“The human capacity for guilt is such that people can always find ways to blame themselves.”
Stephen Hawking (Fellow, The Royal Society)
“I wanted color. I wanted to soar with happiness even if it meant dealing with the weight of fear and guilt, too. I wanted to live.”
Heather Anastasiu (Author, Glitch)
“Happiness shouldn’t be associated with guilt.”
Gretchen Rubin (Author, The Happiness Project)
My parents separated when I was young.
Then they got back together. Then they separated again.
This happened a dozen times.
Eventually they got divorced.
I grew up feeling very guilty about it.
I’m not sure why I felt guilty. I just did.
But that’s normal for kids.
When you’re a kid, you don’t know how to handle your emotions. You feel guilty, afraid, or sad without knowing why.
You don’t even know you’re supposed to ask why.
You just react.
When I grew up, I realized I felt guilty because I couldn’t control my parent’s relationship.
I was trying to control things out of my control.
My parents weren’t bad people. They weren’t bad parents.
They just didn’t get along.
It seems simple now, but it used to seem indefinable.
Life is miserable when you don’t know how to define what’s going on around you.
When you can’t define things, you just feel.
And it’s impossible to be happy when you’re constantly being pushed around by how you feel.
If you’re not careful, your entire life will turn into one big pushing match.
People and events will make you feel bad about yourself, and you’ll try to correct the situation.
Over time, you’ll get stuck in corrective mode. You’ll react and react and react until all the fight in you is gone.
Until all the life in you is gone.
Happiness Before Or After Productivity?
Focus creates happiness.
Productivity produces joy.
The reason so many people feel sad and guilty in life is because they have a warped view of happiness.
They think that happiness is some magical place where you arrive and automatically feel great.
They think it’s a place where you no longer have to try to feel good.
This place doesn’t exist.
Happiness is always a decision.
You can never feel happy without first deciding to feel happy and then working to stay happy.
Yes, you have to work to feel happy.
Think of happiness as an action, not a state. If you want to be happier, you have to act more.
You have to do more of the right things.
Getting more done will make you happy.
At the same time…
Being happy will help you get more done.
Numerous reports by the Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, and others show that happiness increases focus and productivity.
This creates a wonderfully vicious cycle.
Being productive makes you happy which, in turn, makes you more productive.
How To Be Focused And Happy
Be productive and you’ll feel happy.
Before you can be productive, you have to focus.
You have to strategically map out your day.
Control your day and you’ll control your emotions.
Here are 10 steps to increasing your focus and happiness at the same time.
1. Bookmark your day with non-negotiables.
Your day needs direction.
It needs firm stopping and starting points. It needs non-negotiables.
A non-negotiable is simply something you will never compromise on.
There’s a lot of power in the word “never.”
But you have to mean it.
You have to take it seriously and never, ever break it.
If you take them seriously, you can use non-negotiables to strictly organize your day.
The best strategy is to first bookend your day with two non-negotiables.
For example, you’re NEVER going to skip waking up at 7AM to go to the gym.
Or, you’re NEVER going to stay online past 9:30PM at night.
Then, bookmark the middle of your day with 1-2 other non-negotiables.
You’re NEVER going to check your phone before lunch. Or, you’re NEVER going to check email more than once a day.
There’s real freedom in refusing to compromise on yourself.
Start using the power of never to your advantage.
2. Automate your entire morning.
You only have so much willpower each day.
You have a set number of decision-making units you can use.
Once your units are used up, your mind is weak.
You’ll make bad decisions.
Like eating a whole box of cookies late at night.
Or getting drunk on Friday night after a long, hard week at the office.
The best strategy for avoiding willpower depletion is to fill your life with good habits.
When you do something out of habit, you’re not using any decision-making units.
You’re using a different part of your brain called the basal ganglia.
This is how humans conserve mental energy, or decision-making units.
Start using your basal ganglia.
Put the first 3 hours of your day on autopilot so you don’t have to make a single decision during that time.
Go to the gym every morning.
Eat the same thing for breakfast every day.
Wear the same thing every Monday.
3. Organize your day sequentially based on your top priorities.
Most people are unhappy because their priorities are out of whack.
These people say that God, family, friends, relationships, health, happiness, or self-love are most important.
Then they spend all of their time surfing the web, checking emails, watching Netflix and playing on their phones.
What you spend the most of your time doing is your priority.
You might say something noble is your priority.
You might think it’s your priority.
But if you’re not spending most of your time on it, guess what…
It’s not your priority.
Start putting first things first.
Spend some time on whatever your top priority in life is first thing in the morning.
Do what’s most important when your brain is at it’s best.
Before your decision-making units are used up.
Then do the second most important thing.
Then the third most important thing. And so on.
4. Work hard for 5 hours then coast.
Everything you do after the first 5 hours of the day is average at best.
After the first 5 hours of the day, your brain is running on less than half of its mental energy.
Don’t waste your best hours.
All of your hardest, most mentally draining work should be started within 1-2 hours of waking up and finished no more than 5 hours later.
That’s all you get.
All of your best work in life comes down to a few hours a day.
Start making those hours count.
5. Do the thing you dread the most first.
Some tasks have very high activation energies.
They take extra decision-making units to start.
Going to the gym.
Cold calling potential clients.
Renewing your license at the DMV.
Having a difficult relationship discussion.
The only way to get these tasks done without waiting until the last minute is to do them first.
Right when you start your 5 hours.
When your mental energy is peaked.
Don’t save the hardest things for last.
Don’t cherry pick easy tasks off of your to-do list just to get a quick dopamine hit.
Choose the item you want to do the least.
Start where it hurts.
6. Refuse to look at your phone before lunch.
There’s nothing important on your phone.
It’s just a distraction.
Every ring, beep, and alert you see or hear is one less decision-making unit you have for that day.
Turn off your alerts.
Turn off your phone.
If you’re in sales or trade stock and have to use your phone during normal working hours, wake up earlier.
Start your 5 hours of hard work before the calls start coming in.
Line up the calls you want to make before you start getting pushed around by the calls other people make.
Set your own agenda.
Don’t stay at the mercy of other people’s agenda.
7. Only check your email once at 5PM.
Your inbox is not your to-do list.
It’s other people’s to-do list.
The more emails you answer, the more you’re working for others and not for yourself.
Stop answering emails just to feel busy, significant, and connected.
Stop answering emails right away.
Every time you respond to an email right away, you’re communicating that your attention is invaluable.
You’re training people to expect a quick response.
This makes it impossible to overdeliver down the road.
It’s like cleaning your room every day without your Mom asking.
She’ll start to expect it.
She’ll stop being happy about it.
Instead, she’ll get mad when you don’t do it every day.
A better strategy is to clean your room after you’ve been asked more than once.
Then cleaning it is never expected.
Now, when you finally do clean your room, your Mom is really happy and thanks you for it.
By waiting to answer emails until 5PM, you help people understand that you will get back to them, at best, in 24 hours.
This gives you room to breath.
This prevents you from getting caught in a flurry of mentally draining emails midday.
You also avoid the dreaded 2-second later response that makes you feel like you have to answer right now because the other party knows you just sent an email.
There are no email emergencies.
If there’s really an emergency, they’ll call.
Or, they’ll come to your office.
Or, they’ll wait.
8. Make people ask you for favors 3 times before accepting.
You’ll never be happy in life if answering yes is your default.
Answering yes to everything is the world’s fastest route to misery.
One string of misguided yeses will spread you so thin that everything in your life will collapse.
As a result…
You’ll be unhappy, unfocused, and oozing with guilt.
Start saying no.
Unless someone is literally about to die, say no first.
Then say no again.
See what happens.
You can always say yes later.
There’s a lot of misinformation about saying yes.
People are told that they only have one chance to say yes to something great.
They only get one chance to seize an opportunity.
This is a lie.
You have plenty of chances to say yes. You have too many chances. That’s the problem.
In today’s world, successful people are those who’ve learned to say no to opportunities, not yes.
9. Train people to never use fear, guilt, or urgency against you.
There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
Guilt is a useless emotion.
Nothing but death is truly urgent.
Yet, friends, family members, colleagues, and people you don’t even know will repeatedly come into your life and tell you to be afraid.
Cut these emotional strings and you’ll immediately see how happy, focused, and guiltless your life can truly be.
The key is to get an eye for it.
Start watching how people try to motivate you.
Are they trying to make you more self-reliant? Are they trying to do what’s best for you?
Or, are they using fear, guilt, and urgency to get you to do what’s best for them?
10. Start a project that you enjoy and own completely.
Dependency is an awful feeling.
Being dependent on a job or a relationship for happiness is the worst.
But it’s very common.
Most people freely give away control.
They give away their independence.
Many do this because they’re told over and over again that control and independence are selfish.
Dependency is selfish. Neediness is selfish.
Putting your happiness and self-worth in someone else’s hands is weak and lazy.
You are responsible for your own happiness.
You are responsible for your self-worth.
If you’ve lost sight of this, don’t worry. It’s not too late.
The fastest way to get happy again is by being productive. It’s by taking control of your life.
Start a project that’s important to you.
Make it something that you have to do all by yourself to start.
Write a book. Build a website. Start a business. Set up a nonprofit.
Whatever it is, own it completely.
Use this project as an opportunity to rebuild your decision-making skills.
Use it as motivation to reorganize your day and to start being more productive.
As the project grows, you will grow.
As you become more focused and productive, you’ll become happier and feel more alive.
Check out my book of personal and professional advice, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Create A Powerful Purpose For Their Lives.