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9 Concepts to learn more about and to develop your Productivity and your Creativity

Note : This article is the third in a series of articles concluding my reading of ten books in the category Productivity & Effectiveness in my Crazy Personal MDA Challenge, after 10 Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Increase Your Productivity and 10 Exceptionals Books about Productivity and Creativity in a Glance .

Contrary to the first article in the series which focused on simple things that can be implemented, here I deal with concepts that seem to me to be profound and interesting, and that require, for the most part, reflection and time to learn more and then use them. Often, these are the foundational concepts in the books from which I drew them – even though there are some that don’t come directly from the ten books in the category – and I think that they all have the potential to change our view of the world with regard to their subject matter. Here they are without further ado:

1 – We are all more efficient when our mind is free of parasitic thoughts that endlessly invade it. When we reach a state of absolute concentration, where we are completely focused on the task at hand, we are capable of miracles, that is to say, of doing things more quickly and efficiently that we could have imagined. It is a state in which we can choose to dedicate ourselves completely to our tasks, without the slightest interruption, parasitic thought, daydream or other source of distraction, while remaining absorbed and in full possession of our faculties. A dream, is it not? It is what practitioners of martial arts call “mind like water” (Mizu-no-kokoro), and athletes call “being in the zone,” or psychologists the flow. Moments like this have no doubt occurred in your life. Were you performing, more satisfied with yourself and your accomplishments? No doubt you were.

It is possible to cultivate habits that allow you to reach this state frequently, to develop a system. GTD recommends a system completely based on writing in order to free our mind from all the thoughts that endlessly interrupt our concentration. Matthieu Ricard, in The Art of Meditation, tells us this is the best way to develop a more attentive mind, conscious of the present moment, free of all emotions and negative thoughts. There are no doubt many other ways to reach this state of mind, and the fact that it is described in multiple disciplines shows clearly that it is an important universal concept and that we will benefit by learning more about it.

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2 – It takes years and years to completely master an art, a discipline, or a subject. To become a true master in a field, if that’s your goal, is a bottomless well that you never truly reach.

It was only 58 years ago that Twyla Tharp, famous American choreographer, and author of The Creative Habit, finally felt like a “master of choreography.” For the first time in her career, on the occasion of her 128th ballet, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, she felt like a perfect master of all the components that make up the dance – the music, the steps, the symbolism, the use of people on the set, and clarity of the objective. She finally had the skills to fill the void between what she saw in her mind and what actually happened on the set. The achievement of mastery takes time. Be patient. Never give up. But how will you know when you have achieved mastery in something? Is it the total realization of your objectives, a feeling of inner completeness, the unequivocal respect of others? Why do you seek total mastery?

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3 – On the other hand, understand that very often it is useless to seek perfection and that you can be happy with good results by carrying out 20% of the actions that lead to 80% of the result.

Effectively, perfectionism leads us on an endless quest and makes us concentrate on details that aren’t important, and that can be a means of procrastination – putting the most important things off until tomorrow. Now, Pareto’s Law tells us that in general, 20% of the objectives produce 80% of the results. The 80/20 percentage is of course not exact to last the decimal point in most situations, but it describes effectively the enormous imbalance which takes place in an incalculable number of fields; 20% of clients in a company make up 80% of its revenue (that’s the case in mine), 20% of countries in the world share 80% of the wealth, in these same countries, 20% of the population share 80% of the wealth, 80% of our work is finished in 20% of the time we allocate for it, 20% of blog posts are visited by 80% of the visitors, 80% of our annoyances come from 20% of our relationships (customers, friends, acquaintances, etc), 20% of our relationships bring us 80% of the love we need, etc. This concept may seem completely alien the first time that we are confronted with it, but its universality has been proven in many fields.

Imagine what would happen if you got rid of a maximum of 80% of the things you do and that only bring you 20% of your results, so that you could concentrate on what is really important? And why is it that this law is so universal? Does that mean something? Are there ways to concretely apply it in our lives? The wealth of questions and possibilities that this concept opens up is absolutely fascinating. It is worth learning more about it, from a practical and theoretical point of view, and I think that it is completely susceptible to changing our lives if we can find a way to apply it intelligently.

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4 – Our freedom in life is, like our freedom of movement in a building, in part defined by its structure. Effectively, everything has an underlying structure, whether it is physically like a bridge or a skyscraper or as immaterial as the plot of a novel or the form of a symphony. Our life is a structure, it is composed of multiple elements interacting with each other and with itself.

The structure determines the movements and behavior of the objects that comprise it, and:

  1. We advance in life by taking the path of least resistance, the one which is easier to travel within our structure – just as it is easier to enter a room by the door rather than a window.
  2. The underlying structure of our lives determines the path of least resistance.
  3. The actual structure of our lives is in large part determined by the paths of least resistance in our past, at present almost completely forgotten.

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Thus:

5 – In order to live our dreams, it is preferable to change the structure of our lives rather than resolve our problems. Effectively, we can learn to recognize the structures that play a role in our life and change them so that we can create what we really want to create. But how do you change a structure? By creating. Often we think in terms of solving problems, but this approach only allows us to change some of the elements here or there without changing the structure, and this initial structure can only lead then to elements in their initial state.

When we try to solve a problem we are acting to remove something: the problem. When we create, we are acting to make something happen: creation. Therefore by thinking structurally, rather than saying “How shall I make this unwanted situation go away?” we say to ourselves “What structure should I adopt to create the results that I want to create?”

It is a radically different approach. And much more efficient. And which is best, once we have mastered it, for giving us the key to create the life we want rather than put up with a state of affairs that we don’t appreciate, to be proactive rather than reactive, in short to create out of our desires and our imagination rather than responding to the constraints and stimuli. Personally I find the concept of structure and the path of least resistance absolutely fascinating, because it is a sort of theory of individual freedom, the freedom of every human being to live the life he wishes for. It is a concept so rich and loaded that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read The Path of Least Resistance, the book that explains all this, and it is really beneficial to learn more about it. Is the actual structure of your life what you wish for? How was it created? Did you choose it or did it arise from elements beyond your control? Are you more focused right now on solving problems without seeking to change the underlying structure?

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6 – To renew your energy and that of your co-workers, concentrate on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Efficient people renew their energy. They know they you can’t build on weakness. Their first task consists of gathering strength. They assign roles and promotions according to what men can do, by taking their good qualities more into considerations than their defects. Trying to staff an organization with men who have no weaknesses or “good subjects” leads to mediocrity, even incompetence. Strong men always have weaknesses: wherever there are mountains there have to be valleys.

Efficient people don’t ask themselves “How will he get along with me?” instead they ask “What can he bring to the table?” They don’t ask themselves “What is he capable of doing” but “What does he do especially well?” When they interview, they look for exceptional qualities in an important area rather than general skills. Finally, by concentrating on strengths rather than problems, you must inflate the possibilities and deflate the problems. This is a strong concept because it is actually applied very little. And for your own part, do you concentrate more on your strengths or your weaknesses? And what do you do with other people? Why do you think it is more important to focus on strengths? What is the ego’s role in self esteem deep down? Do you prefer doing things in an area in which you are gifted or where nature has given you no particular talent? Is the pleasure of doing something tied in some degree to the perfection with which we do it?

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7 – Knowing how to manage computers – the skills of the 80s consisting of clicking buttons, making menu selections, opening or closing files – are no longer enough in the Information Age. The Information Age is characterized by the omnipresent, skyrocketing volume of bits that we deal with. Bits are everywhere today, traveling at the speed of light from one end our planet to the other and transport a quantity of information that is increasingly more significant, increasingly more different, and on a significantly increasing quantity of peripherals – computers, telephones, PDAs, MP3 players, vehicles and even refrigerators. The number of emails is exploding, new acronyms and new technologies appear every day and millions of people from students to doctors, from teachers to CEOs, from graphic designers to computer technicians, are overwhelmed by the amount of information that they receive every day and have to deal with.

For this worldwide problem there is a solution: learn to manage this mass of information by using good practices and good tools, in a process similar to learning how to read and write allows us manipulate symbols which form the written language. This talent is so important in this era of streaming information and communication that whoever has this skill can overcome the hurdle of overload, climb to the top of their profession, and enjoy a life with less stress, better health and more time for their family and friends.

Bits are heavy, you either consume them or ignore them. The fact that they are predominant today is due to their unique properties making them so desirable: they are very small, very fast, easy to acquire and created, copied and shared in almost infinite amounts, protected by the ravages of times and free from limitations of distance and space. Bits are however paradoxical: they don’t weigh anything yet they seem to weigh us down, they don’t take up any space, but they seem to always accumulate, they are created in an instant but they can remain indefinitely, they move at the speed of light, but they make us waste a lot of time.

Avoiding or ignoring these paradoxes only lead to being engulfed by the avalanche, fortunately, information management training teaches us how to avoid that.

Finally, learning to manage information is summarized by applying GTD and and the 20/80 rule to sort the information, while using good tools. This concept is fundamental for learning more and achiveing mastery in our era, and will become more so given the omnipresence of digital information tools leading to information all around us. Knowing how to manage information is for me as important today as it must have been to learn how to read and write in the 19th century: it gives you a considerable advantage over those who have not mastered it.

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8 – It is better to fail while trying to fulfill our dreams than not trying to fulfill them. A dream is transformed into an objective when it is assigned a time limit – and actions to get there. You should not be afraid of failure; it’s even very important. Failure is cool. It is an enormous source of learning, and can cause us to make progress in an area more quickly than years of apprenticeship with no setbacks.

What is also great about failing? In many ways, the creative act is a question of refinement. You suppress or modify bad ideas that didn’t work. That exercises our judgment. There are many ways to fail:

 

  • Failure of skill. You have an idea in your head but you don’t have the required skill to implement it.
  • Failure of concept. You have an idea that is poorly formed and doesn’t fit properly in your life.
  • Failure of judgment. You leave something in your idea or your project which should have been taken out – and that results in imbalance in the total creation.
  • Failure of nerves. The worst. You have everything you need except the necessary guts to follow through with your idea and explore it to its fullest potential.
  • Failure of repetition. Despite having overcome one or more similar failures, you repeat the same mistakes.
  • Failure of denial. The deepest. Creating something new and fresh is an act of daring, of presumption. You think that the world cares because you have something to say. And they don’t really care, you shut yourself up in denial feeling misunderstood and cursing a world that doesn’t understand your genius. Do you consider the fulfillment of your dreams as nothing but possible? Do you think that the mere act of trying to reach your dreams, the path, is more important than the fact of reaching them? – the destination? Do you experience or would you experience more pleasure by trudging along the path that leads to your dreams even if you are not sure of reaching your destination, than meandering along a sure path but one that you are not sure is taking you anywhere?

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9 – In the end we are all powerful human beings who have a mountain of jewels inside us ready to be harvested, and we can learn to surpass ourselves to create the life we want. Learning, understanding, acting, creating, making mistakes and learning from these mistakes, trying and succeeding to constantly overcome our limitations, these I think are the ingredients for a life that is worth being lived, an exciting life full of challenges which we can turn to at the end and say “yes, I have lived well and that’s just as well” 🙂

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Olivier,

    I was wondering where you got the list of ways to fail. It seems like setting a goal is positive because if you miss it, you can then do analysis of what caused you to fail and how you can improve to meet the goal or set better goals. Thanks for the post, it was a nice summary.

  2. Syah says:

    Hi Jami,Wow, I hadn’t realadized you had posted a comadment! Thanks and now that some time has psased, I have even more to say as a followup.I’ve been workading on GTD now for almost 5 months and must say that it’s critadiadcal you be seriadous about makading change hapadpen or this will be just like all the other books on orgaadniadzaadtion one might have mucked with in the past with maradginal results.That said, I’ve benadeadfited greatly from using David Allen’s work as a startading place for my orgaadniadzaadtional foradmula. Here are the key things I’ve found most helpful.1. Getadting EVERYadthing out of your head and fixed in some tanadgiadble medium, be it paper or digadiadtal (a RAM chip is a tanadgiadble medium, right?).2. Takading all those things you got out of your head and putting them in ONE cenadtral place. This is so decepadtively simadple that its power could easadily be overadlooked. This (and the preadviadous point) is the real key to the entire book (in my opinadion) and the reaadson most of us humans (espeadcially info workaders) are so lost in the sea of overadwhelmading inforadmaadtion assailading us pracadtiadcally every minute.3. Reviewading your entire life in terms of the Six-Level Model: 50,000 Feet = Life, all the way to the Runadway = Curadrent Actions and doing this review on a regaduadlar basis. Ultiadmately, the real key here is the issue of review on a regaduadlar basis. If you write down a set of goals and never look at them again, it’s not really going to help you much at all.4. Becomading aware of the Natadural Planadning Model for projects and its 5 phases (which we already use unconadsciously) and using this model to conadsciously manadage your life and all the sub-projects of which it is made.5. Finally, the pracadtiadcal, nuts and bolts advice he gives is a great time saver in terms of takading your mind off the miladlion ways you could get started putting prinadciadples into action. I actuadally took the check list of mateadriadals with me to Office Depot and puradchased all the stuff in one shot and it made it MUCH easadier to start putting Allen’s ideas to work immeaddiadately. That was much appreciated!Of course that barely scratches the suradface of all the useadful stuff I got out of the book, but again, these are the critadiadcally imporadtant things I took away and have been using ever since.So let me know how you’re doing with it! Are you still workading with GTD and what have you found most useful?Thanks again for the feedback!Best regards, –ZackPS, I have been eagerly anticadiadpatading Omni Group’s veradsion of a GTD app for OS X. It’s called

  3. Great insight! That’s the answer we’ve been looking for.

  4. That’s a cunning answer to a challenging question

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