So it just gets used on the next default activity.

In the meantime, meaningful activities keep waiting.

So how can you maximise your time to boost your productivity and balance the different areas of your life, all while making everything less stressful?

Enter your Weekly Map.

The Weekly Map is an overall plan for the whole week. It considers your long-term goals, maximises your enjoyment, gives you positive time-constraints, and balances all the different areas of your life, so you can get lots done while looking after yourself.
And, just in case you’re wondering, it also leaves as much time as you desire for last-minute planning.

Let’s jump right into it.


plan the week part 1

Part 1: The forces influencing your week

Before going into creating your weekly strategy, let’s have a quick look at the invisible forces shaping your day when you don’t come prepared. Knowing what’s holding you back will help you better plan your week, and make sure you can improve your performance and maximise your enjoyment every week.

Missing the big picture

Most people plan the next hour, many plan the day.
With such a narrow perspective, it’s hard to be intentional.
No wonder we get stressed over a deadline we could have seen coming, or decide to lie on the sofa even when…we really wanted to go to the gym.

Most people plan the next hour, many people plan the next day, high performers plan the next week. Click To Tweet

If things weren’t complicated enough, we engage a different part of the brain when thinking about the future than we do when thinking about the present: it’s easy to make a lighthearted decision about the future, only to become emotionally stressed when it becomes the present.

Decision fatigue

Willpower has a daily cap. Many studies have shown how our ability to make rational, intentional decisions diminish as the day progresses. No matter whether you’re deciding what breakfast to have, what task to work on next, or whether to say yes or no to friends wanting to meet: the more willpower you use, the less you’ll have left.

At a certain point in the day, you will go to your default choice, or the easiest one to take.
With a plethora of everyday choices, we squander our willpower on things that don’t matter, and have none left for things that are really important.

So when you plan hour by hour and miss the bigger picture, you’ll fall victim of your depleted willpower and take the easiest choice, rather than the most important or most rewarding activity.

Parkinson’s law

In a 1955 study of the burgeoning bureaucracy within the shrinking British Empire, C Northcote Parkinson noted: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This has since then been dubbed ‘Parkinson’s law‘.

You’ve probably experienced this yourself, suddenly becoming more focused, swift, and productive as a deadline approaches and available time shrinks.

Empirical evidence has been available for decades.
During the first world war, a decision by the British government to cut hours at munitions plants made workers healthier and also more productive.
In more recent times, Sweden has been trying out a six-hour workday, with a variety of companies cutting their working week to improve wellbeing. So far, companies involved have reported improvements in productivity and lower staff turnover.

And yet, when you miss the bigger picture, it’s easy to think you can just expand your current activity into the next hour. And then the next hour again.

Here’s a summary of all the things influencing your week.

plan-your-week-2

Design your own time

In 1527, cartographer Diogo Ribeiro made what is considered the first scientific world map.
The largest empires at the time (Portugal and Spain in particular) developed an increasingly more accurate system of maps to help them define, understand, and navigate their way through the world.

plan week map

Expanding tasks, last minute invitations, underestimating future commitments, other people demanding our time, and then work, family, reading, fitness,…the obstacles along your week are many.

To create a balanced week, draw your own Week Map.
This will help you define, understand, and navigate your way through your time.

Without a map, how will you get to your destination?

The freedom of maps

I know what you’re thinking.

Planning the whole week sounds scary.

And that’s exactly right. It sounds scary.
But it actually takes all the stress away.

Like a world map, it allows you to spot difficulties ahead, and come prepared. And, because it allows you to see the bigger picture, you can see the future consequences of your present choices.

Choices have consequences. Click To Tweet

Plus, we’re not just going to plan the week.
We are going to draw our own map, giving priority to what actually matters to us, regardless of what last-minute commitments look like.


plan the week part 2

Part 2: How to create your Week Map

Reactive vs Proactive

The biggest advantage of having a Week Map is that it allows you to be proactive with how you want to spend your time.

We all spend our 24 hours at the speed of one minute per minute.
The only choice we have is about what to do with those 24 hours.

The reactive approach only looks at one activity at a time: the next activity.
Sometimes it’s a text from a friend asking to go for a drink, other times it’s just the next task on your to-do list, or an email pulling you away from what you had planned for the next hour.
This approach relies on a first come, first served basis, and uses ‘yes’ as the default answer.

The proactive approach looks at the whole picture and makes sure that all the important activities get the priority they deserve. This is all about balance and progress between the different areas of your life, whether it’s work, fitness, family, friends, relaxing, learning, or whatever is important to you.
This approach is based on a priority principle and uses ‘no’ as the default answer.

The quickest way to switch from reactive to proactive approach is to realise that saying ‘yes’ is actually just another way to say ‘no’: Whenever you decide to use your limited time on a certain activity or with a certain person, you are automatically saying no to everything else. Even though it may be more important.

Whenever you say yes, you're actually saying no to everything else. Click To Tweet

Design your Ideal Week

The first step to creating your Week Map is to…design your ideal week.
I first heard about this concept from Michael Hyatt, who uses a simple spreadsheet to plan the week you would live if you could control 100% of what happens. Total game changer.

This is your blank canvas to design your time: what would you do if you had control of all the variables in your week?
Once you create it, you won’t have to touch it ever again (unless you want to experiment or change your weekly rhythm).

I have created a template for you, which includes time tracking (we’ll talk about that below).
Sign up here and I’ll send you a Google Spreadsheet you can copy and use to design your own week and track time.

What to include in your week

Your ideal week should contain everything, from events to tasks you need to get done. In other words, include everything that takes over 15 minutes.

plan your ideal week

Sure, you probably don’t know what specific tasks you’ll have each week, but you can estimate your weekly workload and assign it an appropriate amount of time. For example, I know that I am going to need a certain amount of uninterrupted time to write every week, preferably broken into two chunks.

Putting it in my ideal week, and ultimately in my Week Map, allows me to make sure I always have time to focus and get lost in my own writing.

Sometimes it may take me slightly longer or shorter, and I will adjust (and then learn) accordingly.

Move it to your calendar

Boom. Now that you’ve designed your ideal week, it’s time to bring it all into your calendar and create your first Week Map.

I like to use Fantastical for Mac and iOS: I love the interface and how easy it is to add events and amend existing ones. However, you can do this in any calendar.

Look at your ideal week spreadsheet, and select the activities that repeat every single week. Then add them to your calendar, and set them to repeat every week.

week map calendar

Sometimes, you won’t know exactly what you will do or when it will happen on each specific week: if it’s an important activity, put a placeholder anyway, as it will ensure you don’t accidentally fill that with a reactive decision.

For example, I like to schedule my cooking time, social time, and me time on repeat: even if every week I see different people and do different things on different days, it makes sure I look after the important people in my life (myself included).

Other examples could be…team meetings and client calls: make sure you set a recurring time window in your week (and you communicate that to everyone else involved).

You can then adjust each week on your planning day to create your Week Map.

Should you use different calendars?

I used to use different colour-coded calendars for different things (writing, social time, exercising,…) but I stopped when I realised…they’re all part of my life.
Dividing them into specific calendars I was putting each activity against each other, instead of looking at the big picture.

However, I love to use emojis to connote each kind of activity, and I suggest you do it too, as it will help you understand your day and week at a glance, and learn from how you use your time.

Here are some of my favourites:
💕 = social or me time
🦄 = growth
💬 = coaching
💪 = training
📖 = intentional learning
💌 = replying to readers’ emails
…and a few more.

Don’t create too many, or you won’t be able to categorise how you spend your time at the end of the week.

Week Map time

Every week, set aside some time to plan the week ahead.
I like to do this on Sunday afternoon, but Saturday and Monday work too. Make sure you add this to your calendar, obviously.
This may sound counterintuitive, but investing one hour into mapping your time will pay back many times over as the week unfolds.

During my mapping session, I review my past week (more on this below) and plan out the next 7 days based on my weekly objectives, my ideal week, and how I feel on that particular week.

Here’s what to consider:
1) How you feel: maybe you want to sleep more, maybe you want to be more social or have more me-time than usual. However you feel, make sure you structure your week to include some of it.
2) Your objectives for the week: what do you want to accomplish by the end of the week? What will get you closer to your monthly goals?
3) Your commitments this week: whether it’s a flight to catch, a conference to attend, your mum visiting, or a night at the theatre, every week will be different.
4) What’s in your ideal week: when you start mapping, your calendar will already have lots of recurring events. Some will stay where they are, but others will be moved around to fit each particular week. Just make sure you have a great, balanced and fun week!

The all important rule

Using your calendar to create your Week Map is a powerful tool that allows you to take control of your time and have a balanced week.

As a side benefit, it allows you to rely on your calendar without having to remember whether you’re free or not, and weigh the consequences of saying yes on the spot.
Just open your calendar, and you will be reminded of your priorities and commitments.
This brings an incredible sense of freedom and removes the stress of having to take micro-decisions about your time.

But.

You have to commit 100%.
If you don’t use your calendar for everything, you won’t be able to trust it, and you just get frustrated and give up.

The golden rule is: if it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.

If it's not in the calendar, it doesn't exist. Click To Tweet

 


plan the week part 3

Part 3: How to track your time to improve every week

The main challenge when it comes to scheduling your time is that sometimes you have to guess, and sometimes…you just don’t know how much time you actually spend on different activities.

If only we could look at our calendar and see everything we did during the week at a glance…

Track your time as you go

Mapping out your whole week in advance gives you a bird’s eye view of your next seven days, allowing you to prioritise and balance your activities. You can make better decisions without falling victim of the forces influencing your week.

Having your week map adds another great advantage: at the end of the week, you can look back and learn how you actually spend time.

You just have to do one thing: adjust your events as you go.

For example, say that you scheduled a whole afternoon to…write a blogpost (random example).
You factored in 6 hours, but it only took you 4.
At the end of the day (or right there and then), make sure you adjust that event to reflect what actually happened.

calendar planning

In those extra two hours, you might have…read a book or call a friend. Well, make sure you add that in as an event (and categorise it accordingly).

Then, let’s say you decided to move your workout from Wednesday to Thursday in order to see a friend for dinner. Or maybe you just didn’t feel like working out and dropped it.
Cool. Make sure you move or delete the event accordingly.

Your calendar needs to reflect and predict reality.
If you can only trust it 99% of the time, you will end up not trusting it and you will stop using it.

What to track

Now, during your weekly mapping session, look back and keep track of what’s most important to you.

For example, I like to keep track of how much time I spent writing and how much I actually produced.
This showed me that I am becoming a faster (and hopefully better) writer, but also that giving myself less time to write makes me more productive and creative.

Here’s what I track, and what I think you should too.

  • Who I spent time with. 💕
    This has lifted the quality of my life, and keeps doing so.
    Writing down everyone I intentionally saw during the week shows me how socially active I have been, and whether it matched my mood and workload.I then go through the list and ask myself ‘why?’.
    Any answer works here, but they usually range from “I enjoy spending time with them”, to “I helped them do x”, or “they helped me do x”.
    If I don’t have an answer other than “I couldn’t say no”, I know something is not right, as I am taking time away from relationships that are more than a zero-sum game.
    This has given me extra awareness, helped me upgrade my friendships and strengthen the ones I care about the most, since I am able to dedicate them more time and attention.
  • How many times I went to the gym. 💪
    On most weeks, this happens 4 times. Working out supports my energy levels, my health, my sense of progress, and my discipline.
    If it’s less than 4 for more than two weeks in a row, this is a red flag to readjust my priorities and my workload.
  • If I went on my weekly run. 🏃
  • How many hours I spent on my number one business goal. 🦄
    This allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of…my own progress. If I haven’t spent enough time on this category, I look at the rest of my week (and the goal itself) to understand how I can do better and regain momentum the next week.
  • How many hours I spent on language learning. 🗯️
    To put things into perspective, this is usually between 2-3.5 hours, and it’s the result of two daily 10 minute sessions plus a weekly call.
    Compound gains!
  • How many hours I spent on intentional learning. 📖
    This is, how much time I spent on a specific topic I intentionally want to know more about?
  • How many weekly comfort challenges I did.✋
    I currently strive for one or two.

Like mapping your week, tracking your time will take some commitment. If you did your homework and adjusted events during the week, it won’t take long (and you won’t have to guess).
The returns are incredible, as each week you will continue to upgrade your performance and overall happiness.

Learn from the past week to create a better one, each week. Click To Tweet

The week of your dreams

One last time mapping secret.
If you are working towards a major life change, including a new job, a new house, a new city, a new family, a new or growing business, or if you just want to push the reset button…I suggest you create the map of your dreams.

This is the kind of week your current constraints don’t allow you to live on a regular basis (yet), but that you aspire to build and live.

Following the exact same steps as in Part 2, map out the week of your dreams. What will you do once you have made that big change happen?

map your wishweek

This is particularly important if you are working towards a life changing goal: deciding what your weekly life will look like will make it more concrete and give you an extra dose of motivation.
But it will also allow you to start from a blank slate before new commitments and old behaviours shape it out on your behalf.

It will create a clear goal for how you want to be spending your time.

Be the architect

Ok, now you have the principles, the steps, and even the tools to map out your week.

The first step is to move from the reactive approach, in which you always do whatever’s next and struggle to balance everything, to the proactive approach, in which you’re not afraid to say no and you prioritise your activities looking at the medium-long term.

In order to do that, design your static ideal week, and then move it to your calendar to create your week map. Every week, reserve one hour to map the week ahead and look at your previous week, so you can track how you spend your time, and learn how to improve every week.
Finally, you can take it one step forward and create the week of your dreams, in order to have a clear vision of what to aspire to, and start creating change daily.

Now it’s your turn to take action and design your own week, each week.

If you don’t do it, you will be always playing catch up, chasing rainbows wondering why you can’t ‘find’ the time.

Welcome to your best week yet.

— Matt

Now don’t forget to set your monthly goals.



plan your week

Credit card behaviour: make better decisions about the future

How often do you say ‘yes’ to something, only to regret it moments later?

Or eagerly agree to a social event or commit to a conference well in advance, only to become very stressed as the date becomes closer and closer?

Often, we fall victim of the empty calendar: we book unusual events days, weeks, or even months in advance just because our calendar looks empty. In reality, the only reason why the future holds so much free time is that we are too far away to consider the bigger picture, or even factor in our usual, daily commitments.

future-decisions
Sometimes, this phenomenon allows for spontaneity and to commit to a much needed holiday without having to weigh too many pros and cons. And that’s great.
But most often than not, it makes us say ‘yes’ to too many things, and then force us to juggle unnecessary commitments with what really matters.

So why is it that we take future commitments so lightheartedly, only to become emotionally stressed when they become the present?

Thinking about the present vs Thinking about the future

The future is a pretty abstract notion: it only exists as a present experience of our own imagination.

Every time we think about something that is distant in time, space, social link, or certainty, we travel through what’s called psychological distance: the farther away you feel from an object, person, or event, the more abstract it will be.

The #future only exists as a present experience of our own imagination. Click To Tweet

Let’s take planning a holiday as an example.
Booking your flights a year in advance is likely to make you think about abstract notions of relaxation and fun, but the closest your trip gets in time (and space), the more you will focus on concrete details of the present situation, such as how to get a visa, what to pack, where to eat, and a lot more practical decisions.

When it comes to taking a holiday, most of the time it will be worth it (as long as you know what kind of holiday you actually enjoy). But when it comes to more mundane, recurring commitment, the inability to gauge the future complexity of present decisions expose us to a great danger: credit card behaviour.

Decisions on credit

What is credit card behaviour?
It’s any decision carried in the present that will have a negative impact on your future resources.

Let’s talk money.
You might decide to spend more money that you do not currently have, and then pay it back over a few months, with interest. You are deciding to spend now your future resources.

But it doesn’t just happen with money.

Let’s talk sleep.
You might decide to stay up late today because you’re on a (often imaginary) deadline. This means you will be tired and poor-performing tomorrow (risking to fall into the sleepless cycle): it’s a decision to spend now your future resources. And pay with interest.

More examples of credit card behaviour?
Saying yes too easily.
Not taking care of your health.
Not exercising.
Ignoring your relationships (waiting for an imaginary better time).
Settling for an unfulfilling job.
Drinking coffee to ignore your body’s need to recuperate.

And any other decision made at tomorrow’s expense.

credit-card-behaviour

Just like credit card debt, sometimes it’s just a temporary resort that comes in handy. And, just like credit card debt, sometimes it’s worth the interest rate.

But, just like credit card debt, when it becomes the norm, things can get out of control.

If you don’t make time for sleep, you’ll have to find more time to balance poor performance.
If you don’t make time for positive relationships, you’ll have to find time to cope with draining relationships or loneliness.
If you don’t make time for health, you’ll have to find time for illness.

So how can we balance our brain’s bias to prefer the present over the future?
(and save our future self from all sorts of debt?)

Reverse the game

Let’s do a quick recap.

When we imagine the future (or something otherwise distant), we activate parts of the brain associated with cognitive, abstract thinking. As the distance shrinks, the decision becomes present, and concrete, acquiring context, details, and an emotional aspect. This is how many people end up taking on a commitment they regret soon after.

The antidote?
Whenever you are deciding about the future, imagine yourself doing it in the present. By moving the future closer to you, you will be able to give it context and better evaluate the consequences of your decisions.

Planning your time in advance will also help you see the big picture: if you have any future deadlines or recurring commitments, stick them in your calendar. This will give you a clear reminder of the juggling a light “yes” in the present might require in the future.

Lastly, remember that your decision-making abilities tend to worsen later in the day.
Keep this in mind, and “sleep on it” if you’ve had a long day. You’ll thank yourself later.

— Matt