⭐️ Effortless personal productivity (or how I learned to love my monkey mind)

I recently discovered a simple step-by-step process that significantly increased my personal productivity and made me happier along the way.

It costs $0 and no, it’s not some note-taking or to-do list system.

In short:

  • Step 1: develop meta-awareness of your state of mind.
  • Step 2: pattern-match to identify your mind’s most common modes.
  • Step 3: learn to pick activities that match each mode.

I know that sounds kind of weird but I promise it’ll make sense in a minute.

Step 1

You need to learn to observe what’s going on in your mind almost like a third-person observer.

This is difficult and requires a lot of practice.

The goal is to have moments of clarity where you’re able to see “ah that’s what’s going on in my mind right now”.

Step 2

If you’re able to have these moments of clarity regularly, you’ll be able to spot patterns and categorize them.

For example, one typical pattern is that my mind starts looking for distractions.

Another is that my mind is hyper-analytical and is looking at everything from ten different angles.

Sometimes it’s in monkey mode and jumping like crazy from one idea to the next.

Another mode that is typical for me is what I like to call robot mode.

Basically, I’m catching myself going through the motions but not really accomplishing anything meaningful.

And there’s low-filter mode which typically occurs when I’m a bit tired.

Step 3

Now the key is to embrace these different states of mind instead of fighting against them.

For example, when your mind is seeking distractions, a typical reaction is to get angry and to try to power through nevertheless.

This is stupid and a recipe for burnout.

In distraction mode, my mind is looking for new inputs. It usually occurs when I’m not 100% convinced that what I’m doing is what I really should be doing.

My way of embracing it is to always have a (virtual) box of healthy intellectual “snacks” ready.

This is important because otherwise, it’s easy to just doomscroll for hours and consume intellectual junk.

With a list of high-quality essays, books, and videos always at hand, I can steer my desire for new inputs in healthy directions.

When my mind enters robot mode it clearly needs a break. In a sense, it has already shut down but my fingers are still moving across the keyboard.

The proper way to embrace it is to close the laptop and do something else. Meet friends, go outside for a walk or to the gym.

I’ve also learned to love low-filter mode.

It’s really great for any kind of writing. I’m writing all my tweets, essays, and emails when my mind has entered this state.

In low-filter mode, these tasks are effortless while they’re hard work in any other mode.

In contrast, tasks that require more brainpower like programming or any kind of math are better done when my mind is hyper-analytical.

Trying to force yourself to do a task that is not a good fit for your current state of mind is not only a poor use of time but actually counter-productive.

Back when I was still doing physics, I used to force myself to continue calculations even though I was tired.

Progress was slow and it was a frustrating experience.

I also made so many mistakes that the next day I often spent hours finding and fixing them.

(It of course would’ve been smarter and faster just to delete the nonsense I produced when I was tired. But the usual sunk cost fallacy prevented me from doing this.)

Had I stopped working after 4 hours when my mind started to get tired, I definitely would’ve been more productive.

I could’ve used the remaining hours of the day to properly recharge and wouldn’t have to waste hours looking for errors the next day.

Similarly, when I started my Bootstrap MBA experiment, I forced myself to write tweets first thing in the morning.

But early in the day, my mind is hyper-analytical. It’s trying to analyze every word I write from ten different angles. Hence every tweet felt like hard work.

Now I write tweets in the evening when my filters are low.

It’s fun, feels like play, and I have zero doubts that my tweets are better as a result.

I also used to get angry when I didn’t get 8-hours of sleep at night.

Now I’m thinking: “Oh great, it’s another writing day!”.

Or when my mind enters monkey mode, I embrace it by cleaning and organizing things.

I use Telegram to take quick notes during the day by sending messages to myself. Monkey mode is perfect to go through these notes and sort them into Notion.

Obviously, your mind probably works differently and might have different modes.

So forget the details. The most important takeaway is that learning to observe your mind, to categorize the different states it can be in, and then embracing them is an incredible superpower.

Written on January 10, 2022

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