Another week, another inspirational nugget and technical article.
Inspirational Nugget of the Week
Sharpen the Axe
You might know this quote from Abraham Lincoln (or from other people in a similar form):
"If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe."
Makes sense, doesn't it?
When did you sharpen your mind the last time?
Think about it: in the knowledge worker economy, your mind is the axe. You're probably using your mind for 8 hours of work (or more) per day. When are you sharpening your most valuable tool?
When is the last time you sat down, armed with pen and paper, and just thought? When did you deliberately take the time to read a good book? When is the last time you did something for your mind? Watching Netflix doesn't count ... it has to be something that you feel was worthwhile and helped you grow (although it can certainly be as enjoyable as watching Netflix).
Here are some things you can do to sharpen your axe:
Take long breaks: Ever since working from home, I've taken the freedom to take long breaks. I'm taking a 1.5 to 2 hours break for cooking and eating lunch, and then I have time left to do something else. Taking breaks is not only good for recharging the brain and the willpower we've spent so far, it also generates time to do some of the other "sharpening activities" outlined below. I've realized by now that you don't need to work from home to take long breaks. Working from home was just the trigger for me.
Read every day: As part of my lunch break routine, I read 20-30 minutes almost every day. I always have a pile of books at home that I want to read. Books that I've stumbled across while reading other books, or books that other people recommended me. Only books that I find interesting, though! This makes me look forward to my reading and makes it easy to follow through. If a book turns out to be boring, I don't force myself to finish it. Think about it rationally: a typical self-development book usually has less than 50,000 words. Assuming you read about 200 words per minute, that means you'll spend a maximum of 4.5 hours reading one book. Reading 30 minutes a day means you get through a book roughly every 2 weeks. That's 26 books a year! Even 10 books in a year are amazing. Think about all the things you'll learn! Books are a great source of inspiration and you recharge your brain at the same time. It's addictive!
Sit down and think: I'm doing this far too infrequently, but I'm doing it every now and then and it makes all the difference. I take a piece of paper (or rather, my shiny new e-ink tablet), pick a topic (or no topic at all), and just think. I take notes about what I'm thinking or just doodling around. I use this time to think about what I want to achieve in life or to think about the solution to a specific problem. In one of these sessions, I came up with a plan on how to tackle a project at work. In another session, I figured out how I can make my side project more attractive to users. After a session, I harvest the most important ideas from my notes and then throw the notes away.
Have a maintenance schedule: I learned that innovation is bred from structure. Having a structure in place, like reading every day, or doing a thinking session every week, helps to grow ideas and innovation. So, why not keep a maintenance schedule for yourself to hold yourself accountable for sharpening your most important tool? Set aside 15 minutes every week to just sit down and think. Set aside 10 minutes a day for reading a couple of pages in a book. Your car has a maintenance schedule. Why shouldn't your brain have one?