Tag Archives: Workplace

Supervisors, in Service of Their Subordinates or the Other Way Around?

There are two approaches when it comes to the working relationship between a supervisor and their subordinates.

The First Approach

According to the first approach, supervisors are there to facilitate the best performance of their subordinates. The supervisors aren’t expected to do the job, but they are expected to guide, lead, and evaluate the work of their subordinates.

A supervisor who is working on a job that they can delegate to their subordinates is actually wasting their time. They are not only wasting their time, but they are also getting less performance out of their subordinates who may perform better if they are guided by the supervisor.

In this approach, the subordinates won’t be able to receive much guidance from the supervisor, because the supervisor is busy with a job that they can delegate to one of the subordinates.

Sure, the supervisor might be more efficient on completing the task by themselves. However, they are not only responsible for their own output. They are responsible for the output of their entire team. By focusing on maximizing the productivity of the entire team, the supervisor can create greater output compared to just focusing on their own productivity.

The Math

Let’s do the math. Suppose that a supervisor has five subordinates. The supervisor can produce 100 units of value per time unit. A subordinate can produce 50 units of value per time unit without the guidance of the supervisor. The same subordinate can produce 80 units of value per time unit with the guidance of the supervisor.

If the supervisor allocates all of their time on guiding their subordinates, they will produce no value by themselves, but their team will produce 5 x 80 = 400 units of value per time unit.

If the supervisor allocates no time on guiding the subordinates, they will produce 100 units of value by themselves and their subordinates 5 x 50 = 250 units of value. In total, this amounts to 350 units of value per time unit for the team.

In this example, it was more productive for the supervisor to not do the job themselves but to allocate all of their time to guiding their subordinates.

The Reality

Of course the number of subordinates a supervisor has, their productivity, and the guided and unguided productivity of the subordinates are not always the same in each situation.

In some teams and situations, that calculation will favor the supervisor not guiding their team at all. In other situations, it will favor the supervisor spending their whole time on guiding their team. Yet in other situations, the optimal solution might be somewhere between these two extremes.

I’m convinced that the supervisor not guiding their team at all is not the optimum solution, but again this depends on the team and situation. There might be exceptional cases, where this might be optimal.

To which extend should the supervisor commit their time to guiding their subordinates?

100% might be impossible, because the supervisor has other duties as well. But should it be closer to 100% or closer 0%? Or somewhere in between? My hunch used to be closer to 100%.

I was happy to learn that Gary Vaynerchuk, a successful American entrepreneur, also thought in the same direction as me, as far as I could understand from his book, #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness.

Then I read the article Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? By William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass in the book HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself. This article advocated an approach that is closer to 0% of the supervisor’s time allocated to guiding their subordinates.

It was a good article and I started to apply the ideas in this book in my working days to the extent possible. I must say that this article made a difference in how I approach my working relationships with my colleagues.

Empirical Results

After experiencing both approaches, I must say that both approaches have their merits. Intuitively, the first approach seems to be the better one to me. It makes more sense. However, I must admit that every team and every situation is different.

What works on one team wouldn’t work in another team and the other way around. Supervisors and teams need to find their own balance. They need to find which approach works best for them.

If a supervisor can extract more productivity from their team by sacrificing their own productivity and guiding their subordinates, they should do that. If that guidance doesn’t result in extra productivity to the extent that it justifies the productivity sacrificed by the supervisor, they shouldn’t do it.

Bottom Line

The bottom line of this post is not to argue that one approach is better than the other. The bottom line of this post is to point out that the percentage of time that a supervisor allocates to guiding their subordinates is a variable that a supervisor can optimize in order to maximize the overall productivity of their team.

In order to do that, the supervisor needs to let go of their preconceived notions of what is the right thing to do and approach this problem as a variable that can be optimized. Flexibility and open-mindedness is the key qualities here.

Your Turn

What’s your take on this subject? Which approach works best for you? Are you ready to experiment with the opposite approach or would you rather stick with your current approach?

This Is How You Annoy People without Even Realizing It

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw

I remember my first job more than a decade ago. We were a bunch of tech enthusiasts researching algorithms. Those were the days when Google came up with new products frequently. There were products such as Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google Docs.

I was a Google fanboy. Whatever came from them must be the pinnacle of innovation and I had to use it. I also had to shove it down the throat of my colleagues. It was fun to work on a single Wave with multiple people and see how everybody was typing their ideas at the same time.

Sure, Google Wave was a huge synchronization challenge solved well, but was it adding any value to our process? Maybe marginally. Same with Google Buzz and Google Docs. Whenever, I sent a document to a supervisor, they would print it and give it back to me as a hard copy with handwritten notes on it anyway.

It took me a little more time to realize that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my colleagues well.

Soon, Google retired Wave and Buzz, but it took me a little more time to realize that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my colleagues well. Once I realized that, I started to do my due diligence before introducing a new technology to my colleagues.

  • Have I tested this software thoroughly?
  • Which value does this software add?
  • Does the added value justify its cost in money, computing resources, and learning efforts?
  • Most important. Can my colleagues effectively use this piece of software? Can they get the same value out of it as I do?
  • Does it have significant added value over existing systems such as a standard email client?

The questions above are not only relevant to the software, but also to other products and lifestyle choices. Unlike other cryptocurrency enthusiasts, I don’t promote Bitcoin to everybody that I come across. I know that 99% of the population can’t figure out the security basics of Bitcoin and can’t deal with the ups and downs of the price.

This need has some leadership qualities and can contribute to the environment if acted upon consciously.

I realized through experience that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my environment well all the time. Sure, this need has some leadership qualities and can contribute to the environment if acted upon consciously. However, it also has its flip side.

As humans, we tend to jump on conclusions without sufficient data. That is a part of our DNA. However, if our conclusions don’t match reality and if we impose those conclusions on others, then we are causing more harm than good.

The Theory

Even though I curbed my need to make an impact on my environment, my real awakening came from the audiobook Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You by Prof. Peter M. Vishton (available from audible.com).

Prof. Vishton explained the need to make an impact on one’s environment brilliantly. He also explained that this need was inherent in all of us, even in babies. The lesson here is to become aware of this need in ourselves and use it in a conscious way. That way we can use this need to do more good and cause less harm.

The need to make an impact on one’s environment and jumping on conclusions are two of the many unconscious biases, needs, and heuristics that we carry in our DNA. Learning them and becoming conscious of them have their benefits. The book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a good starting point if you are interested in this subject.

Like all the biases, needs, and heuristics that we carry in our DNA, the need to impact one’s environment must have an evolutionary advantage that I can’t see at the moment. If you have any idea about it, let me know in the comments.

  • Do you have the need to impact your environment?
  • How does that manifest in your life?
  • How does it serve or disserve you and/or the people around you?
  • Which evolutionary benefit would the need to impact one’s environment have?

Bias for Action

Act on an idea even if you aren’t sure you’ll succeed, if it promises secondary benefits such as new ideas, connections, experience, and more courage and self-discipline.

Doing nothing is more valuable than distraction and busy work. Activities that have no value not only waste your time, they also waste your attention and mental energy. Attention and mental energy are even more scarce than time. Once they are spent, it takes time to recuperate them.

Doing nothing is better than distraction and busy work, because at least, it doesn’t waste our attention and mental energy. Moreover, doing nothing allows our minds to process and organize all the information we have consumed.

Doing nothing allows our minds to process and organize all the information we have consumed.

Distraction and busy work are low value activities. They produce little or no value per unit time and energy. If you are used to distraction and busy work, you might have a difficult time to come up with valuable activities. In that case, it makes sense to take a break and reflect on your long term goals.

What would be the most valuable action to take right now with respect to your long term goals?

In other words:

Which action could you take right now that would move you the most towards your long term goals?

If you can’t come up with a precise answer, come up with a dozen of ideas. Write all of them down. If you aren’t sure about any of those ideas, pick the one that would make the most difference. Act on that idea even if you aren’t sure it would work.

The idea either works and you make significant progress towards your goals or it doesn’t and you eliminate an idea from your list, which makes your decision easier next time. However, there’s more to it.

Cherry on Top

When you act on an idea and you fail, you gain experience. If it involves other people, you extend your network. If it’s a public activity, you increase your profile. Moreover, you expose yourself to new opportunities. You might come across new ideas. People you reach out to can give you a new direction.

It’s always a good idea to take action even if you aren’t sure that it will produce the results you’re aiming for. There’s a catch though. The activity shouldn’t be a distraction, which is an activity that doesn’t produce any value at all. The activity shouldn’t also be busy work, an activity that produces only marginal value and that is something you are already familiar with, which doesn’t improve your skills.

Criteria to Consider

When you’re choosing an idea from your list, think about the cherry on top.

  • Would this idea produce any value even if it fails its main objective?
  • Would it lead to new ideas?
  • New connections?
  • New Skills?
  • More courage?
  • More self-discipline?
  • New experiences?
  • Higher public profile?

If you answer one or more of these questions positively, then go ahead and do it anyway, even if you know it will likely fail. This is called bias for action and it’s much better than distraction, busy work, and doing nothing.


Doing nothing is better than distraction and busy work. Acting on selected ideas is even better than doing nothing. The criteria here is the cherry on top, the secondary benefits even if the main benefit fails to materialize.

Doing Nothing is Not Wasting Time

There is an obsession to take action in the modern western society. This obsession has its upside as well as its downside.

Taking action is great, if the action you take is a significant step towards your most important goals. Let’s be honest. Most of the time, it’s not.

Most of the time, our motivation to take action is other than making a significant progress towards our most important goals. Most of the time, we either want to look busy or we want to distract ourselves.

Busy Work

Busy work is one of the main time wasters in companies, second to tech addiction. You’ll find employees wasting their time on busy work instead of working on something valuable. Companies that don’t incentivize their employees with promotions and bonuses are actually encouraging their employees to get involved in busy work.

If you want to learn how economic incentivizing works in human beings, I recommend the audiobook Thinking Like an Economist by Professor Randall Bartlett, which can be found in audible.com.

What is the rationale of the employee that is not going to get any promotion or bonus? They only work so much to keep their job. They do the simplest work. They are more interested in looking busy than being actually busy.

Doing something essential is hard and risky. Doing busy work is simple and easy. Without sufficient incentives, employees tend to be drawn to busy work, because they are paid by time, not by the value they produce.

Doing Nothing

Contrary to the employees, you won’t find many self-employed people engaging in busy work. They know intuitively which activities produce value and which activities don’t. They’d rather do nothing than getting engaged in busy work. They intuitively know that doing nothing is more valuable than busy work.

The Benefits of Doing Nothing

By doing nothing, you give your mind the space to process your experiences and challenges and come up with new ideas and solutions. Your mind won’t have that opportunity when you keep yourself busy all the time.

Doing nothing also gives you the space to reflect on more abstract topics, such as long term opportunities, threats, and strategies. You need that long term view to find a direction for your life and work. If you do it right, doing nothing can be one of the most valuable things you do.

What Doing Nothing is Not

Doing nothing is doing nothing. It is not watching TV, not surfing the Internet, not chatting with your friends, not hanging out in cafes and bars. It is relaxing in a calm, silent environment. It is not distracting yourself in any shape or form.


Doing nothing is more valuable than distracting yourself with tech and busy work. Employees are encouraged to maximize their working hours, which incentivize them to do busy work. Busy work is simple and easy, but doesn’t produce much value. Self-employed people intuitively know that they have to maximize the value they produce per time unit.

I invite you to look at your working patterns. Are you more engaged in busy work or do you try to maximize the value you produce per time unit?

How to Switch on Your Genius Mode

Your deep mind is where your genius resides. You need to eliminate all kinds of distractions in order to access your deep mind. Besides that, you can take further steps to improve your access to your deep mind.

Work Environment

Accessing your deep mind requires relaxation and slowing down your mind. A silent and tidy environment contributes to that. If complete silence doesn’t work for you, you can listen to relaxing music without lyrics. I prefer to listen to relaxing music without lyrics on noise-canceling headphones to overcome workplace noise.

Healthy Habits Contribute to Productivity

You might think eating fast food, skipping physical exercise, cutting down on your sleeping hours, not resting, and working all the time would increase your productivity. However, that would only result getting busy work done and eventually in burn-out.

“Producing life-changing value requires access to your deep mind.”

A healthy, light diet, physical activity, sufficient sleep and rest will help you accessing your deep mind. Walking in nature or at the sea side also helps. Physical activity, especially working out, is a great way to burn the extra energy that makes you restless throughout the day. It also contributes to a good night sleep, which in turn contributes to your ability to access your deep mind.

Take a Break

Constant busy work will prevent you from accessing your deep mind. You need to give yourself the time and space to relax and to access your deep mind. What would you prefer more? Working on a task for ten hours or coming up with a system that allows you to complete that task in one hour? Coming up with that system requires you to tap into your genius. It requires you to give yourself the time and space you need. This is how innovation happens. Working long hours on busy work is not the best strategy.

Reflect on Your Challenges

Slow down your mind, meditate, and give your deep mind a direction to reflect on. Stop thinking and stay in silence. Ask a question to your deep mind and let it come up with the answers. When an answer comes up, you can think about it actively. If you get stuck, repeat the method again. Formulate your challenge as a question and ask that question to your deep mind. Let your deep mind do its magic and come up with the answer.

“Oscillating between active thinking and passive reflection is the best strategy to come up with brilliant ideas, solutions, and insights.”

Embrace Silence and Space

If you’re accustomed to a lot of distraction and activity, the methods explained in this post might sound boring. If you experience boredom, try reducing the distraction in your life gradually. Practice mindfulness techniques such as meditation to embrace silence and space.

If you find yourself drawn back to old habits of distraction, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What is the added value of this activity to my life?
  • What will I be missing in the future if I keep blocking my access to my deep mind?
  • How will the quality of my life be affected as a result of this?


Your best ideas, solutions, and insights come from your deep mind. You can improve your access to your deep mind with the following methods.

  • Relax and slow down your mind.
  • Maintain a silent and tidy working environment.
  • Cultivate healthy habits.
  • Give yourself space and time.
  • Tackle your challenges using a combination of active thinking and passive reflecting.

How to Tap into Your Genius

There’s a genius in all of us. Some of us tap into that genius and get extraordinary results. The rest of us aren’t aware of its existence or simply ignore it.

Our genius, our deep mind, is capable of coming up with brilliant ideas, solutions, and insights, but we put all kinds of obstacles in front of it. Accessing our deep mind requires letting go of those obstacles. Luckily, that’s a skill we can learn.

What Blocks Our Access to Our Deep Mind?

Our access to our deep mind is blocked by our superficial mind. The more active our superficial mind is, the less access we have to our deep mind. In order to access our deep mind, we need to reduce the activity of our superficial mind. What engages our superficial mind? What keeps it active?

  • Noise, not only sound but also light and smell, even touch and taste
  • All kinds of distractions
  • Intense emotions
  • Racing thoughts
  • Clutter
  • All kinds of excessive stimulation, including excessive caffeine
  • All kinds of excessive sedatives, like alcohol

The more we let go of these blocks, the more access we will have to our deep mind. These distractions not only waste our time, they also keep our minds busy long after we stop engaging with them.

“Fifteen minutes spent on social media can keep your mind busy for days.”

You might spend only fifteen minutes on social media. That might not seem too much. However, a news story can keep your mind busy for days. Your mind might struggle to process the story, even while you’re sleeping.

Think about a song that you heard once and that keeps playing in your head on auto-repeat. If you are addicted to distraction like social media, news sites, TV, and others, you can read yesterday’s post, where I discuss a four step method to eliminate them from your life.

Deal with Clutter

It might be less obvious that clutter keeps you from accessing your deep mind. Give it a try and see for yourself. Tidy up your office and your home. Get rid of clutter by letting go of the items that you don’t use much. Donate them to a charity. Live and work in a minimalist environment. Clean up your email inbox, your computer desktop, and the apps on your smartphone. Cleaning up clutter increases your access to your deep mind. Try and see how that affects your performance.

Let Go of Distractions

  • Does your smartphone go off all the time with beeps and buzzes?
  • Is your smartphone screen painted with red notification bubbles?
  • Are you interrupted by phone calls and email notification pop-ups while you work?
  • Is radio switched on constantly while you work or drive?
  • Is TV constantly on while you’re at home?

If you answer “yes,” to one or many of those questions, you are blocking yourself from getting into flow and staying in flow. You have full access to your deep mind when you’re in flow.

You can set up the “do not disturb” mode on your smartphone, which will allow only notifications from selected contacts. That way important people like your family can reach you, while the rest is kept at bay. When you switch off the notification pop-ups of your email client, you prevent it from getting you out of flow.

Switch Off Computer and Smartphone Notifications

When you look at a smartphone screen painted with red notification bubbles, your mind goes into a fight or flight state. Your System 1, or your Goliath as I like to call it, panics. It is engaged fully. It wonders whether any of those notifications pose a threat or contain a juicy reward.

“Your Goliath wonders whether any of those notifications pose a threat or contain a juicy reward.”

When your System 1 is engaged at a high level, you won’t be able to engage your System 2, your David, your deep mind. Therefore, let go of all useless notifications from your smartphone. Switch those notifications off. Even uninstall those apps that don’t add any value to your personal or professional life.

Switch Off the TV and Radio

Switching off the radio and TV while at home or driving can do wonders for you. When you put your mind to rest, you let your deep mind process all the data that it has collected throughout the day. This is a great opportunity for your deep mind to come up with brilliant ideas, insights, and solutions. When you keep a radio or TV on in the background, you are missing this opportunity. Switch them off while resting and see how it works for you.

Minimize Stimulants and Sedatives

Excessive use of stimulants like coffee as well as sedatives like alcohol will minimize your access to your deep mind. Eliminate them if you can. Minimize your consumption if you can’t eliminate them. Decreasing your daily coffee consumption and substituting it with green tea can do wonders. Excessive stimulants also put your mind into a fight or flight state, which keeps you from accessing your deep mind.

Racing Thoughts and Intense Emotions

When your mind is busy with racing thoughts and intense emotions, you won’t be able to access your deep mind. The solution is mindfulness. You simply acknowledge your thoughts and let them go. You don’t invest more energy into them. You do the same with emotions. You stay with them without trying to change them, resist them, or invest more energy into them.

In other words, you “empty your mind,” so that you can focus on a topic that you choose. You can also keep your mind empty as long as you want. This will give your mind a chance to process all the data you consumed throughout the day.

“Empty your mind, so that you can focus on a topic that you choose.”

You can practice mindfulness by meditating regularly. You can find more details about how to start a simple five minutes meditation practice in yesterday’s post. When you learn how to empty your mind, you can use that skill while you’re working or going through your daily life, even in stressful situations. Imagine how much your productivity would improve if you could eliminate obtrusive thoughts while you’re working.


There are several factors that keep you from accessing your deep mind. You can eliminate these factors one by one using the following methods.

  • Let go or minimize the consumption of unnecessary information, such as news and social media.
  • Eliminate or minimize your exposure to noise, not only sound but also light and smell, even touch and taste.
  • Eliminate clutter by letting go of unnecessary items and cleaning up your smartphone and computer desktop.
  • Let go of distractions by switching off computer and smartphone notifications.
  • Create a silent environment by switching off the radio and TV at home and while driving.
  • Eliminate or minimize stimulants and sedatives like coffee and alcohol.
  • Let go of your racing thoughts and deal with your intense emotions through cultivating mindfulness.

Today’s post was about how to eliminate the obstacles to your deep mind. Tomorrow’s post will be about how to access your deep mind.

Eliminate Distraction to Strengthen Your David

Imagine there are two people in your consciousness who are running your life. One is awake all the time, big, strong, but dumb. This is your Goliath. The other one is weak, small, asleep most of the time, but intelligent. This is your David. Can you see the problem here?

Most of us go through our lives as if we are possessed by an entity. We know we can do better, but somehow that entity hijacks us. We end up doing the silly things that we regret later or not doing the things that we know we should do. That entity is Goliath.

Most of us go through our lives as if we are possessed by an entity.

Nobel laureate economist David Kahneman has written a brilliant book about this subject called Thinking Fast and Slow. He uses the term System 1 for Goliath and System 2 for David.

Our lives are run by the strong, dumb giant that Goliath is. The only person who can prevent this giant from ruining our lives is David, who is small and weak, but intelligent. This is a problem. The question is how can we solve this problem?

How to Solve the Problem of David and Goliath

One way we can solve the problem of David and Goliath is to use our David to educate our Goliath. There are many ways to do that, but we have to take into account the limitations of our Goliath. My favorite way of getting Goliath on board is to keep a sheet of paper with my life goal, a pain point, and three to five action items per day in sight.

Another way of solving the problem of David and Goliath is to keep David awake as much as possible and strengthen him. Ideally, we need to improve both, our David and our Goliath. However, while doing that, we need to take into account the properties of both entities.

How Can We Improve David?

Our goal when improving David is twofold. Remember David is asleep most of the time. The more awake David is, the better it is for us. The first goal is to keep David awake as long as possible. The second goal is to strengthen David.

What Weakens David and Puts Him to Sleep?

David requires intense concentration. Intense concentration is the ability to allocate as much mental capacity as possible to a single task at hand. In order to do that, you need to free up as much mental capacity as possible. Freeing up mental capacity requires relaxing and eliminating distraction. The good news is that eliminating distraction helps relaxing and relaxing helps tuning out distraction that you can’t eliminate.

Distraction can be any sensory input that consumes your mental bandwidth. Distraction is detrimental to your David, not only while you’re working, but also while you’re relaxing or going through your daily chores.

Eliminate Distraction at Work

  • Do you work in a noisy environment?
  • Do you work in an environment where radio, TV, or music is switched on in the background?
  • Do you work in an environment where your colleagues are on the phone all the time?
  • Do you work in an environment with a lot of background noise such as traffic outside or noisy computers?
  • Do you work in an environment with a lot of blinking lights and/or unpleasant smell?

All of the above will be distracting you and weakening your David. You need to eliminate those distractions to the extent possible.

Eliminate Distraction in Your Daily Life

Distraction is not only detrimental when you are working. It’s also detrimental while you’re resting or going through your day. In order to strengthen your David, you need to free up as much space in your mind as possible. You can’t do that if you overload your mind with sensory input throughout the day.

  • Do you listen to radio or upbeat music while you’re driving?
  • Is the TV always switched on while you’re at home?
  • Is there a lot of clutter in your home?
  • Do you spend a lot of time on social media or surfing the Internet?
  • Do you live in a big city with a lot of traffic?
  • Do you live in a crowded city?
  • Do you live in a city with a lot of blinking commercial screens demanding your attention?

All of that distraction is detrimental to your David. You might want to eliminate that as much as possible to strengthen your David.

The Challenges of Eliminating Distraction

Eliminating distraction can be a challenge. You might need to ask others for favors and risk getting rejected. You need to embrace that risk in order to make progress with your life. You might need to ask your boss for a silent, quiet, peaceful working environment. You might need to ask your colleagues for switching off the radio. You might need to ask them to put their cellphones on silent and to eliminate constant buzzing of their cellphones.

You need to embrace risk in order to make progress with your life.

If you are addicted to stimulation, you might have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you eliminate distractions such as social media, Internet surfing, and radio or TV in the background. If that’s the case you might need to learn relaxation techniques.

Eliminating some distractions might not be feasible in the short term. If you are living in a crowded city, with a lot of traffic, and a lot of commercial screens demanding your attention, you might not be able to move to a peaceful town overnight. If you work in a noisy corporate environment, you might not be able change your job overnight. If that’s the case, you might want to make long-term plans to make those changes.

Start with not joining yet another social media channel and downloading its app.

The best way to deal with the challenges of eliminating distraction is to go step by step. Start with not adding any more distraction to your daily routine. Start with not joining yet another social media channel and downloading its app. Then start with eliminating the distractions one by one. You can get rid of clutter in your home in a week. Next week, you can focus on switching off the radio or TV in the background while you’re at home or while you’re driving. This way you can minimize distraction in your life step by step.


Strengthening your David requires intense concentration. Intense concentration requires freeing up as much mental bandwidth as possible. The best way to free up mental bandwidth is to eliminate distraction from your professional and private life.

There are other things than eliminating distraction you can do to improve your David. These are learning to relax, physical exercise, mental exercises, such as reflecting and journaling, and minimizing or eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and other recreational drugs.

I plan to publish more posts on how to improve your David and how to use your David to improve your Goliath. So please check this blog often and sign up to the free email newsletter to stay in touch.

How to Create an Environment for Success

Most of the success literature is about how to work harder, longer, and smarter. There is no doubt that working harder, longer, and smarter will improve your results. Nevertheless, that’s only one side of the coin. The other side is to create an environment and identity for success. The effort you invest in your environment and identity pays its dividends in success over time. This post will be about creating an environment for success. I’ll write another post about creating an identity for success.

It’s much easier to create an environment and identity for success than willing yourself to work harder, longer, and smarter.

Work from Wherever You Want, or Not?

You might have come across advertisements that promise you to be your own boss and work from wherever you want. Some of these advertisements use the image of a woman in a bikini, working on her laptop on the beach. These marketers try to take advantage of our associations of work and beach. People associate the beach with relaxing and having fun. People associate work with hardship.

Is it really possible to work on a beach in your swimwear with a laptop on your lap? If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s the answer. First, you won’t be able to see anything on that screen because of the sun glare. Second, the laptop will soon get so hot that your legs will burn. Third, working is the last thing you will want to do when you’re on a beach.

Let’s Dive in Deeper

Do you do your best work in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours or when you’re at home, wearing your pajamas, and working whenever you feel like it? Most people would admit that the first setting would produce better results for them, even though they would prefer to work in the second setting.

Working in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours trigger your brain to get into the working mood. Your office and working hours contribute to your environment. Your business attire contribute to your identity. Both, your environment and identity, trigger the working mood.

On the other hand, being at home and wearing pajamas is associated with resting and relaxing. Unless you condition your mind to perform at home as good as in your office, your mind will still associate the home environment with resting and relaxing.

Is working from home a utopia then? Not necessarily. Working from home can be a better alternative to working in an office. You can avoid wasting time in daily commute. You can work flexible hours. You can work from the comfort of your home, in a relaxed way. There are also other advantages to it. But it doesn’t mean lying on your bed, in your pj’s, with the day time TV in the background. It’s your responsibility to create your an environment to maximize your performance.

Creating an Environment for Success

If our environment and identity have such a great impact on our results, why not take advantage of them by designing them for high performance?

Take a look at your working environment. How can you improve your working environment to increase your performance? Maybe you can get rid of the clutter on your desk and bookshelves. Maybe you need to get a better desk and office chair to improve your performance.

Look around and determine everything that distracts you. Maybe you should switch on the “do not disturb” mode on your phone, so that all notifications are switched off except most important calls. Maybe you can clean up your computer desktop. Maybe you can select a desktop wallpaper that helps you to focus, instead of distracting you.

My favorite is noise canceling headphones. I wear them to isolate myself from the environment and to focus entirely on the task at hand. I listen to steady Baroque music to maximize my concentration. I figured that neither no music nor upbeat pop music produce as much concentration as Baroque. The same is true with the amount and timing I consume caffeine. Neither no caffeine, nor lots of caffeine produce the same results as two cups per day, in the morning.

It’s up to you to figure out the sweet spots and to stick to them. You might think that these are small details, but if you can optimize hundred small details that would make a 1% difference, you will end up with 100% difference in your reality. That’s enough reason to pay attention to them. Which 1% improvements can you make in your environment to 38X your results in a year?

Look Around Carefully

When you look around carefully, you will notice thousands of things that you can change to improve your performance. Look at all the tools you use. Do you use the best computer, smartphone, and software that you can afford? Which apps are on the home screen of your smartphone? Do they lead you to better performance or do they distract you?

How close is your home to your work? In what kind of a neighborhood do you live? I know these are the decisions you cannot make overnight, but they are worth thinking about. Some of these changes might sound like a lot of time, money, and effort to implement at the beginning, but think about the dividends they’ll pay over time. If you can save an hour every day, wouldn’t that make a big difference over your entire career?

Design Your Home for Success

High performance doesn’t depend only on your working environment. Your home is as important as your working environment. Does a big TV dominate your living environment and is it switched on all the time? Is your home, clean, neat, and tidy? Do you have a quality bed to rest properly? I even pay attention to the temperature and humidity of my bedroom. I realized this plays a huge role in how good I rest at night and how good I perform the next day. I experimented with different temperatures to find my sweet spot, not too hot, but not too cold either.

This may sound funny but even the beverages you drink contribute to your environment and identity. I drink two cups of of fair trade, organic, medium strength, desert coffee a day, in the morning. That feeds my identity by telling me that I pay attention to the people who are less fortunate than me, and that I pay attention to my health and consume only good quality foods. Also limiting my consumption to two cups a day helps me resting better at night and keeping my performance high throughout the week. I also experimented with not drinking any coffee at all, but I didn’t experience a performance improvement that would justify the lack.

Never Underestimate Inspiration

Make sure to include something that would inspire you to perform well in your working environment. Some people put a picture of their families on their desk. When I was a college student, I used to put my mobile phone on its charging dock on my desk at home. Back then mobile phones weren’t as common as today and it was something that successful people used. But of course, within a few years everybody owned one. Nowadays, I have a piece of paper that summarizes my life goals and how I plan to achieve them. I call this practice creating your Matrix for success.

If you’re a student or a freelancer working from home and you have a difficult time concentrating at home, try working in a library or in a cafe. Or try designating a certain part of your home as your working environment, with a decent office chair and desk. Try working in decent clothes, between certain office hours, even if you’re working from home.

Observe Your Work and Living Environment

Both, your environment and identity, are difficult to become aware of. You’re immersed in both of them. It’s like water to the fish. It takes conscious effort to realize the parts of your environment and identity that are hurting your results and fixing them. There are several methods to become aware of the parts of your environment and identity that are holding you back and to fix them. I suggest you apply all of them, step by step, one step at a time.

Look at your results and ask yourself which part of your environment and identity is holding you back from achieving the results you want. By asking this question, you will figure out the obvious factors and you can fix them. For example, not having a TV at home greatly increases my performance. It’s a no-brainer for me. I never had a TV since I left my parents’ home. Having a simple, minimalist decoration is also a decision I made consciously to improve my performance. I donated all the stuff that I didn’t use regularly to a charity.


Your environment and identity has at least as much impact on your results as your actions, if not more. It is not obvious to us which parts of our environment and identity are holding us back. However, once you become aware of that, you can find ways changing your environment and identity. You have read some methods to become aware of your environment and identity in this post. I recommend saving this post and applying the ideas to change your environment and identity to improve your results. Let me know in the comments or via a private message, whether these methods work for you and if you have other methods to change your environment and identity to improve your results.

Focus on the Essentials

At any given moment, there is a single essential task that would move the needle significantly. Most of the time, that task is boring and hard. At any given moment, there are also a lot of secondary tasks that provide only marginal value. Those secondary tasks are fun and easy. Focusing on the essential task would create the most results in your life. Working on the secondary tasks without completing the essentials would give you the illusion of hard work, but your results won’t match your efforts.

At the moment of writing this post, I have a few tasks that I can do for my blog. I can write a new post. I can edit my previous drafts. I can participate on social media. I can improve the design of my blog. I can search for images to use in my posts. I can create quote pictures that can be shared on Facebook and Instagram. I can record a podcast. I can shoot a video for YouTube. I can start an account in each of the countless social media platforms. All of that would add some value to my blog. However, all of that would only add marginal value. Sure they would move the needle forward, but none of that would move the needle significantly forward.

At this moment, there is a single action that would create significant value for myself and for the readers of my blog. That action is to make an inventory of all the posts I have written and then organize them in an outline. That way the readers of this blog could see the big picture and avoid getting lost in separate posts. That would also give me an overview of the topics that I have already covered and the topics that I haven’t. I can use that overview as a roadmap to cover a broader range of topics instead of writing posts about the same topics over and over.

The secondary tasks I’ve mentioned above are easy and fun. Coming up with an inventory of my content is hard and boring. The secondary tasks add only marginal value. Coming up with the inventory adds significant value. That’s the problem with the essentials. They are hard and boring. Secondary tasks are easy and fun.

You can fool yourself that you work very hard by spending 18 hours a day on secondary stuff, but your results won’t show the effort you put into your work. Or you can focus on your essentials, get them done in three hours per day and you can spend an extra five hours a day working on secondary tasks. You would get way better results than the first scenario.

It’s crucial to determine which task is the most essential task, to start your working day with that task, and to work on it until it is complete without any distractions. When you are finished with the most essential task, you can continue with the secondary tasks if you want or you can as well take the rest of the day free, because you have already moved the needle as far as you could in a single day.

Use Tech as an Accelerator, not as an End

When it comes to tools, we are in the best time in the history of mankind. Yet, we are as busy as never before. How come? With all the technology and productivity tools we have, one would think that we would have a lot of spare time, because we would get everything done so fast with our new tools. But it isn’t the case. Why? Because we let technology determine our processes, instead of our processes determine the technology that would accelerate our already existing processes.

This is a lesson that took me more than a decade to learn. Tech can be fun to use and it can be a distraction. I don’t mean the social media or video game apps. They are obvious distractions. I mean the productivity and collaboration apps.

Back in the day, I would come across a new piece of technology and I would fall in love with it. Then I would actively look for ways of how I could use it in my professional and private life. Some examples are Google Buzz, Google Wave, and almost any “productivity” app on my first smartphone. After a decade, I realized that it is backwards thinking.

Technology should come second, not first. Processes should determine the technology, not the other way around. The first step is to have a process that works on paper. The second step is to find or develop the technology to accelerate that procedure.

For example, you can write a note and have an office boy bring it to a colleague. It’s a good process. You can accelerate it by using email. Maybe, you should think about it that way. Would you send this note if an office boy had to bring it to a colleague? If not, maybe you shouldn’t send it in the first place. Worst than that, would you ask the office boy to bring the same note to everybody in your company? If not, maybe you shouldn’t send that email to everybody in your company.

Would you write down all of your random ideas as tasks to your to-do-list, if you maintained it with pen and paper? You wouldn’t. But that is exactly what I did when smartphones and to-do-list apps became available. Maintaining a huge to-do-list gave me a false sense of hard work. In reality, my productivity didn’t improve. Probably, it worsened due to all the noise in my to-do-list.

Would you shout your random thoughts to everybody in your company? Would it be productive if everybody in your company shouted their random ideas around while the rest was trying to work? But that’s exactly what Google Buzz was about. Probably, there are other similar apps in the market now. I don’t know.

Nowadays, I only look for a piece of technology when I know it would accelerate an already existing process. The rest is hype and distraction. I don’t worry about missing an important piece of technology. The useful ones will find me anyway.

Next time you are about to adopt a new piece of technology like a smartwatch, think about how this will accelerate your already existing processes. If you can’t come up with anything, skip it. Ask the same question about your existing devices and apps. If your smartphone is beeping and buzzing all the time without accelerating any of your processes, maybe it’s time to delete all those noisy social media apps and check what’s going on once a day for a few minutes via an old-school browser, if at all.