What was unusual about your day
Episode # 31: The Unusual Way to Make More With Your Day
JAKOB: We met yesterday here in Riga at the DFF at your talk. And you talked about: "The unusual way to optimize your working day". And that's what I'd like to talk to you about. But let's start with you and your story, because I also find that very fascinating. Let's start with where do you live?
STEWART: That's a good question. I actually don't live anywhere. I don't have a house, my entire life can be accommodated in a 40l backpack. And I move across the globe, from one country to the next on average every 5 days. Sometimes I'm in one place for 7 days, sometimes 2. So I usually fly 80 to 100 times a year, plus a lot of train journeys, about 180,000 miles. And I travel between North America, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, South America. I have a lot to do in all of these countries.
What you are doing? 80-100 flights, all these countries, all these continents ...
Two reasons why I go there. First, because someone wants me to come to their event and give a lecture there. Second, I travel where my friends are. Because for me it's not so much about the places as it is about the people in these places.
So you speak at events, are you a journalist too?
Yes, as long as I have a stable internet connection, I can do whatever I am currently doing. I'm a journalist, a lecturer, I do webinars and things like that. And, I have 5 start-ups that I take care of at the same time. I am currently working on three books. I'm also a musician and singer and I'm writing my own songs and I'm recording an album right now. I do a lot of cool things. One more thing for my list: I'm passionate about photography, my father won a lot of competitions. And I've been taking photos since I was a kid. I stopped doing it for a while and now I've started again. So additional income opportunity.
How did you come to choose this very unusual way of life? As a digital nomad, how are you doing with it?
First of all: it's great! And the reason it's so great is because I'm all about myself. I lived a very, very ordinary life. It was almost ridiculous how much I adapted to pretty much every social standard. I had a three bedroom house, a wife, a big car, a cat, a big yard. Everything you should normally have. And of course, you have to keep up with everyone else. So you have an electric lawnmower too, but if the neighbor has a gasoline lawnmower, you need one too. Because then his mower will be better than yours and that was so incredibly ridiculous. All this consumption, I bought so many things that I thought would make me happy. I was very enthusiastic about computer games, and I started developing them myself very early on. And was in that industry for a long time. I wouldn't just buy a Playstation, I would buy the Special Edition with the extra statue and spend hundreds of dollars on it.
You were a real nerd ...
Yes absolutely. And then the big shift happened when my father got cancer. And I found it very difficult to deal with. It was like someone holding a mirror in front of me and I had to face my own mortality. And like many people in a situation like this, I had some nervous breakdowns. It really wasn't nice. I've tried different therapies, none of which really helped. That doesn't mean I don't like therapists. I think such therapies are very important. I believe the way we talk to each other about therapy is very negative and toxic. If a friend of yours says they have a personal trainer, you'd say, hey, that's great. Is he good? Can you recommend it to me And when a friend says, hey, I have a therapist. Then you ask: why? What's wrong with you? And I think we should have the same conversations about therapists as we do about personal trainers. In my case it didn't help, but I met someone who was amazing. It was such an instant best friends situation. Her name was Gaia Dempsey, co-founder of an augmented reality company. And in the midst of my chaos, she said: have you tried meditation? And I didn't know where to start. So she taught me something. And when we broke up, we stayed in touch and she motivated me to keep going. We had a lot in common and that was a lifeline for me, that pulled me out of the darkest time of my life. Something interesting was of interest: it turned out that if you meditate daily, that it completely reprograms your neurons in the brain. Your neurology is changing. That was also mentioned today at the Digital Freedom Festival, a speaker talked about taking it slower in life and he also talked about meditation. Daily meditation increases your brain capacity to deal with challenges, keeping your IQ high, helps you deal with stress. It completely repaired my immune system. I've been sick maybe 6 days in the past 4 years. And by “sick” I mean a mild cold that may last for 24 hours.
Do you only attribute that to meditation?
Yes, I also believe that my immune system is stronger because I travel to many different places and thus am exposed to a lot of bacteria, etc. But I attribute the vast majority of my wellness to meditation. Because meditation brings you into a stress-free space. And there you no longer produce too much adrenaline, which is often found among start-up founders, salespeople and marketers, people who just give gas and live according to this mentality of permanent toil and growth. If you overproduce adrenaline, then you overproduce cortisol and it affects your immune system.
What is very common in our cultures ...
Absolutely. I don't have any more problems with that. I've had them in the past, but not now. That was the short story of how I got out of this blatant life situation at the time. Where it helped me was realizing what an incredible gift life is. Think about it, the chances that you are you right here are 1 in 420 trillion. So statistically, you shouldn't exist at all. The chances that you exist at all are so slim that it is almost impossible. And yet you are here. This life is not very long. So compared to all life that has ever existed, your life is as long as the snap of your finger. So why wouldn't you live every minute like it was your last? All of this led me to take a very close look at myself and instead of living a socially compliant life, to find out who I really am. That means making the tough choices in my life about the things that just didn't work out in my life. And change it. And I changed it so that I could create a life that was right for me. That meant ending a long relationship, giving away my house and possessions, donating to charities, packing my suitcase and leaving, far away. I once lost my suitcase for 45 days. Because I lead a life of non-attachment, I didn't care that the suitcase was gone. When I got the suitcase back, I gave it away with its contents and now I only have a backpack.
I find all of this very interesting and I would like to go a little deeper on a few aspects. You said you had to find out who you really were first. How do you start such a journey?
It takes a lot of introspection for that. Something we forget to do is relive our childhood. As we grow up, we are taught to shed our childish side.
Yeah, don't be so childish ...
Exactly, you are growing up and you have to kindly deal with the adult stuff. This is the worst advice there is. What I did was, I looked back and wondered what I really, really liked doing as a child. I went all the way back and looked at the different parts of my life and wondered what was really driving me growing up? And this process will help you figure out what your potential role in life is. And I've had a lot of interesting and transformative moments as a kid, like all of us. Who we end up at depends largely on our first few years in life. From a mental standpoint, we learn half the things we ever need by the age of two. And I'm not talking about knowledge, I'm talking about walking, breathing, all these things that we have to learn in order to survive. Then, the following years are extremely formative. Whatever happens to you in life changes you as a person. For example, I was bullied and ripped off at school, it was extreme. Usually because I was the smart boy. I could have taken all sorts of paths, I could have become someone who puts others down. Because I have seen this example. Or I could have moved into a dark corner, suffered from depression or anxiety. I took it and from it developed a certain empathy for others and I wanted to do the opposite of what I experienced. And started helping others. That put me down a certain path trying to be as compassionate and helpful as possible. Of course, I have not always succeeded in doing that. There were times when I was a real asshole. But I also learned something from that. And that led me to my life's work. It is very clear: “positive generational effect”. I want to create things without any ego attached, so I don't care if anyone remembers my name. This is very important. But I want to create things that will make the world better for the next generation. Ideally the next seven generations. An ancient Indian people believed that if you create something that will last for 7 generations, it will last forever. I do and I do it through all of the things I like to do. This positive effect on the following generations is at the top of my pyramid. And right below that is the message that I want to get across and the art that I want to do it with. So when I stand on stage and speak, that's the art through which I get my message across. When I write a song, that's the art. When I create an app or a website, it's the art that gets that message across. It's all designed to make the world a better place.
What's the message?
That depends on what project we're talking about. For example, one of my start-ups helps large conferences achieve their zero-waste goals. And carbon-neutral. There are of course big challenges, conferences don't like to spend money. They prefer to spend less money on non-eco solutions. Digital Freedom Festival does a great job here.
Let's talk more about the art of public speaking you are known for around the world. That's how we both got to know each other yesterday and you caught my attention with your talk about unusual ways to optimize your everyday work. What are these unusual species? Or maybe we start with the question, why the current system of 8 hours of work - 8 hours of sleep - 8 hours of free time is not healthy?
The 8-8-8 rule still applies around the world. Not at all in the tech industry. She kills herself because people work way too hard. 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is not sustainable. Same in the PR industry. Unfortunately, that leads to burnouts, abuse of various substances, suicide, all of these things. The way the tech industry, PR, entertainment work is completely unhealthy in every way. And we have to change that. My most famous lecture is called “Mental Health in the Tech Industry”. I am talking about why it is such a problem and what we need to change. My talk “The unusual way to optimize your working day” is closely linked to this. Because if we can work smarter, we will have better mental health and then we will have better physical health. Everything is related. First thing: yes, you have things that you have to do every day. So, the night before, you write a list of all the things you need to take care of the next day. That where people are confused is the right prioritization. You can't go through the list in the order in which you created it in your mind. It's not a smart way to work. It is wise to understand what is important and what is urgent. In this day and age, smartphones ring all the time. Everything is urgent. We're at a point where we mistake urgency for importance. But it's not the same. The important thing is what allows you to finish this or that project. Or what allows me to spend more time with my family? Whatever is important to you, you have to think about it carefully and then say: THAT is important.
But that assumes that I already know myself so well that I know what is important and what is not?
Yes, you have to dig deep and say THAT is what matters. If you are an entrepreneur, profit is important to you. So what will increase sales and reduce costs? The reality is, you can always make 100% more sales - so just assume it's possible! So find out what's important to you, write your list, and then write down what's important vs. what's urgent. There are four squares. 1) Important and Urgent (this is the MOST IMPORTANT). 2) important and not urgent (the second most important). 3) there is urgent and not important and then 4) not urgent and not important. The last category shouldn't even be on your list.
So never do something that is neither important nor urgent? What about fun?
We'll talk about that in a moment. Because that's super important. But when it comes to your work tasks, line them up in these four squares. Then what I do, I roughly estimate how long each task will take and then I give that task a t-shirt size. XL is the longest task, then L, M, S. Then I rank the list again. Important and urgent XL is the very first task and then the shortest. Then I go to the second square, first the longest, then the shortest task.
How long is long for you
XL is an hour. It's a long job for me.
What if it takes longer?
That can happen, but first of all I have to guess.
Does it make sense to share tasks if they last longer than an hour?
Yes. A task that lasts three hours is likely not just one task, but several. And they are probably interdependent, so find out what the little steps you can take to get the whole thing done. Then I go to sleep. And when I wake up the next day, the first thing I do is meditate. And then I make my bed. Because that is a very small task that you can do to give yourself that instant feeling of success.
How do you meditate How long?
I don't look anymore. When I started, I used apps to do this. But now I don't want to measure that anymore. I just meditate until I feel like I'm done. Anything between 15 minutes and an hour, it depends on the day. Next up, breakfast. And then work starts. And then it starts with the most important, urgent and longest (XL) task. I'll do that first.
Because when you have finished this most important, urgent and biggest task of the day and you tick your list at the beginning of the day, it gives you such a huge sense of success that the rest of the day can hardly go wrong . It's very, very powerful!
Usually you put off this very task and do all the little things first, so that you can then focus on the big task.
Yes. The way people work is to sit in front of their computers for hours. And do all the little things first. At first, this may not be important at all. It just doesn't get you any further, no closer to what is really important to you. And then your brain gets weaker and weaker the longer you work like this. So if you do this big task first thing in the morning after you've meditated, when you are perky and have had a good breakfast, then your brain is in the best place to do this big task well.
The other thing that many fail to consider is single-tasking. The human brain was not built for multi-tasking, this has been proven many times over. Brain capacity decreases every time you switch between tasks. Each time the brain has to regenerate and adjust to the new task and that takes anywhere from a few minutes to thirty minutes or more.If you only focus on one task, then take a break, and then do another task, the warm-up time is minimal and you can start right away. Meditation will put you in such a mindful state if you practice it long enough that you can concentrate 100% on one task. The combination of 100% laser focus on the task that lies ahead of you plus single tasking puts you in an incredibly optimized and productive state. And the result is: instead of four tasks that you do at the same time and thus waste energy that your brain needs to do four tasks at the same time, where you spend the whole day doing these four things, you do one task at a time , are ready at 5:00 p.m. and can enjoy the rest of the day. It's very powerful. You can suddenly do what you think would take 10 hours to complete in just a few hours if you only focus on one task. Not only that, multitasking has been shown to be harmful to our brains. And I'm very sure that most people wouldn't do that voluntarily.
I think you mastered this art quite well. You mentioned that your working days last between two and four hours. What is your working day like? You have so many things to do, but you still only need so short.
Yes, I work about three hours a day. And these three hours are spread over the whole day. Because I like to play between my work sessions.
Is that another tip?
Oh yeah. The play factor is very, very important. It doesn't matter what it is. It can be your favorite game on your smartphone. It could be going for a swim in the ocean. When I'm in Santa Monica, I do that, then I ride my bike to Venice, sit in my favorite café.
Could be anything Play a musical instrument, have a conversation ...
Yes, whatever you enjoy. Reading a book, fiction, not business, just have fun. Do the childish things. Swing on a swing, slide down a slide. Whatever it is, just do what you enjoy. What is very interesting about the way our brains work: you wrote down your task list and you know what to do. Your brain knows what to do. When you play, your brain subconsciously plans the next piece of your work. So when you get back to work, this task is already planned in your head. You know what to do I am a good example of this. It used to take me anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours to write a 750-word article. Now I am writing, editing, and publishing this article in about 30 minutes. Single tasking and complete 100% laser focus together with the subconscious planning ahead of what I plan to write. My consciousness has nothing to do with it. But by jotting down and prioritizing the list and playing between tasks, my brain works subconsciously, and when I sit down and write, it just flows. This is a scientific description of what spiritual people call a flow state. It has a scientific basis. It is an anchor system combined with proper distraction of the brain from work that allows it to work properly again afterwards. Followed by the actual work which is so much fresher, more creative and innovative, more inspired because you played before. You won't have to work on it anymore.
Wow! But that's something that we are taught from an early age: first the work, then the play. Work hard, play hard, but first the work, then the play. What you're saying is, that this is neither sustainable nor very productive and especially not creative. And you don’t get into the flow state. So what would you suggest? Finishing one task, then go play, then finish the next task?
So after every task you finish, no matter how long it takes. Go play, do the fun stuff?
Yeah, absolutely. So I was just at the VIP-Room here at the Digital Freedom Festival and did some important work. (...) I am currently working on an online course for better writing. And I just read through 130 articles for feedback. That took about an hour. And now we have the opportunity to record this podcast interview. It's fun for me, I'm completely honest. I enjoy that very much, this is no job for me. And you make it easy for me too, good questions and such. So this is my break, my screen break, my fun time. And now I'm going back and doing another job that I have to do. And when I'm done with that, I'll take another break and then I have another job to do. These are my 3 big tasks for the day and that's it. The rest of the day is about fun, laughing with friends, I have a lot of great friends here in Riga who are also here at the festival. They are very important to me and we can hang out and have fun. This is what the new paradigm of work should be for me. Because what we have now is very antiquated and got stuck in a time when people worked in factories and in the fields, where you had to work from morning to night. These are very old ways of working. We are in the 21st century. The smartphone has revolutionized the world. It is probably the most influential invention since money, or possibly even language itself. And yet our working days have hardly changed. It is time for us to change that.
This is of course easier for someone who is self-employed and can choose when to work. But what about all the people who are employed? Who have to be at work at a certain point in time and can only leave again at a certain time. Is there something these people can do to implement at least some of your tips?
Yes, we all, society as a whole, have to rewrite ancient history in a way that work no longer harms us. And take into account that there are simply better ways to work. Businesses are starting to listen here. They allow their employees to work flexible hours and from other locations. That will increase because they have all read the studies and the results. They understand that people in better mental and physical shape will do better for them too. So give them the space to do that. We just have to keep going. Only systemic change will bring about the right change.
Microsoft, for example, did something right: in Tokyo they introduced a 4-day work week and every single parameter went through the roof. Productivity, Accuracy, Work Morale, and Sales and Profits. Because people now get three days off instead of two.
But then do people have to work more on these four days?
No, the same amount of work per day. CUT 39:15 I worked in sales for a long time. The interesting thing is, if you give a sales rep an entire country to look at, then they'll perform worse than if you just give that person 3 or 4 postcodes to look after. Why? Because if you know the area 39:54 If you know you only have 3 hours a day to deal with something, then I promise you will deal with it. People love deadlines.
What role does nature play in your unusual ways of working?
Yes, two points. Nature and nutrition. Nature is very important. We spend far too little time in nature. We're used to all that concrete and glass and steel. And that's not healthy. How can you invite people to brainstorms where they should have creative ideas when it's in the same damn room they've been 1000 times? It's not inspiring. So why not take a mobile WIFI and go to the park with a picnic? And a couple of laptops and a whiteboard and brainstorm outside in nature? I promise you these will be the best brainstorming sessions you have ever had. Because people are inspired and can think better. It's a much better environment. I work in a lot of different places, I switch places from one task to the next. Because I finish a task, then I do something that I enjoy and that takes me to another part of the city, to a café or co-working space. The change of environment inspires me. Sometimes I just have fun watching people. To wonder who are they, what are their stories?
Yeah i love that too. That is very inspiring and provides new ideas.
Exactly. And diet is also very important. Usually we don't give our bodies the right nourishment for our brains and our bodies. My rules are similar to Tim Ferris' "Slow Carb Diet", which you can find in the 4-Hour Body Book (link in show notes). 30 grams of protein after getting up, reduce sugar, do not leave out the carbohydrates, they are important. But the right carbohydrates. I don't eat anything that is white, rice, pasta, potatoes. But lentils, beans, good carbohydrates that also contain protein. Protein keeps you awake and alert, it helps you stay thin. It is important to have good sources of protein and combine that with good carbohydrates. This is a healthy way to eat and gives your body and mind the fuel it needs. Many people skip breakfast and have processed food for lunch while looking at their screens and shoveling in the food. This is not how you treat your body or mind. It's like a car. When the fuel needle goes down, you refuel. When the power needle goes down, why don't people refuel with the correct fuel? That’s so important. Nature and nutrition will help you optimize your working day further. And both will have a big effect on every part of your life, not just your work life, by the way.
50:10 Is there any wisdom you might share that immediately makes people's lives better?
Focus on the now. You get there through meditation. You don't have to sit with your legs crossed for a long time, like you see it everywhere. You can also get into a zen state by running or by punching a punching bag. Here's the trick: meditation is not about emptying your mind. If you have a problem with meditation because you say I can't empty my mind, that's not what it's about. Our brains are not computers; they are quantum devices. They are so much more complex than computers. We can't just empty our brains of thoughts. This is how it works: You concentrate on your breathing, follow the breathing into your lungs and then out again. This creates a very short time, about 4 or 5 seconds. Something will happen within that time. A sound, a touch, a smell, a light, anything will happen. Perceive it as it is and let it go by again with this breath. Next breath, you do the same. It is the constant repetition of awareness and letting go that brings you into this very mindful state and that will reprogram your mind. And it will give you more clarity, reduce your stress levels and strengthen your immune system. Another tip: I either let go of what I perceive because it is of no use to me. Or I am grateful for it. Or, I learn from it. And so I process each of these short periods of time. And when you get into that state, everything in your life will be so much easier and less stressful and optimized in a wonderful way.
Wow. Thank you so much Stewart.
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