5 Critical Pillars That Keep Me Centered And Productive
We All Need Anchors. What is your “Personal Infrastructure”?
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” — Jim Rohn
I am writing this somewhere above Sub-Saharan Africa, while flying back from Mozambique after a couple of intense weeks spent in our Maputo office.
I boarded the plane reflecting on a conversation I had with my business partner the day prior, which triggered me into thinking about the things that have become my personal infrastructure.
I am almost 39 now (20th February, gifts are welcome!) and have had an opportunity to do many different things, work in very different environments and face pretty intense personal and professional challenges. And through that process, some specific “pillars” have quietly developed in my life.
Some of them are key principles, some are methods or habits. But I touch upon all of them daily. They are my way of checking in. They keep the building up and the works running. They help me stay centered and productive.
Being an entrepreneur and talking about work-life balance may seem a bit off beat, right? Not at all. Let’s drop the guru-driven, die-hard headlines and land in the real world. Living on Tim Ferris’ 4-hour work week is unrealistic for most, but so it is to aim for 100-hour work weeks on a permanent basis.
Of course, sometimes one area may need to take temporary priority. And it may go both ways, finding ourselves prioritising personal life over work at times. But the idea is that permanent imbalances lead to permanent damage. Err too much on the side of work, and you may risk losing your family. Err too much on your personal life’s side and you may risk losing your job, or your company. We may decide to see it or ignore it, but that won’t make this fact less real. Balance is a need, not an ideal.
My divorce was a trigger for me. My intense monthly travel schedule between Africa and Europe has not changed and I am devoting very long hours into growing our business. But I have realised how critical for me it is to spend quality time with my partner, with my kids and nurturing my personal interests. They all need to have room in my calendar. Otherwise the whole system crumbles. I have seen that happening once and I don’t want to see it happening again.
So yes, I work very hard. But I am also consistent with my principles, which are at the base of my mission statements. The person I want to be. I have one for each of my areas of responsibility, and I seek a schedule consistent with the person that those mission statements inspire me to be. It is not easy, but it is doable if you really try. This allows me to plan ahead so I can devote quality time to the different areas of my life that are important to me.
A basic premise for travel is to have an idea of where to go to. Otherwise, you will either start moving and then get lost, or the lack of definition will paralyse you and you won’t move at all.
First, you need to know your “Why”. Your purpose.
I am not fond of the word “success”. It should be replaced by “meaning”. If having a lot of money is what provides meaning to your life, then — to you — “success” is becoming rich. But I now know that the process, the journey towards fulfilling your aspirations is what gives our lives meaning. Not achieving the goal itself, but the person you become trying. This implies that meaning may come from different areas in our life, not only from work.
My meaning? Let’s put it this way: I would like to look back when I am 80 (hopefully, that is!), and feel that my life’s work helped reformulate expired ways of doing and thinking, while helping others around me become better versions of themselves.
Based on that, I have set bold multi-year aspirations for my personal and professional life, and shorter-term annual goals. But goals are illusions without execution, that is why I rely on systems and routines in my day to day fight towards those goals.
“If you fulfil your obligations everyday you don’t need to worry about the future.” — Jordan B. Peterson
One of the things that have transformed my productivity is shifting the attention from longer term goals to daily execution. To break the “planning block”. To know my aspirations, plan ahead on a weekly basis, focus on doing what needs to be done on any single day and forgetting about the rest. In fact, routines and processes carry me towards my objectives without making me feel overwhelmed. It also saves me from continuous exposure to a flaky willpower over time.
As I wrote in a previous post, Introducing a small change in your daily routines can accumulate into significant change over time. The daily task is to focus on the process consistently on a daily basis. It creates stickiness, leading you to the goal without even thinking about it.
So how do I put myself in a path where failing my goals is less probable? First, I make heavy use of my calendar. If it is not in my calendar it won’t be done. I rely on schedules, and I plan my weeks ahead on Sunday. I have by now created a series of low-resistance “calls to action” at different times of the day that get me into activities that have the biggest impact in my output.
For instance, I have a solid daily morning routine that takes me about an hour, starting at around 6.30/7am. It combines meditation, writing and reading. A simple morning habit that, for instance, allows me to go through an average of 4–5 books per month, relying on a mere 30 minutes of consistent reading every morning. This puts me well on track to achieve my goal of reading 50 books per year. Small stuff done daily can produce big results over time.
I started meditating when we founded our firm. It all stated with reading an article somewhere, and the downloading of the Headspace app. Fast forward 4 years and it is now part of my life the same way that brushing my teeth is.
Meditation is accepting that your mind will always think about something (the proverbial “thinking of nothing” does not exist), but that there is no need to latch onto every thought that crosses your brain. It trains you to acknowledge the noise, see thoughts pass by while staying present, focusing on whatever matters now.
But for me it has evolved into something more powerful. I use meditation to train my mind to believe that I have already achieved my goals, visualising myself and showing gratefulness for the outcome. I am harnessing the power of the subconscious by embracing a basic premise of quantum physics: that all potentials exist simultaneously and that our thinking and our feelings affect all aspects of life, beyond both space and time (the film “Interstellar” touches upon this).
‘I admit that thoughts influence the body.’ — Albert Einstein
This is at the base of the concept of “manifestation”, which may seem far fetched at first. But I have seen the power of serendipity in action in my life, the universe coming up with answers and opportunities when the path was not clear but my thoughts and feelings were strongly aligned with achieving a particular outcome. The usual “everything happens for a reason” may have some scientific basis after all.
Another expression of this new frontier of thinking is the work by Bruce Lipton, a former researcher at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. In his book The “Biology of Belief”, he provides a scientific explanation to how your thoughts affect your body’s cells.
Writing regularly has transformed my life.
I always wrote, randomly and for myself. But then I stumbled upon a great book by Julia Cameron, “The Miracle of Morning Pages”. It proposes a creativity-unleashing practice. The basic premise is that you should dump your thoughts first thing in the morning, as soon as you wake up, in three pages of longhand writing.
Although I decided not to comply with the longhand bit (not for me) I still have enjoyed the benefits. The pages are a way to kick-start my brain in the morning, stimulating self-exploration and reflection. They provide me with answers to questions that I was not looking for before sitting down to write. It allows me to review goals, download frustration and free-write solutions to problems. The brain dump provide peace. Written problems are dropped on paper providing me with space in the mind. It acts like therapy. The pages also act as warm-up and provide cues to some of my more targeted writing, like this article, and they set-off a creative approach that I carry through the day. I cannot recommend the practice enough.
So what is your Personal Infrastructure?
The above are my pillars, and I hope they may inspire you to think of yours. As I always say, action is the link between dreaming and achieving, so if you haven’t done it yet, try what I just did on the plane.
Pick a piece of paper and write about the things that keep you solid. Just let thoughts to randomly flow. The result will help you know your values and your approach to life a little bit better. And knowing, being consciously aware, is the first step towards everything else.