One of my favourite podcasts is the Tim Ferriss Show. Among the many things Tim is successful at in addition to a podcast host, is being an author. Of his books, there is one called Tribe of Mentors: Short life advice from the best in the world, presumably about life advice that is short rather than advice about living a short life. It is based on answers to 11 really good questions that Tim needed to answer for himself at one point in his life, and of which he asked some people who he most admired to see what they would say so he could learn from the best. A sample can be heard in this podcast episode link, along with more about the questions and their sequence.
Personally, I love good, thoughtful and/or philosophical questions that are useful and not just theoretical. So in addition to reading and listening to answers from the book to learn, I thought I’d give them a try first. From answers I will give, I will analyze to see what I didn’t like, or which I thought I could improve on, to see if I can obtain a better answer some time over the next few years, decade, or even some point in the rest of my life. That’s because these questions aren’t just useless and/or silly thought experiments. No. A good answer for any one of these questions can really make a difference in one’s life, even if it wouldn’t always be some grand, life altering kind, though a few might be. At the least, I will end up with a great story for each answer. So on with the final post in this series, and Tim’s Question #11.
11. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?
I go for a walk/run, somewhere else to work or think, change my routine, and/or try something new. The space I am in can influence my state of mind a lot, causing me to revert to certain modes of thinking, or keeping me there when I am trying to get out. It’s for the same reason why the advice for couples or colleagues or friends stuck in a prolonged fight over something is to go somewhere else to try and settle it, with preference even to do it while moving, if possible, like while walking. To some extent, I can overcome limits of place imposed on me by some change in routine and/or trying something new, which is a change in routine of sorts, though it might not be to still have supper at the same time and place, but just with new foods. However, I find what never fails me is if I go to some different place, whether just for the motion in the walk/run, or to get to a different place to work/think. That’s because aside from literally giving me a new perspective from what I can see there, I tend to get new perspectives on what I’m stuck on. Being in motion also gets me thinking differently. This also works for being overwhelmed because being overwhelmed is indecision about what to do next, whether from so many things or options, from inability to prioritize, or from fear of making mistakes. The overwhelm, for me, is from the bottleneck generated from indecision, not from the workload because the workload will be what it is, unless you can trim some from it which is prioritization in a way. The best way to solving excessive workloads that can’t change is merely putting one’s head down and getting through it, not stopping and worrying, which is also lack of focus. So overwhelm, unfocused, and being stuck, all come down to inefficiency in some way, though some of it is lack of creativity or clarity sort of inefficiency, rather than a mere results per hour sort of inefficiency where just working harder or faster can get me the desired outcome. It’s more a change of direction, or surge required to break through a wall or get over a hump.
Despite the time I have to take to go elsewhere, change my routine, and/or try something new to get back on course and/or pace, I find it a worthwhile investment. If I were overwhelmed, unfocused, or otherwise stuck, my efficiency is generally pretty low. I’m not losing a lot with time taken to refocus and refresh myself. The time taken is an investments that pays well even in the short term, never mind medium or long term.
As for questions I ask myself, if it were a matter of prioritization, I consider:
- Time due;
- Amount of work involved;
- Flexibility of each item’s deadline;
- Consequences if deadline missed;
- Who I am letting down, myself or others, if I fail or miss the deadline;
- How much do the person/s I might let down matter to me, among other questions.
I don’t have a set formula or algorithm to weigh these factors, even for certain situations. I go on an artistic mix of rationale and feelings to decide what to prioritize.
If I were needing breakthroughs on how to solve something, I try to run or walk to big open spaces, like down by the ocean in the harbour where I live, or up high on a hill not far from where I live where it is the highest natural point I can see. There’s something about big open spaces that makes my mind become that way in my thinking, and all the more so if I’m high up, as if I’m a god looking down on mortals like myself. I just find myself asking myself questions about my problem from all kinds of different angles I didn’t think about while lower on “earth”. Running also gets my mind and body working in different ways as well, enough that I have a saying about how “praying is when you ask God for something, while running is when you get the answer”. I have solved innumerable problems in my life in “brilliant” ways (as in never thought of anything close to the solution I got) while running.
If I just need focus to grind through something, I usually find the mall, or my empty workplace, works for two very different reason. Generally, my mind needs something to shut out to focus. Otherwise, without being able to put up a wall against something, it wanders and loses focus. in a mall, like in a food court, even when it’s relatively empty, I have something to block out, even if it’s just visuals of cars moving outside, or the occasional person moving through. In my workplace afterhours, meanwhile, like for my hobbies like writing, it’s a place where my mentality is to be professional and focus to be able to do my work. When I sit down there, I do just that, and it doesn’t seem to differ with me whether the content is my work, or my hobby. That’s why the moment I could return the office to work from the pandemic restrictions, I did! I keep my work and play space apart for the different mentalities required, but I will leverage one or the other, as needed, when the appropriate situation arises.
906 words unique to this post