We’re excited to introduce Jocelyn Glei as our first guest in the Productivity Giants Series 2!
Jocelyn is a multi-talented writer and creative whose mission is to help others find more meaning and creativity in their daily work. She’s the host of the Hurry Slowly podcast — a new show about how you can be more productive, creative, and resilient by slowing down. She also write books that will help you reclaim your time in “the age of distraction”, and gives talks about how we can spend less time on “fake productivity” and more time on work that actually matters. Her newsletter contains insightful and thoughtful ideas to spark inspiration, while also being actionable and useful.
We’re big fans of Jocelyn’s style and outlook, so we decided to pick her brain about all things productivity – including her daily routine and the one essential key to regain lost focus.
What do the first 90 minutes of your day look like?
I like to feel the day as soon as I wake up. So I walk to my local coffee shop, and do about 45 minutes of brain-stimulating reading while I stand at this huge picture window or sit outside under a Japanese maple.
Then, I come back to my home office and to work. I try to get all my “deep attention” work done in the first 3 – 4 hours, which is my prime time for tackling challenging projects. This usually breaks into two 90-minute sprints, with a break in between.
More on daily routines and “planning for imperfection” here.
What’s your number one productivity/time-saving tip?
Don’t force it. When you’re stuck, step away from your computer. Because we’re so technology-obsessed these days, we often feel that the only way to accomplish something is when you’re sitting in front of a computer. But particularly when you’re trying to solve hard problems, having downtime when you can just let your mind wander is a crucial part of the creative process.
Surprisingly, our brains are only 5 – 10% less active when they are “at rest.” That’s because they are synthesizing, connecting, and sense-making during that time — we’re just not conscious that it’s happening. And this is why aha moments almost never happen in front of a computer. Instead, they happen in the shower, on a long walk, or while you’re exercising.
So if you’re stuck, give yourself the freedom to go for a walk or engage in another activity that allows your mind to wander for 30-45 minutes. It will likely be more productive than trying to eek something out at your computer.
More on why you should prioritize rest & reflection here.
Any favorite tools?
My favorite tools are a pen and paper. And there’s a whole Hurry Slowly episode explaining why.
Do you have a pre-bed/nightly routine?
The most important thing is I always leave my smartphone in the other room. And I have a simple bedside clock so that I needn’t have my phone at my bedside. This is a small behavior but one with substantive ripple effects.
If your phone is not present in the bedroom, you cannot check email, social media, or the news — which stimulate your nervous system and ratchet up your anxiety. On the same note, your phone emits blue light, which also has a negative impact on your ability to fall asleep. So removing the phone from the room is a small, but very powerful change.
More on that here.
How often do you check your inbox?
Two or three times a day.
That said, it’s somewhat variable depending on my project priorities at a given moment. If I’m launching a new product — like a book or a podcast — I need to be much more responsive on email because I’m in “promotion mode.”
When I’m in deep “creation mode,” doing interviews or writing for a project that I’ll launch in the future, then I check my email less. Because I want to protect my focus and I have less obligation to be responsive.
We have this idea of one single daily routine that we can groom and perfect, and then it will solve all our problems. But situations change. I think it’s more constructive to think about having a variety of “templates” for your day, or your week, and then you can deploy them based on what you want to accomplish and what your current situation is.
#1 Email tip?
Turn off notifications, and check your email in 2-3 batches a day. Research shows that people who check their email in batches are more productive, happier, and less stressed. In fact, there is a direct correlation between how frequently you check your email, and how stressed out you feel.
Favorite SaneBox feature?
SaneBlackHole, obviously! For some reason, the people who send me messages that are the least relevant to my work and my goals are always the most persistent. They often follow up 3 or 4 times. So it’s wonderful to just vanquish them from my inbox from the get-go.
What’s the biggest hindrance to your productivity? How do you combat it?
Strangers who show up in my inbox with tempting requests that are not relevant to what I want to accomplish. I fend them off by rigorously clarifying my goals, saying no to opportunities that are not aligned with them, and having an arsenal of templated email responses for declining.
When you lose focus, what do you do to regain it?
I go for a long walk. It has never failed me.
More on the benefits of walking here.
What have you learned from your failures?
Nothing teaches you like failure. Because you remember it. But the interesting thing is — and this is something that makes failure less scary — is that other people *never* remember your failures like you do. We often cringe and worry about what other people will think, but the fact of the matter is they have their own world, with their own worries, and for the most part, they’re not really spending a lot of time thinking about you. It’s a rather liberating thought.
I wrote a whole piece about one of my biggest failures a few years ago at 99U, which you can find here.
What bad advice do you hear often?
There are two terrible pieces of advice I hear often: “Say yes to everything,” and “Say no to everything.”
What book has changed your life and why?
Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. It explains the problem of “time scarcity.” Essentially demonstrating that when we are constantly over-scheduled and overwhelmed, we become less forward-thinking, less generous, and less able to maintain our focus. In other words, time scarcity robs us of all of the most necessary skills for being creative.
More on time scarcity and why we can’t stop being busy here.
The most worthwhile investment in time, money, or energy that you’ve made?
Many years ago now, I bought this huge desk made by a Danish design company called HAY. It’s about the size of a large blackboard and is exactly that same beautiful black-green color as well. I’ve found that having ample space to really spread out and make a mess does wonders for one’s creativity. One of the best investments I ever made.
What’s your definition of productivity?
Productivity is a tool for accomplishing your goals — a means to an end, not an end in itself. The idea of “being productive” is meaningless on its own. If you don’t have an end goal in mind, you’re not being productive, you’re just keeping busy.
So before we worry about being productive, I think we need to ask ourselves the larger questions, like: What do I want to accomplish in this world? What change do I want to create?
Then, you can back into the best means to creating that thing.
What have you become better at saying no to?
Any requests that are not aligned with my goals. One small change that really helps is shifting from saying “I can’t do that” to saying “I don’t do that.” It’s much more empowering.
Lots more ideas for getting better at saying “No” here.
Follow Jocelyn on Twitter.