Issue #16, Volume 1
June 9, 2021
Do you do your best remote work from home?
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, recently posed that question. “What if remote work didn’t mean working from home?” he asked.
As we gradually come out of our pandemic lockdowns, we recognize that the face of work is changing for many of us, especially knowledge workers.
“Working from home” has been aspirational for many of us, but Newport takes issue with that. Maybe the place you do your best remote work isn’t from home.
He cites the habits of authors Maya Angelou, Peter Benchley, John Steinbeck, and others, who all did their writing in other places.
Newport points out that during this pandemic lockdown, “we’ve learned that performing useful cognitive work is a fragile endeavor, one in which environment matters.”
“Home is also rich in salient interruption,” he continues. “The human brain is adept at filtering out superfluous incoming information, but if this superfluous information is relevant to us it becomes difficult to ignore.”
This is partly why we can often work productively at a noisy, busy coffee shop — the “superfluous information” we ‘re hearing isn’t relevant to us so we can shut it out, unlike the sounds of our own children whining in the next room, or the laundry that needs shifting from the washer to the dryer.
Writing, of course, is the most portable of portable careers. While writers have always been able to work from anywhere, it’s clear that large numbers of other types of knowledge workers will continue working remotely post-pandemic.
Newport dubs his recommended solution “work from near home,” or WFNH. He describes his own situation, as a professor at Georgetown University, during lockdown.
As a professor with a flexible schedule, I had always spent some time at home, but the sudden demand to do everything—from teaching and writing to faculty meetings and radio and podcast interviews—from my house strained my ability to concentrate (and also my three kids’ ability to stay quiet while I was lecturing or live on the air). “
So he rented a small office several blocks away from home. “Like Peter Benchley so many decades earlier, I now leave a perfectly lovely house, with its light-filled rooms and comfortable furniture, to instead go sit on a used office chair, staring at an undecorated wall, ignoring the clangs and clamor of the diners below. I no longer work from home—I work from near home. And I’ve never felt more productive.”
Do you know where you do your best work?
I don’t know if it’s my best work, but I do know I can work comfortably on a train but find it nearly impossible to work on a plane. Of course, I wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t tried both!
Tips & Tricks
Best places to live and work abroad
International Living has long inspired people – mostly retirees – to experience the joys of living in a new country. They’ve historically focused on full-time expatriation, with a nod to snowbirds who spend the winter months in a warm climate and then return home once the weather warms up there.
So their list is biased in that general direction. That said, it’s an article worth reading.
The list include two countries in the Americas and two in Europe. I’m not sure why they left out Asia. . .
Take better notes
Sarah Jane Burt believes that “note-taking is essential to productivity.”
She’s not wrong. I take notes during meetings, and when I’m doing research for an article. I like to type my notes, since I’m a very fast touch typist, but others insist that handwritten notes are best.
This article outlines different ways to take notes, and links out to some popular note-taking tools.
The simple way to improve your brain health, from a neuroscientist
Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D. has written a book titled Biohack Your Brain.
In it, she recommends simple things you can incorporate into daily life to prevent memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases.
She goes beyond the obvious, like crossword or other puzzles. One simple hack that appeals to me is really simple and requires no special equipment, just a paper and pencil.
Here it is — write with your nondominant hand.
In other words, if you’re right handed, write with your left. If you’re a lefty, use your right. Once you do that, you’ll start using your nondominant hand for more things.
Why is this important?
It’s a way to encourage your brain’s neuroplasticity, a fancy word for building new neural connections. And that’s really important for us creative types.
Willeumier takes it a small step further. She intentionally learns a new word every day, and then writes it out with her nondominant hand.
What’s better than a succesful startup?
Tim Denning has an answer: a lifestyle business.
“Become a creator and build a lifestyle,” he advises. “Startups are so 2010.”
He likens a startup to daycare, a glorified job, and a lottery.
A lifestyle business, on the other hand, “has zero employees. It’s a business you build around your lifestyle — not around money, fame or babies. You don’t need to go big. I’ve learned that you can create a lifestyle business with a tiny email list anybody can build, and 40 customers (when you charge higher prices).”
Not surprisingly, this mimics advice from Brian Clark, only he calls it a Personal Enterprise.
Gratitude vs toxic positivity
One of the worst jobs I ever had was three months of soul sucking I endured working in a call center.
One of the things that made it so bad was the enforced culture of toxic positivity, although I didn’t know to describe it that way at the time.
The insistence on positivity was so strong that we essentially weren’t allowed to point out or discuss problems, flaws in the system, errors, or anything else “negative.”
Now, I’m basically a positive person, in that I believe most of the time any situation can have a beneficial outcome. But there’s a huge difference between that and denial. It’s like lying to a kid and telling her, “Granddad’s sleeping” when he’s in his coffin at the funeral service.
Therapist Jody Kemmerer, LCSW, gets uneasy about the ways gratitude and toxic positivity can intersect. Here’s how she describes it:
As I often tell my clients, we don’t get to choose how we feel—but we do get to choose how we respond to those feelings. Toxic positivity is when we wish we were feeling something we aren’t, and so we admonish ourselves to feel differently by saying to ourselves some version of “Think positive!”
Her recommendation is to cultivate curiosity about what we’re feeling instead. “The key point here,” she notes, “is that in order to experience something positive such as gratitude, we must first be real with ourselves about what we are feeling.”
A new way to Zoom?
Zoom’s rolling out a new “immersive view.”
It’s a new kind of background that’s available for free and Pro accounts, but it will only work well for sessions with 25 or fewer participants.
You can make your attendees look like they’re all sitting in a boardroom, or assign them desks in a learning lab type environment, for example. The meeting host has a lot more control over the appearance of the meeting.
Have you tried it yet? What do you think?
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In Case You Missed It. . .
An article cited above talks about styles of note-taking, and a few note-taking apps. One it doesn’t mention at all is the one that’s rapidly becoming my favorite – Milanote.
Milanote is a flexible, highly visual app for creatives. Some of the things I’ve used it for recently included taking notes on a course, and producing this newsletter.
In fact, I like it so well for putting the newsletter together that I’ve created a board template just for that. Here’s what it looks like (you can click the image to see a larger view):
In the middle is my focus topic, the piece that starts the newsletter off.
Radiating out are my major topic areas: Mindset, Work/Life Integration, Tools, Productivity and Habits, and Location. As I plan the newsletter, I drop links to the articles I plan to cite in each category.
This gives me a really helpful visual overview of the newsletter. If I want, I can add specific notes connecting to an article.
Here’s my review of Milanote.
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