Recently I’ve seen a trend in my life: it’s hard to get things done. Doing the little things that add up over time seems much harder than before. None of these things are new or difficult. I’m talking about working out, writing, meditating, or reading.
As I’ve pondered why, the common thread I see is trouble getting started. The things I want to do are easy. I’ve done them all before, most many times. Once I start a workout I have no problem completing it. I enjoy writing once I start. The stumbling block is just getting going.
I don’t think I’m alone. 2020 has done a number on all of us in one way or another. At some point, however, we need to reestablish a new normal. That can be painful. Humans have an amazing ability to avoid pain. My goal for July is to push past avoiding pain and establish a new rhythm. To find my new normal despite discomfort.
I believe that one of the keys to success is daily actions. Don’t let the fear or discomfort of starting hold you back from gaining the long term benefits they will bring.
I really like Twitter for the way it allows you to connect with thought leaders. I don’t particularly like being on Twitter or any social media service for an extended time each day. I decided to find a way to get a digest of tweets from some thought leaders in my inbox each morning.
In this example I’m going to set up a digest of tweets from Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) and James Clear (@JamesClear). These two are authors and speakers who tweet regularly and have long form writing that I enjoy. Both are also in my RSS feed, but because their writing is usually long form there’s generally a bit of time between articles. I think both are people who put effort into making their tweets valuable, which is why I’d like to still read them, but on my schedule and from my inbox.
I’m using Zapier for this. You’ll need a free Zapier account which will be connected to your Twitter account and your Gmail account. If you don’t feel comfortable giving Zapier that type of permission then this workflow won’t work for you. You can find details on how Zapier handles 3rd party account credentials here.
You’ll need to create a list on Twitter of the accounts you want a digest of.
Setting up the list
In your Twitter account go to the Lists page. (You can find this in the sidebar or by going to https://twitter.com/YOURUSERNAME/lists.) Click the button at the top right to create a new list, then enter a name and description for the list. I always make my lists private, but both types of lists will work.
Next add the accounts you want a digest from as “members” of the list. Click Done when they have been added.
Setting up Zapier’s integration
You can see an overview of how this Zap (the name Zapier gives their integrations) works on this page. Click the Try It button and you will be prompted to log in to your Zapier account.
Next, you’ll need to allow Zapier to connect to your Twitter account. Once that’s done, select your Twitter account from the list and click Continue. Then choose the list you created in the step above and click Continue.
In the testing step Zapier will use the settings you specified to go out and pull some data. This allows you to be sure it’s pulling the correct information. It’s useful to have Twitter open to your list in a different tab so you can confirm that the three tweets Zapier pulls match the most recent three tweets in your list.
If everything looks right, select the most recent tweet and click Done Editing.
You’ll want to the second step, Append Entry and Schedule Digest, before moving on. I gave mine a title and chose a daily frequency for 5 am. Make sure to run a test to make sure this step works correctly.
Finally, you’ll need to connect your Gmail account. Zapier isn’t an email service; it needs to use your email account in order to send the email. In my case the email is sent and received using the same email address, but you could also send an email from your email address to just yourself or to a group of people.
Here’s a look at some of my settings for the email:
Once you have the settings the way you want you can send a test email. I played around with some of the settings, in particular the body type (plain vs html) before I landed on these settings. Experiment and see what works best for you. Please note that the test email you receive will only have the most recent tweet from your list! As new tweets appear they will be added to the digest and sent together as a single email in the time frame you specified in the second step.
The last step is to turn your Zap on. Congratulations!
If you run into any issues, check out the Guide in the right sidebar of the Zap settings. It has good instructions for each step of the process.
One of the productivity changes I added to my phone recently is enabling color filters and an accessibility shortcut. Triple pressing the home button now turns my phone’s screen from color to black and white.
Why do this? It turns out a lot of the visual fun of using a device is gone when there’s no color. Who knew? My screen time went down significantly after making this change. It’s easier to focus on the phone as a tool instead of the phone being a distraction.
Switching back to color is as simple as triple clicking the home button. (Note: My phone has a physical home button. There are other workarounds for those who don’t have a physical button.)
Here’s how to set it up:
Go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. Enable color filters and choose Greyscale from the list.
Go back to Settings > Accessibility and select Accessibility Shortcut, then select Color Filters. When you triple click the home button, the grayscale color filter will be enabled or disabled.
One thing that always bothers me is when a coworker or friend starts a sentence with “I know you’re busy, but…” I’m never sure if this is a reflection on how I’m acting or how much I’m accomplishing.
Acting busy is easy. You just need to appear stressed out. We all do this. As Seth Godin put it, “All you need to do to feel busy is to try to get two things done at once.” Multitasking is not something our brains are built for. When we try to get two or more things done at once we do all of them poorly and we feel stress. We seem frustrated. And we probably appear very busy to the people around us.
Being productive is something completely different. (To be clear, I’m not talking about 45 step systems that allow you to become a millionaire in a month or do the work of four mere mortals without needing to sleep.) Productivity is based on results and process rather than situation. One of the most productive things I do each afternoon is meditate for 15 minutes. That time spent alone, practicing mindfulness, does more to help me get things done than nearly anything else I do. Single tasking is a close second. Productive people accomplish things but rarely do they seem “busy.”
When you feel busy, take a moment to figure out what you’re doing wrong. Have you scheduled too much? Are your deadlines unreasonable? Do you need to delegate or ask others for help? Are you trying to do two things at once? Do you need to break your current task down into smaller pieces? When is the last time you took a walk?
Being busy doesn’t help you get more done or mean that you’re important. Strive for productivity instead.
I feel lucky that I’m wired to be a reader. From my childhood I spent lots of time reading books and it’s something that I still do. My mother used to kick me and my brother out of the house so we would stop reading so much. I wish I had to do that more often with my kids!
In my career this has been so important. Each time I take on a new task or join a new team I assemble a reading list, plow through it, add new blogs to my daily feed, and within a short time I feel more comfortable with the basics of what I’ve been asked to do. Reading will never be the same as doing and experience is important, but for me quality reading makes the journey towards doing much shorter and fulfilling.
In our work we are judged on our output, rarely on our input. That’s unfortunate, because low quality input leads to low quality output. I love it when my boss gives our team something to read or watch. I learn more not only about the thing we’re working on but about his inputs and influences.
Here are some suggestions for getting higher quality input into your work routine.
Delete social media apps from your phone. More than any other action I’ve taken this year this has improved my life. I still use Twitter and LinkedIn on my computer and I can log in to the website on my phone if I need to. Not having the apps on my devices means I can’t default to using social media to kill a few minutes. Suddenly I have vast stretches of formerly occupied time available! It sounds like I’m trying to be funny, but I’ve read at least 10 more books this year because I deleted social media apps from my phone.
Read more than one book at a time. This sounds counterintuitive! Alas, most good books are not page turners the whole way through. There are times when I don’t want to read more about being productive, about business, or about anything non-fiction. I make sure I have a novel or two around, and I usually have 2-3 other books in progress at any given time. (A nightstand book, a bathroom book, a book on my work desk, a book on my home desk, and a book in the front room. If there’s a book wherever you go you’ll end up reading them!) Here is Scott Young’s great illustration on how this actually helps you read more.
Read before bed. I remember reading Tim Ferriss’s advice along these lines years ago and have enjoyed this habit since. I tend to read narrative-based books, like novels, historical fiction, or biographies, before bed. Listening to an audiobook works for some people too. (I suggest using a timer on your audiobook app if you go this route so you can easily find your place in the morning if you fall asleep before the book stops.) You’ll be surprised how many books you get through by reading 30 minutes per night. You also have the added benefit of not using a screen right before bed, which many people find makes falling asleep easier.
Put reading time on your schedule. Call it whatever you need to so that co-workers won’t think you are slacking. If you read more you will have better ideas, make broader connections, and problem solve more effectively. It doesn’t matter what field you work in, this will make you better at your job. As Harry Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Get your reading time scheduled on your calendar.