Takeaway: The trick to traveling smarter is to prepare ahead of time, and develop strong traveling habits. Some ideas covered below: creating a default packing list; preparing things to consume and work on while you’re offline; leaning into how tired you are while traveling; and making your trip feel more like home.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 46s.
Podcast Length: 29 minutes, 22s.
Whether you’re traveling for a business trip, for fun, or something in between, here are some strategies to manage your energy, get more done, and just enjoy traveling more. As someone who travels 50-60% of the time, I couldn’t stay sane without these tactics.
As always, my cohost and I dig deep into these tactics in this week’s episode of Becoming Better—but if you don’t have the time or inclination to listen, here’s a summary of what we talked about!
To Do: Before Traveling
Create a default packing list, that contains everything you could ever want possibly pack. This is one of my favorite strategies for saving a ton of time each time I travel. I have a snippet of text (that I store in TextExpander, though a simple text document would do) that contains every possible thing I could ever want to pack for any trip, ever. On the list is everything from a travel belt, to my Nintendo Switch, to printed information about my flights. When packing for a trip, I just paste this snippet of text into a new document, and delete the items I won’t need. This helps me pack for trips without forgetting anything, in a very small amount of time.
Prepare things to consume and work on while offline. This is key. It’s easy to burn through a lot of time on long plane rides, or while just waiting around. Download a few podcast episodes or audiobooks to treat yourself while traveling—or use a read-it-later app like Instapaper or Pocket in order to read a bunch of articles. Make sure to also download work to do ahead of time. If you want to be productive, avoid downloading things like movies in order to nudge yourself into doing higher-quality tasks. If you’re traveling with someone, be sure to plan for that, too. When we travel together, my partner Ardyn and I never travel without a cribbage board.
Plan ahead for time zone changes. If you’ll be transversing across time zones, shift your wakeup and bedtime an hour or two before you leave, to make time zone shifts less jarring. When you begin traveling, eat and sleep on a schedule consistent with where you’re going. This helps get your mind into where you’re going. It’s important to stress about time zone shifts an appropriate amount—I don’t overthink them if I don’t have to “perform” on a trip (ie. do some work or give a talk), but shift my wakeup times a tad leading up to the trip if I’ll need to hit the ground running.
Find a solid travel rewards card. If you travel often, a good travel rewards card can grant you access to airport lounges, comprehensive travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation insurance, and even hotel room upgrades. Not to mention that it can give you the points you need to go on a free trip every once in a while. My favorite card for this is the American Express Platinum card, but that one has a hefty annual fee. (Here are a few of the best ones if you live in the US.)
Scope out airport lounges ahead of time. I use LoungeBuddy for this. Airport lounges aren’t always worth the cost of admission—they can cost upwards of $50-100 when you don’t have lounge access included with your credit card, or don’t have a fancy first class ticket or elite status with an airline. But if you have a long layover, they can be worth it: while they’re pricey, lounges often include meals, drinks, showers, and a place to hunker down to get some work done and avoid the chaos of the airport.
Check out SeatGuru when checking into your flight. SeatGuru lets you type in your flight deals to see which seats on the airplane are good, and which ones suck. Scope it out when checking into your next flight.
Plan around disruptions to your routine. When it comes to how disruptive it can be, travel is infinitely easier to plan around ahead of time. Before heading out, schedule time to exercise, meditate, and maintain your keystone habits. I also like to scope out healthy meal options ahead of time, as well as what restaurants I want to check out, so I don’t resort to ordering in.
To Do: While Traveling
Lean into your tiredness. If you’re traveling across time zones, take advantage of how tired you are on the first day. Do your best to live in the time zone you’ve arrived in: your first day may be crappy, but you’ll adjust more quickly to the change. Pro tip: do creative work during this tired day. Your mind is the most creative when you’re tired, because your brain is less inhibited.
Work on what you’ve prepared! You almost never get as much uninterrupted focus time as when you’re traveling. Don’t waste this time! Read the articles you’ve saved for the trip, watch the TED talks you’ve downloaded, and work on the stuff you’ve prepared.
Make your trip feel more like home. If you’re like me, the more you travel, the more you miss home. This is why I do my best to bring home to me; packing things I enjoy at home, like my favorite kinds of tea and coffee, and calling loved ones more often than I regularly would. If you’re like me, this will give you a pretty good boost of energy!
A few things to buy/pack, which I never travel without:
Good noise-canceling headphones. Or, at the very least, good earplugs. I never travel without my Bose headphones—but there are great noise-cancelling headphones out there at a lot of different price points.
A light-blocking sleep mask. Works great for when you need to sleep on a flight, or sleep in a hotel room or bedroom that doesn’t have blackout blinds.
A portable speaker. I never travel without a portable speaker. When I first picked one up, I didn’t expect to use it much. Now, I never travel without it. It’s great for listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks in a hotel room.
A portable clothing steamer. While most hotels have irons, I hate ironing, so I travel with a portable steamer. There’s very little setup involved in using one, and steaming clothes takes a fraction of the time that ironing does. If you dislike steaming clothes as well, or just want to same some time, hang your clothes up when you’re taking a hot shower or bath. The steam should remove most of the wrinkles in your clothes, and you may not need to steam or iron afterward.
If you’re looking to maintain how much energy you have, get more done, save time, and enjoy travel more, these tips will help! Have a great trip :-)
Takeaway: Apps can be distracting and lead you to waste a ton of time, but the best apps make you more knowledgeable, organized, and productive. The 10 apps below—selected by myself and Ardyn on our podcast—all will help you do this.
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 4s.
Podcast length: 26 minutes, 45s.
At their worst, apps are distracting and lead you to waste an ungodly amount of time. But at their best, they can make you quite a bit more efficient and productive. So which ones are worth your time and attention?
In this week’s episode of the much-beloved podcast Becoming Better, Ardyn and I dig into our favorite productivity apps, and chat about why we love them so much. In case you don’t have the time or inclination to listen—or just want to check out the apps we chat about this week—here’s a list of our favorite productivity apps, along with a quick blurb on why we dig them.
If you’re looking to become more focused, knowledgeable, and organized, I hope you’ll agree that these apps are in a league all of their own. (A quick note: this list differs slightly from the episode, in order to make the article more accessible.)
1. Focusmate (website; free). Focusmate is one of my all-time favorite productivity apps. When you launch the website, you’re presented with a calendar in which you’re able to book a 50-minute session to focus on something. The site then partners you up with someone from around the world who also wants to get some work done during that time. You then spend 50 minutes working with the person—working with them over video—and share what you got done when your focus session is done. The service is eerily effective at making you more focused and productive. (I’m writing this article during a focus session with a programmer in Boston.)
2. Freedom (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android; $29/year). I write about Freedom quite a bit on this site, and for good reason. Freedom is a distractions-blocking application: once it’s enabled, you’re not able to access your most distracting websites and apps for the amount of time you specified in advance. Pairs well with Focusmate. (A free alternative for the Mac: SelfControl.)
3. Libby (iOS, Android, Windows; free). Libraries are an incredible resource that far too few people take advantage of. Libby is a great, free app that connects to your local library, that lets you browse their selection of ebooks and audiobooks. If you’re a bookworm, this app can easily save you hundreds of dollars a year.
4. Audible (every platform; $15/month for one book a month). I read around twice as many books because of Audible. Audible is an audiobook site that, for $15/month, gives you access to one book a month, along with two Audible Originals (original audiobooks exclusive to Audible). A no-brainer, along with Libby, if you’re a bookworm.
5. Simplenote (every platform; free). A great, simple, and beautiful note-taking app that’s available for pretty much every platform under the sun. The app is so simple that you can’t even bold or italicize text in it. I personally use this app for capturing ideas throughout the day, as well as for capturing my daily intentions when I travel. This app is on all of my devices, and I couldn’t live without it.
6. Toggl (every platform; free, with paid plans). A dead-simple time-tracking app, which can be set up to track your time automatically.
7. Insight Timer (iOS, Android; free). This is my favorite meditation app, and I’ve pretty much tried them all. Insight Timer features guided meditations, sleep meditations, and a simple meditation timer. But the app’s real power lies in how it lets you see, in real time, who else is meditating around the world—including people near you. The app also keeps you accountable with meditation reminders and meditation streaks—and you can have friends in the app, too.
8. Things (iOS, Mac; $10-50). The last three picks on the list are only available for Apple devices, but I’d be remiss to not include them; they’re a few of the best apps available on any platform. Things is a beautiful, powerful, and delightful to-do list app. I’d be far less productive and organized without it.
9. Fantastical (Mac, iOS; $5-$50, depending on device type). In my opinion, Fantastical is the best calendar app out there for any platform. Unfortunately it’s only available for Mac and iOS, but if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the app is easily worth the purchase. A few of my favorite features: using natural language to enter calendar events, a convenient mini-window that lets you access your calendar no matter what you’re doing on the computer, a beautiful interface, and complex time zone support.
10. Soulver (Mac, iOS; $3-9). Many of the things I calculate each day are too complex for a calculator, but aren’t nearly complex enough for a spreadsheet. That’s where Soulver comes in. Soulver lets you type out problems as you would on paper, and then solves them for you. Plus, it’s super lightweight, easy to use, and fast. Everyone I recommend this app to loves it.
If you’re looking to become more focused, read more books, and organize your life, give these apps a shot.
A few honorable mentions: Overcast (for listening to podcasts); Overleaf (an online LaTeX editor); and Strava (a run/cycling tracker).
Takeaway: Some productivity rituals worth trying out: setting three intentions every day; reviewing and mapping out your week (and day); having an accountability partner that keeps you on track; and maintaining an “accomplishments list” throughout the week. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 1s. Podcast length: 26 minutes, 0s.
Great productivity rituals allow you to become more productive without much thought; once you make a habit out of them, you become more productive every day, automatically. So which rituals are worth the time and energy investment?
On this week’s episode of Becoming Better, Ardyn and I chat about the rituals we both use to manage our lives. The best rituals let you do things such as externalize the stuff you have to get done (so it’s out of your head), introduce accountability into your daily and weekly schedule—while often being lightweight enough to let you get to work quickly.
As always, in case you don’t have the inclination to listen to this week’s episode, here are a few of our favorite rituals and systems we chatted about! Not all of these will work for you—but they’re all worth experimenting with. If you’re like us, you may be surprised by just how much rituals like these support your work and life.
1. The Rule of 3. This is one of the best productivity rituals out there. At the start of each day, fast-forward to the end of the day in your head and then ask yourself: by the time the day is done, what three main things will you want to have accomplished? This helps you identify what’s actually important and consequential each day.
2. The weekly review. At the beginning of each week, look at the week ahead and set yourself up to get stuff done. Schedule blocks of time where you can hunker down on larger projects, and set reminders for what you will have to accomplish.
3. The daily review. A simple way to start your day. At the start of each day, before settling into work, review the tasks you plan to get done, and review your calendar for the day, too.
4. An accountability ritual. At the start of the week, send an accountability partner what you plan to accomplish by the end of the week—and, when the week is done, follow up with them to let them know how things went.
5. Keep an accomplishments list. We tend to focus quite a bit on what’s on our to-do list, forgetting all of the things we’ve accomplished. To combat this tendency, keep a running accomplishments list as you go about your week—and when the week is done, celebrate what you’ve gotten done!
In the episode, we mention about a dozen of rituals, but these are a few of our favorites! Enjoy!
Takeaway: For this week’s episode of Becoming Better, I interviewed David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done. A few of my favorite nuggets from our interview (expanded upon below): our heads are for having ideas (not holding them); mental clarity comes when we store fewer commitments in our head; we should capture every single commitment we have on our plate; that we need mental space as much as we need more time; and that we should be listening to the “still small voice” in our mind throughout the day.
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 32s.
Podcast length: 30 minutes, 48s.
In this week’s episode of Becoming Better, I sit down with the one and only David Allen. David is the author of the mega-bestselling book Getting Things Done, which sparked a personal productivity revolution in 2001. Since then, the book has gone on to sell millions of copies around the world, and has been published in nearly 30 languages. David’s also hosting a massive summit on GTD which he calls the “grand finale” of his career (in Amsterdam; June 20-21; tickets are still available).
I think you’ll dig this episode! As always, in case you don’t have the time or inclination to listen, I’ve included a few of my favorite ideas from our chat below, but there are, of course, a lot of ideas that a simple article like this can’t capture.
A few nuggets we talked about:
Your head is for having ideas, not holding them. This is the central tenant of David’s system, and in my opinion, this sticky idea is why his ideas have amassed such a large and loyal following. We have a limited amount of mental bandwidth to give to whatever we’re doing—and we shouldn’t waste any amount of this bandwidth on storing information and unresolved commitments in our head. We need to externalize those into some sort of system.
Mental clarity comes from storing fewer commitments in your mind. There’s a reason why keeping a calendar helps you focus: you no longer have to remember where you have to be, and when you have to be there. That’s stored in your calendar, which you review regularly and get notifications from, and by keeping a calendar you free up mental room for other things. This is why to-do lists are also so powerful: they help clear up even more mental space. The fewer tasks, projects, and unresolved commitments you keep in your mind, the more clearly you’re able to think.
For greater mental clarity, make a list of every single commitment you have on your plate. One great way to clear up mental space is to make a list of all of the tasks and projects you have going on. In our interview, David mentioned that this process may take anywhere from one to six hours, depending on how much you’re juggling. The simple act of capturing these commitments onto a sheet of paper—getting them out of your head—is freeing in and of itself. You’re then able to create a plan for how to follow through on them all, and even create a master list of all of your projects.
You need more mental space as much as you need more time. Our tasks, projects, and commitments will always consume time. But they also consume more mental space than is necessary; we’re constantly recalling what we have to get done when we’re in the middle of something else. As David put it in our conversation: “You don’t need time to have a good idea, or be creative, or innovative, or loving, or present, or strategic—you just need room.”
Listen to the “still small voice” in your head throughout the day. Sometimes when we’re working, there’s a little voice inside our head we ignore, that tells us to take a break—to take a walk around the park when we’ve got 300 emails that have built up, or to have a glass of wine when we haven’t treated ourselves to one in a while. Or to cram for a project, because we have a sudden burst of energy then we can take advantage of. Instead of blindly following your to-do list, or using your email inbox as your to-do list, David recommends listening to what this “still small voice” has to say.
In a couple of weeks, my cohost Ardyn and I will be back, chatting about the systems we both use to manage our lives—including what we’ve found that works, and what we still struggle with.
Enjoy the conversation with David! And have a wonderful week.
Takeaway: Doing a digital declutter helps you step back from your digital life, so you can see what parts of your digital world make your life better, and which parts you waste too much time on and have become addicted to. To conduct one, choose what apps/services/websites to not use for a month, what digital things you want to use less, and what analog things you plan on doing in place of these digital habits.
Article Reading Time: 3 minutes, 5s.
Podcast Length: 29 minutes, 58s.
On this week’s episode of Becoming Better, my cohost Ardyn and I dig into an experiment that we recently conducted: doing a one-month digital declutter. (I introduce Ardyn, my cohost, at the start of this week’s episode!)
A digital declutter—an idea that Cal Newport popularizes in his new book, Digital Minimalism—is an exercise where you step back from most parts of your digital life for one month, to see which things bring you the most value. (Here’s my interview with Cal from a couple weeks back, in case you’d like to hear a bit more about the idea.)
The exercise is a simple one, but as we found, it can help you uncover things such as:
which parts of your life deliver the most value to you;
what digital distractions you waste the most time on;
which apps and websites you’re addicted to (or have become dependent on);
Ardyn and I chat about how to conduct a digital detox in the episode, but if you’re pressed for time or, heaven forbid, just don’t have the inclination to listen, here are the steps you should take to conduct a digital declutter of your own:
Choose what digital things to abstain from for a month. Cal recommends disconnecting from as many digital services, apps, and devices as you possibly can. For the month of your digital declutter, you should eliminate all nonessential digital things from your life (such as social media and email on your phone).
Choose which digital things you want to modify for that same period of time. When you can’t abstain from something—say, responding to texts or slack messages—make a plan to modify how often you check these services. For example, make a plan to check for new text messages just four times a day, while letting your close friends know you’ll be less available.
Introduce some fun analog activities to replace the digital activities with. We chose to double down on analog activities such as learning the piano and cello, reading books, spending time with friends, and taking an improv class.
Here are a few simple suggestions to make your digital declutter a tad easier:
Know that the first week will be the toughest. It takes our mind around eight days to get accustomed to less stimulation—including from our digital world. The first week might be tough, but stick with it. Disconnecting becomes significantly easier after the first week.
Mind your digital twitches. When you feel a tinge of boredom coming on, what apps do you crave checking first? This may be a sign that you’ve become overly dependent on these apps.
Take advantage of the newfound whitespace in your calendar. Use the blocks of time that you free up when you disconnect from your digital world to let your mind wander, turn over ideas, and become more creative.
Do the declutter with your wife/husband/partner. In doing a digital declutter, you carve out more time for the people in your life. When you do one with your partner, you carve out more time for each other. You also get to hold each other accountable, as we found.
Physically write out what you’re not using for a month. It’s helpful to have a written, physical reminder of what digital habits you’re changing that you see regularly—whether you keep that list in the notepad you use throughout the day, on the fridge, or on the whiteboard in your office.
Leave your phone at home more often. This helps tame the impulse you may have to check it for new messages. It’s helpful to do this for both smaller blocks of time (e.g. when you run to the store to get groceries), and larger blocks of time (for the workday).
Below is a link to play the episode. Enjoy, and have a wonderful week!
Takeaway: I chatted with Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism, on the latest episode of Becoming Better. A few things you’ll take away from the chat: why digital technologies can be so addictive; that we should question the “constant companion” mode of using our phone; that we need more time for solitude; that distraction will always creep back in; and that we should try out a “digital declutter.” Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 43s.
Cal Newport is the author of six books—including Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You—and as a full-time professor who publishes five or six papers a year, he’s remarkably prolific, both in the academic and publishing world. I recently sat down with him for my new podcast, Becoming Better, to chat about his latest book, Digital Minimalism. The book describes a simple philosophy: that we should be spending less time in the digital world, and more time in the physical one. Instead of just blasting out a new blog post with a link to each new episode, I plan on writing up a short article that contains a few practical, tactical takeaways from each episode, in case you don’t have the time to listen (or you’re just not that into podcasts). This should let you peek at what we cover on each episode of the show, and should (hopefully!) sell you on whether each episode of the show is worth your time and attention.
Here are a few practical, tactical things that I hope you take from this one.
1. There are two factors that make some apps and websites so addictive:
Whether an app provides you with social approval, and whether it provides you with intermittent positive reinforcement (every once in a while, at an unpredictable interval, the service provides you with a nugget of stimulation). Pay attention to what apps and websites provide you with these two things. Facebook, Twitter, and Email are a few good examples. These are often the same apps that cause the greatest attentional control issues.
2. Question the “constant companion” model of using your phone.
Over time, our phones have become attached at our hip. Cal argues that this doesn’t have to be the case. You should, too. While our phones add quite a few features to our lives, question whether your phone is a device that you want to distract you constantly as you go about your day.
3. Carve out more time for solitude.
Solitude is when your mind is free from inputs from other minds. This is when our best ideas come to us, because our mind has a chance to think about problems we’ve hit an impasse with, and process the information we’ve been consuming. The more time we spend connected, the less time we have for solitude.
4. Distractions will always creep back in, no matter how good you get at taming them.
When I asked Cal what distractions seep into his life, he very quickly brought up baseball trade rumors. Most productivity experts I know face this same dilemma: despite our best efforts and intentions, distraction creeps back in. Even if you’re able to mostly keep distraction at bay, bring awareness to what distractions creep back in over time.
5. Try a digital declutter.
We chat about this idea in more depth in the episode. A digital declutter is where, for a period of 30 days, you go without all inessential apps and digital distractions. The trick, over this time, is to choose a few activities you’ll replace those distractions with—such as reading more, taking an improv class, or learning an instrument. Doing this can change your relationship with technology for the better.
Note: I’m currently submitting the podcast to various podcasts hosts, including Apple Podcasts. It should be up there in the next day or two.
There are a lot of podcasts out there. So why should you subscribe to this one?
I’m a big fan of podcasts—in my podcast app, I just counted 13 that I listen to on a regular basis. For years I’ve wanted to start one myself, but haven’t, for a simple reason: I wasn’t sure what would make my show different from all the others.
But finally, a few months back, I arrived at an idea. Here’s the basic premise behind my new show, which I’ve named Becoming Better. Each episode of the is devoted to making you into a better human being. Each show features tactics to help you do things like save money, quit procrastinating, and exercise more—any idea that, in one way or another, will help you become better.
I’ll be interviewing friends of mine who are world-class authors, chatting about experiments I’m in the middle of conducting, and will also try to rope my lovely fiancée into recording a few episodes with me. (Maybe over a glass or two of wine.)
Here’s the format. Each episode:
Will respect your attention. I’ll be editing down each episode myself, in order to boil each show down to the most essential nuggets that will help you become better.
Will respect your time. Each show will be 20-30 minutes long—about the length of a commute or a short workout—and I’ll be editing down each episode myself. I’ll publish new episodes every second Tuesday, while I get the hang of the editing process (between giving talks and working on fun new writing projects). Quality over quantity!
Will contain a unique blend of fun interviews, experiments, and strategies.
Will conclude with a few practical, tactical strategies for becoming a better human being.
There are a lot of great podcasts out there. I hope you find Becoming Better to be worthy of your time and attention.
I’m in the planning phase of a productivity podcast that I’m launching this year (my target is February/March). To help make the show something you’ll benefit from even more, I have a quick question for you: what do you love most about your favorite podcasts?
As we approach the new year, here is one of the best reflections I’ve found for considering the year that has past, and the one ahead. Keep it in mind as you consider what to accomplish next year, and where you want to spend your time, attention, and energy:
Imagine two worlds.
The first world has you in it.
The second world doesn’t.
What is the difference between these two worlds?
A friend of mine introduced me to this idea. It came from a philosophy professor of his.
Personally, this reflection got me thinking beyond money and status. I started thinking about how I make other people feel, and how I can make a difference.
It’s a simple idea, but one that gets you thinking deeply about why you do what you do.
Looking ahead, how can you maximize the difference between these two worlds?