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  • feedwordpress 17:34:49 on 2018/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , LifeSpan 1200 DT, treadmill desk, walking, work   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What Kind of Treadmill Desk Does Elizabeth Use? 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how and why I bought my sister Elizabeth a treadmill desk, to use in her office where she works as a writer and producer in Hollywood.

    Along with getting my husband a subscription to Sports Illustrated, this is the most successful gift I’ve ever given.

    I had to ask her permission, of course: you can’t just spring a treadmill desk on someone. They’re enormous.

    But after some thought, she did accept it, and it makes me so happy that she’s used a treadmill desk ever since.

    In fact, as soon as she announced that she was getting a treadmill desk, her writing partner Sarah Fain got one, too! They have two treadmill desks side by side in their office on the Disney lot, and use the treadmill desks while they work. I often hear it softly whirring in the background when I’m talking to Elizabeth on the phone.

    There’s even a segment on their podcast Happier in Hollywood called "From the Treadmill Desks of..." when they talk about what’s most pressing in their work psyches that week.

    Because we often mention the treadmill desk, many people become intrigued by the idea of getting one themselves – with the hope of getting more activity into their work day, without having to make a special time or trip for exercise.

    If you wonder what Elizabeth uses, she has a LifeSpan 1200 DT. It goes up to four miles per hour, no incline.

    I must confess that when I bought that model for her, I didn’t do much research on which one to buy. I’d read a lot about the value of treadmill desks, and when I read Susan Orleans’s article in The New Yorker, "The Walking Alive: Don’t Stop Moving"  about Orleans’s great experience with her treadmill desk, I looked up the model she’d bought, thought it looked good, and bought that one.

    To answer some questions that I’ve received about about treadmill desks: you walk very slowly, so you don’t sweat; the machine is quiet (quieter than a window air-conditioner) so it is possible to talk on the phone while on the machine; it is possible to type, answer emails, etc. while on the machine, though Elizabeth does sit down if she’s doing a lengthy piece of writing.

    I would love to have a treadmill desk myself, but my strange little home office is too small to fit one.

    Do you have a treadmill desk – or are you intrigued by the possibility of having one? Does your office provide them? I’ve noticed that in many offices, there are treadmill desk stations where people can go work, if they choose.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 13:00:53 on 2018/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , FAQ, , , work   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What’s My Process for Taking Notes? 

    One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become obsessed with certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of research to learn more about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

    For instance, some of my obsessions have included: color, clutter, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, and happiness.

    Some of these preoccupations turn into books; some burn themselves out. But whatever happens, I love discovering a new passionate interest – all of a sudden, an unfamiliar area of the library becomes extremely important to me.

    When I read, I take notes. Many people have asked about my process, so here it is:

    When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read – either by putting in a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Side note: for books I own, I mark them up a lot – it’s faster, plus if I’m looking through a book later, those marks help me find the passages that I found most notable.

    Then, when I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and copy the notes into my computer.

    If it’s a particularly beautiful or thought-provoking passage, I copy it into a document called "Quotes2006+." This is a giant trove of my favorite passages – favorite either because they’re beautifully written, or because they capture an idea that I want to record.

    If it’s a passage that also happens to relate to happiness or human nature, I add it to the list of passages that I use in my free "Moment of Happiness" email newsletter, where each day, I send out a great quotation. (If you’d like to get the Moment of Happiness each day, sign up here.)

    If it’s a passage that relates to a subject that interests me enough to deserve its own notes document, I’ll copy that passage there. My notes documents include "happiness," "color," "Winston Churchill," and something called "Essential Placebo." (Long story; stay tuned.)

    As I’m taking notes on a subject, I don’t worry about organization. That comes later, when I’m ready to outline a book.

    I depend on the "search" function to find what I need. To help organize my thoughts later, and to find what I’m looking for, I tag a passage so that I can "search" to find it. So, for instance, if I’d copied a passage that related to an interesting accountability strategy that an Obliger used to help himself take medicine regularly, I might type "Obliger accountability health medicine" after it, so that later, if I’m looking for health-related material, I can find it.

    As I take notes, I also add any question that occurs to me, or any conclusion that I think I might forget.

    If I do decide to write a book about a subject, I go through my notes repeatedly and think about my own analysis about what I’ve learned. I begin to see where I disagree with others, where I think that certain points haven’t been emphasized enough, where I think new vocabulary is needed, how I would present a subject to make it clearest.

    For almost all my books, the structure was very, very difficult to create. Which isn’t obvious from looking at those books – if you look at The Happiness Project, say, you’d think, "What could be a more simple and straightforward structure?" And yet it took me several false starts to come up with that framework. Structure is so, so, so important – and the structure must serve the meaning. So I can’t figure out my structure until I know what I want to say, and I don’t know what I want to say until I’ve amassed hundreds of pages of notes.

    One advantage of this form of note-taking is that when I start a book, I never start with a blank screen. I start with hundreds of pages of notes to inspire me.

    I love taking notes, but while it might seem like a passive, easy task, but it’s actually very challenging. One benefit of note-taking is that it forces me to review all the most important parts of a book, and to decide what’s worth copying out. That takes concentration. This process helps me remember what I’ve learned, and find that information later, and for that reason, it takes a lot of time and mental energy.

    I often think I should print out my troves of notes in some attractive way, so that I could leaf through them for pleasure. I do love looking over my notes from previous projects, but I also find it exhausting. I can’t help but analyze, process, and criticize all over again.

    I always type my notes, because my handwriting is terrible, and I can type so much faster than I can write.

    Do you take notes while you read – and if so, how do you organize them?

  • Crystal Ellefsen 15:09:47 on 2018/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , inteview, Morten Hansen, , , work   

    “The Data Revealed a Big Surprise: Top Performers Do Less.” 

    Interview: Morten Hansen.

    Morten Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the co-author with Jim Collins of the book Great by Choice and also the author of Collaboration, and he has a new book that's just hitting the shelves, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

    Morten has done a lot of thinking about how people do their best work and live their happiest lives, so I couldn't wait to hear his insights about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Morten: One of the things I have always done is to celebrate milestones, even the small ones, with my wife and kids. When I got an academic paper accepted in a prestige journal, I would open a bottle of champagne with my wife and have a toast, to mark the milestone but also to give thanks for her support. When I finished my last book, I took my family out to dinner and thanked them. We do this for their milestones too. Some of these are small markers, perhaps, but it’s great to pause for a moment in our hectic lives, celebrate a bit, and express gratitude. I believe we don’t celebrate enough at work. It’s an easy thing to do.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?
    In my new study published in my book Great at Work, I set out to answer a deceptively simple question: why do some people perform better at work than others? I developed a data set of 5,000 managers and employees from across corporate America to find answers. The data analysis revealed a big surprise to me and to many others; top performers do less. We live in a world where we strive to do more to succeed: we take on more assignments, go to more meetings, fly around, network more, get online 24/7, and so on, yet we don’t pause to ask, is this the best way to work? It turns out, it isn’t. That’s an uncomfortable piece of news to many, including myself: I do more and stress to get it all done, believing it is the road to success—yet it isn’t. Of course, the good news is that we can change that and perform better, and have better lives, too.

     What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    When I started out working, I joined the Boston Consulting Group in London as a 24-year old. I had no real prior experience, so I came up with a great formula to succeed: I would work crazy hours. I put in 70, 80 and even 90 hours per week. I did rather well, being promoted up the ranks of the company. I discovered that some colleagues who also did well (and some better than me) worked fewer hours, but I just couldn’t figure out what they did, so I brushed it off and kept those long hours. Of course, it took a toll on my relationship with my fiancée (who, luckily, stuck with me). Now, a few decades later, I have discovered how foolish I was. I had fallen into the trap of believing that each extra hour worked improves output, and that’s not the case.

    The results from my new research show that the relationship between hours worked and performance is an inverted U: you perform much better when you go from 30 to 50 hours per week on average (slacking off at 30 is no good), performance only goes up a little bit by going from 50 to 65 hours, and it DECLINES from 65 hours onwards. So my “brilliant” strategy of piling on 70 and 80 hours a week was most likely a dismal failure. Uggh. It hurts even today to think back on all that wasted time (and life). But I have learned from my data. I have created what I call the “50-hour work week” rule: Work about 50 hours per week (which is hard work), but no more. My true lesson for a good work habit: it’s HOW you work—and not how hard—that matters.

    Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    I am a “do more” type of person. By that I mean that I take on many assignments, say “yes” to too many things, and then I work hard—and stress—to get it all done. Many people work like that. First off, it doesn’t lead to the best results, as I said. But it also makes me less happy: that stress to get it all done means I am working at night when I should be with my family, and it’s also stressful to coordinate all kinds of priorities. I don’t feel burned out (yet!), but working this way clearly increases the risk of that. I know this from my data. We asked our study participants whether they felt burned out at work and about a fifth strongly agreed they felt burned out, and another quarter agreed somewhat. Those are big numbers and it’s hard to feel happy when you’re burning out working. The solution is to “do less”: cut priorities and zoom in on what matters the most.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Yes! On January 1, 2017, I set the goal of getting in shape. Like so many others, I signed up with a trainer at a health club. And like so many, I have had this New Year’s resolution every year! I am a former competitive track and field athlete, so I thought this was going to be easy, but alas, I succumbed like so many others. But this year I succeeded and here’s how. I applied the idea of “20-mile march” from my book Great by Choice (co-authored with Jim Collins): the idea is to set a periodic goal (say monthly and weekly) and then set an upper and a lower bound (that’s crucial). I told myself: the goal is to exercise 3 times a week, and the lower bound is 1x, and the upper bound is 4x. My motto was: stick to the bounds, no matter what. The bounds made all the difference: I would reach my goal even if I just exercised a paltry 1 time a week. This is very different from what I used to say to myself: exercise 3 times a week, and everything below that is a failure (and sure enough, after 6 weeks in 2016 I failed and then I had, in my mind, broken my new year resolution). Now, why an upper bound? The reason is, if I exercised too many times in one week, my legs would be sore from running and so I had to rest the next week. Pacing yourself like that works really well in forming a habit, I found.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am a Questioner, absolutely. Particularly at this point in my life I notice that I question many things. Of course, I can be annoying at times, like when I ask flight attendants why we board by zones that don’t make any sense (“because that’s the way it’s done, duh.”). They are not especially impressed (or interested) when I tell them that research shows there is a better way. In my research, I found that a number of people kept asking fundamental questions about why work was done in certain ways, and that allowed them to find new and better ways. A high school principal asked his faculty, “Why do we send kids home with homework?” which challenged a 300-year old model of teaching in school. This question prompted the school to switch to a better method, where they “flipped” the classroom—homework at school, lectures via video clips at home—and results soared. It would be great to include a measure of The Four Tendencies in a study like the one I did for my book to see how work practices relate to performance. I can see why Questioners like me and the high school principal have some strengths, and yet weaknesses too (my bosses don’t especially like it when I question everything they ask me to do….oh well).

  • gretchenrubin 19:01:53 on 2018/01/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , work   

    Agree: Even One Task Fulfilled at Regular Intervals…Can Bring Order into Life as a Whole. 

    "Even one task fulfilled at regular intervals in a man's life can bring order into his life as a whole; everything else hinges upon it. By keeping a record of my experiences I live my life twice over. The past returns to me. The future is always with me."

    -- The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

    Agree, disagree?

    How I love this book!

  • gretchenrubin 12:00:06 on 2017/12/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , review, work   

    An Interesting and Useful Exercise: The Year-End Review with Myself. 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how I belong to the three-person group "MGM" where we get together periodically to talk about issues, challenges, hopes, and frustrations related to our careers. I'm the "G" in the MGM, and the Ms are Michael Melcher and Marci Alboher.

    We've been meeting now for a long time -- at least ten years. Many things have changed in our careers, and it's great for each of us to talk in a group that has been following the long arc.

    Several years ago, Michael suggested that we do an exercise: the "Year-End Review, with Yourself." Marci wrote about this idea in this article in the New York Times.

    We did the review several years ago, and it was very helpful. But for whatever reason, we didn't do it again until this year.

    Yesterday, the three of us met for three hours. During that time, we each went through our 2017 calendars and wrote down accomplishments, frustrations, high points, and low points from both our personal and professional lives. We used colored markers, stickers, and great paper to make the exercise more striking.

    Several things jumped out at me from doing this exercise:

    • it's easy to forget how much happens in a single year
    • boy, I had a challenging year--a fun year, but a challenging year
    • writing things down really did allow me to see patterns that I hadn't seen before--for instance, in my case, I realize how much my sister is now integrated into my work as well as my personal life.

    On the "Happier" podcast, in episode 134, Elizabeth and I talk about the power of writing a "ta-da list"--if you're feeling overwhelmed by a to-do list, try making a ta-da list, to remind yourself of what you've already accomplished. Often, we get energy and insight from thinking about what we've already done.

    This is essentially an end-of-year ta-da list.

    Last month, I wrote a post about variations on the to-do list: the to-do list, the could-do list, the ta-da list, the to-day list -- all can be powerful, but different people respond better to different versions.

    After we creating our year-in-review pages, we each made a page for 2018. This was especially great for me, because I'd included this exercise in my "18 for 2018" that Elizabeth and I talked about in episode 147. So I checked that off my list.

    Do you have an exercise -- at work or at home -- to review what the previous year has held for you? For me, it was gratifying and surprising to look back.

    If you want to listen to Michael's terrific new podcast with Michael Terrell, you can find "Meanwhile"--"a podcast to improve your life"--here.

    If you want to read Marci's recent and hugely popular "Modern Love" column from the New York Times, "When Your Uber Driver Brings a Time Machine," it's here.

  • gretchenrubin 12:44:19 on 2017/11/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , work   

    Working Is One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Procrastination–18th Century Style. 

    “Idleness is often covered by turbulence and hurry. He that neglects his known duty and real employment naturally endeavours to crowd his mind with something that may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does any thing but what he ought to do with eager diligence, that he may keep himself in his own favour."

    --Samuel Johnson, Selected Writings, "Idler no. 31," November 18, 1758

    One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: "Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination." I got a kick out of seeing one of my favorite authors, Dr. Johnson, express the same notion in his inimitable, eighteenth-century style.

    Agree, disagree?


  • gretchenrubin 14:00:53 on 2017/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Chuck Palahniuk, , , , work   

    Agree? “Not Everybody Is Looking for an Easy, Fun Job.” 

    Chuck Palahniuk wrote a piece about life on a Navy submarine. As he was leaving the sub, an officer asked him to write a good piece; fewer and fewer people saw the value in the kind of service he valued most. Palahniuk writes:

    I saw the value. I admire those people and the job they do.

    But by hiding the hardships they endure, it seems the Navy cheats these men out of the greater part of their glory. By trying to make the job seem fun and no-big-deal, the Navy may be repelling the people who want this kind of challenge.

    Not everybody is looking for an easy, fun job.

    Chuck Palahniuk, “The People Can,” Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories

    I'm haunted by this last line. I agree: I suspect that sometimes, when we try to convince people to undertake a certain job, activity, or aim as pleasant and fun (or even manageable), we might dissuade people who might otherwise be interested.

    Not everybody is looking for a fun, easy job.

    Agree, disagree? Can you think of examples about yourself or someone else, when a person was attracted to a difficult, arduous task?

  • gretchenrubin 07:00:57 on 2017/10/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , work   

    What Is Work, and What Is Play — for You? 

    “But what is work and what is not work?  Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles?  All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody.  There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”

    --George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

    What is work for you, and what is play for you? For me, as my play, I usually do something involving writing, which is my work -- I'm not a well-rounded person. I've tried hard to develop non-bookish hobbies, but they never progress very far.

    And sometimes my play becomes my work. I've been doing a tremendous amount of research and note-taking on the subject of my obsessive interest: color. At some point, perhaps I'll try to turn that material into an actual book -- I've even chosen a title, "My Color Pilgrimage." How delightful, but rare, when work and play converge.

    I do love the writing of George Orwell! I've read The Road to Wigan Pier three or four times, and I've re-read some of my favorite Orwell essays -- such as "Reflections on Gandhi," "Charles Dickens," and "Such, Such Were the Joys" -- even more often. Though, oddly, I haven't re-read any of his fiction since high school. (Should I?)

    What is work for you, that might be play to someone else? And what is play for you, that might be work for someone else?

    Of course, conditions matter tremendously. Work that might be enjoyable in some circumstances becomes hideous drudgery in other circumstances.

    And choice matters. It matters if you're doing what you choose to do, when and because you choose to do it. And if you feel that you could do something else, if you wanted to stop.

    And money matters. Getting paid for something influences whether we regard it as work or play. In fact, research suggests that if we reward people to do an activity that they'd otherwise do for play, they may begin to view that activity as work -- and may not want to do it voluntarily. At the same time, we might enjoy doing something for work that we wouldn't choose to do for play. And vice versa.

    What is work, and what is play?


  • gretchenrubin 13:00:04 on 2017/10/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Tim O'Reilly, work   

    The Future and Why We Should “Work on Stuff that Matters.” 

    Interview: Tim O'Reilly.

    Tim O'Reilly is the founder and head of O'Reilly Media. Of all the people writing and speaking about the interrelated issues of emerging technology, media, work, and government, he is one of the most thoughtful and far-sighed.

    His new book just hit the shelves. WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us is a combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action related to the future of technology -- and the future of all of us.

    I was interested to hear his views on habits, happiness, productivity, and creativity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Tim: Every morning, before I plunge into work, checking my devices and getting pulled into the digital whirl, I do some yoga or go running, and do morning chores -- feeding my backyard chickens, emptying the dishwasher, hanging the laundry that I ran overnight, making tea for my wife and for myself. I treat morning chores as a kind of meditation. Hanging laundry on the line is especially like that for me. It's a wonderful practice that saves energy, makes clothes last longer, and gives me a chance to watch the sunrise over my back yard.

    The clothesline is also the subject of one of my favorite poems, Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" and one of my favorite thought pieces, Steve Baer's "The Clothesline Paradox." Back in 1970, Baer described how in our metrics-obsessed society, we ignore what we can't measure. When we put our clothes in the dryer, our collective electric bill goes a bit higher. When we put them on the line, we don't say "look, a win for renewable energy." It just disappears from our accounting.

    I've used this wonderful thought experiment over the years to talk about the economic value of open source software and internet enabled collaboration, and more recently, in my book WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, as a way of talking about how we might get to a "caring economy" in which machines do more of the routine work, and what humans do to care for each other becomes more deeply valued.

    Lots of folks are worried about robots and the "jobless" future. I'm worried that we won't use the fruits of machine productivity to give people more freedom to spend their time caring for each other, being creative, and yes, getting work done (though not necessarily through the limiting 19th century construct of the job, as something provided by someone else.)

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Tim: There are a lot of things you learn as you get older, most of them having to do with the interrelated values of discipline and moderation. Irving Yalom once wrote "First will what is necessary. Then love what you will." This is incredibly good life advice. Decide what you need to do, make a habit of it, and come to love it rather than resent it. That applies to the habits of householding, to exercise and diet, to work, and to taking the time to reach out to friends and family. It is so easy to be full of resentment against the things that we feel are keeping us from our joy. Finding joy in what needs doing is magical.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Tim: Being tethered to a phone or the internet. When I am out of cell range, or leave my phone at home, I feel unaccountably freer. I don't realize how much the simple presence of the device pulls on me until it is out of reach.

    I have been thinking more and more about setting out big blocks of time when I put it deliberately out of reach.

    I remember vividly when I first had this experience, around 1984. I had my first internet-connected Unix workstation in my home office. Unlike a PC, which you tended to turn off when you were done. This was always on, always connected. My office was in a converted barn next to my house, and I could feel it calling to me. Everyone now lives with devices all the time, and they are changing us in ways we don't entirely understand.

    Clay Johnson gave some good advice years ago in a book called The Information Diet, which turned out to be quite prescient. He urged his readers to manage their information intake, and to take the time to produce thoughtful content, rather than just mindlessly sucking it in.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Tim: In addition to my aforementioned morning routine, probably the most important habit is one that I had dropped for some time in favor of time with my phone, but which has now regained its place in my life, with great results: reading books. Sustained time with another mind rather than constant media snacking is so important!

    Poetry is one of the joys of my life. There are more tools for living in a good poem than most people realize. When I was going through a midlife crisis, I found enormous guidance in T. S. Eliot's "East Coker," which is a poem about the necessity for things to be torn down so that something new can be built.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Tim: I ran in high school, and at a few times after that, but I'd lost it as a regular habit. What brought it back was doing it together with my fiancé (now my wife). Working together to maintain good habits is incredibly powerful. 

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Tim: When I took the test, I came out as a Questioner, but I find myself with so many elements of the others. In my personal life, I'm a strong Obliger. In my public life, definitely a Questioner. In my business, a mix of questioner and upholder. I even find streaks of Rebel, which mostly comes out when I find myself "bitten to death by ducks"--beleaguered by constant requests for attention from my over-extended network. [Yes, this response absolutely confirms that you are a Questioner.]

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Tim: Travel definitely makes it harder to avoid eating too much, especially when it's coupled with business meals. One "hack" that my wife and I have used to reduce this burden is to share a single meal whenever possible. Restaurant portions are so large!

    As to exercise, it's important to make time for it even when you travel. So I always bring exercise clothes with me. And if it's possible, I try to incorporate exercise - and not necessarily vigorous exercise, but just movement - into my daily routine. On my recent trip to New York City, I used Citibike (bike share) or walking to get to all of my appointments. I try to do that at home as well. And if I can do a "walking meeting" that is almost always preferable to sitting around a table.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Tim: Absolutely. Around 2010, I read a line in a novel, Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon, that set off a mid-life crisis, and led me to change my life in major ways. "Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?" This really struck a nerve. When I was a kid reading science fiction, I thought that I would one day write a book that involved a character who was able to live out the consequence of different life choices, different branching futures, rather than being stuck with the consequences of a single choice. Living in another country for a while can give you this kind of completely new experience, or changing your job. It's so easy to get into ruts, and forget how to let go. The year before I read that, I kept having a line from the Tao Te Ching keep going through my head, but I didn't know what it meant: "Keep stretching the bow, you repent of the pull." I didn't realize how stretched thin I was by the constant demands of work, and this odd new compulsion to feed a social media following on Twitter. That was the beginning of my wrestling with the social media sickness that has pervaded so much of our society.

    Don't get me wrong. I love social media for the ways it lets me keep in touch with people. But in the same way that abundance of calories and a lack of exercise can make us fat, an abundance of empty social calories and lack of vigorous mental exercise and true social contact can make our minds and our feelings flabby and lacking in lustre.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Tim: There are so many. I am full of quotations that spring to mind on every occasion. But I want to share the goal that animates us at my company, O'Reilly Media: "Create more value than you capture."

    At a company management retreat around 2000, I remember telling the stories of several internet billionaires who'd told me they'd started their company with the aid of an O'Reilly technical book. We got $35, they got $Billions. That seemed like a wonderful thing -- that the work we did could have such an impact on other people's lives. Brian Erwin, then our VP of marketing, said our slogan ought to be "We create more value than we capture." We've been using it ever since, though as a call to action rather than a self-description.

    Another similar sentiment that I've use to shape my company has been widely posterized on the internet:  "Money in a business is like gas in your car. You don't want to run out, but your business is not a tour of gas stations." And of course that ties to another one of my mantras: "Work on stuff that matters."

    We really try to live by these principles in our business decision making at O'Reilly, and our economy would be better off if everyone did the same. In my book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, I share lessons from the great technology platforms. There's a lot in there about how AI, and on demand networks, and other technologies are reshaping the business landscape, the economy, and the future of work, but there are also lessons about generosity that I've taken from watching the rise and fall of technology platforms. New waves of innovation that I've been part of -- the personal computer industry, open source software, the internet, the maker movement, even AI -- have been kicked off through a gift to the world. IBM published the specifications for their personal computer, and let anyone build one. Tim Berners-Lee put the web into the public domain. But then I've watched again and again as companies come along, gain control of the new technology, dry up the innovation, taking too much of the value for themselves and forcing entrepreneurs to go elsewhere. Right now, Google and Facebook and Apple are following in the footsteps of Microsoft, learning none of the lessons that brought Microsoft down from its peak of control over the industry.

    Those same lessons apply to our broader economy. Our financial markets have become extractive rather than a support for the real market of goods and services. "Investment" no longer means investing in people or factories. It means placing bets on stocks, and trying to manipulate them so they go higher, whether or not any value has been created. When Carl Icahn bought $3.6 billion in Apple stock, Apple didn't need his money. They had billions on hand. He was hoping to get them to do stock buybacks to artificially drive up the price, in fact extracting value from Apple rather than creating it.

    This is what's wrong with our economy writ large. "Investors" are not really investors. They are bettors in the financial market casino, while the world's great problems -- and the people who could be solving them -- are no longer seen as the proper focus for investment. We have told our companies to optimize for "the bottom line," while treating people as a cost to be eliminated. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build an economy that treats people as an asset to invest in.

    I think that we're in a wonderful teachable moment because of what is happening with Facebook. People can see that Facebook created newsfeed algorithms that didn't quite do what Mark Zuckerberg and his team expected. They thought that by showing people more of what they liked and re-shared with their friends, they'd create an engaging social platform that reinforced the connections between people. They didn't expect that it would increase hyper-partisanship, and that spammers and foreign governments would exploit the system. We can see that they need to fix their system. In a similar way, the economists whose theories shaped business and politics didn't mean to create an opioid epidemic, but they did. When, in 1970, Milton Friedman said that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and when, a few years later, Michael Jensen began to preach the gospel of shareholder value maximization and the need to align executive compensation with rising stock prices, they didn’t mean to create the devastation they wreaked on the economy, but it’s time to recognize it.

    I believe that we can create an economy where people matter.

  • gretchenrubin 16:12:01 on 2017/08/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , work   

    Podcast 132: Consider Reading Children’s Literature, Refresh Your Workspace, 

    Update: I’m excited because my new book, The Four Tendencies, hits the shelves in just 13 days. Not long now!

    I’m looking forward to heading to Los Angeles, and many other cities, on my book tour. Info here if you’d like to come to an event.

    Try This at Home: Feeling overwhelmed by the news, or by events in your life — or both? Consider reading children’s literature. I love reading children’s literature all the time, but when I feel anxiety or dread, I often turn even more readily than usual to children’s literature.

    Need an excellent work of children’s literature — or rather, young-adult literature? Elizabeth’s book Flower is a terrific read. And here’s my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s literature.

    The book I mention reading is E. L. Konigsburg’s brilliant From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Elizabeth mentioned Paula Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. So, so good!

    This try-this-at-home isn’t about escapism, or turning away from difficult truths and realities, but about finding ways to maintain your mental equilibrium during tough times. When we have more command of ourselves, we’re better able to engage with the world.

    C. S. Lewis’s essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” is fascinating. I’ve read it ten times.

    Elizabeth and Sarah talked about “feeling on the rack” in episode 9 of “Happier in Hollywood.”

    Happiness Hack: Cat, a Rebel, suggests choosing new desktop wallpaper as a fun way to change a work environment. She used the free service Unsplash.

    Four Tendencies Tip: Can you switch Tendencies? No, not really. But you can change your circumstances to harness the strengths of your Tendency, and to buttress the limitations and weaknesses of your Tendency.

    Want to take the Quiz to tell you whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel? It’s here. Or to learn even more, buy The Four Tendencies book.

    Listener Question: Abby is an Obliger who’s trying to work on a side hustle, but it’s hard to put the time into that effort when she’s also working for her father.

    If you’re pursuing a side hustle, be sure to check out Chris Guillebeau’s terrific podcastSide Hustle School.” If you’re an Obliger who wants to create an accountability group (for anything you need to be accountable for), check out the free Better app.

    Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth has been feeling very crabby; she took it out on her husband Adam; and now she feels even worse.

    Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a giant gold star to the Delta counter agent who did a terrific job in handling the chaos that ensued during a five-hour weather delay. (Demerit: I should’ve found out his name, so I could acknowledge his excellence.)

    Here’s some fascinating research about waiting in line.

    Free Resources:

    1. To get the pre-order bonus, you can find info here, or at happiercast.com/4tbonus. You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; after the book comes out, there will be a charge for the video series.
    2. If you’d like a free, signed bookplate or signature card, sign up here. U.S. and Canada only — sorry about that, mailing costs. Ask for as many as you’d like (within reason).

    As I mentioned above, I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

    Check out Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

    Visit Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 15% off your first Framebridge order.

    And check out BlueApron.comWish you cooked more? Get all the delicious, fresh ingredients you need to make great meals, delivered to your front door. Check out BlueApron.com/happier to get your first three meals free, with free shipping.

    We love hearing from listeners:


    To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

    If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

    Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

    How to Subscribe

    If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

    Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

    Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Happier in Hollywood.

    HAPPIER listening!

    The post Podcast 132: Consider Reading Children’s Literature, Refresh Your Workspace, appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

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