Category Archive: Productivity

  1. How Changing Your Beliefs Can Help You Achieve More: Carol Dweck – Mindset

    Leave a Comment

    growth mindset

    “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.”

    Carol Dweck

    Changing your mindset can completely affect they way you lead your life. It can be the difference between stopping at a plateau of accomplishment or continuing to flourish throughout your life. The good news is that by understanding how mindsets work, you can change your mindset and help teach others how to be more effective. According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” people fall into two primary groups: having a fixed mindset or having a growth mindset.

    What is a Fixed Mindset?

    Someone with a fixed mindset has learned that their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed traits. They are focused on demonstrating their existing skills instead of improving them. They believe that they don’t need to put in effort because they are naturally good at some things and bad at others. However, this is not true.

    What is a Growth Mindset?

    Someone with a growth mindset believes that their abilities can be developed with hard work. They may have some initial strengths, but those are just a starting point which can be built upon. This mindset encourages the learning process. Failures are seen as part of the path toward achievement and motivation to work harder. Virtually all great people have these qualities.

    How Your Mindset Impacts You

    Once you understand the two mindsets you will start to see them in yourself and others. I immediately remembered back to Math class in high school. I received low grades in Math because I just assumed that I wasn’t good at math and didn’t want to put in any extra effort and fail. I had been told that I was really talented with art and computers which tends to ingrain thoughts of all skills being fixed.

    Carol Dweck has done a number of studies on the affects of the two mindsets in children. In one study, she gave 5th graders three consecutive tests. The second test was purposely so difficult that every child would fail it. This way she could see how they’d bounce back on the third test based on differing feedback. She found that when students were praised for their ‘effort’ on the tests, they finished the 3rd test with scores that were 30% higher than the first test. Students praised for their ‘intelligence’ were discouraged by their failure and had scores that were 20% lower. This is why it’s so important to praise others for the work they’re putting in rather than their innate brainpower. Instead of being devastating, failure becomes a learning experience.

    Another issue with the fixed mindset is that it prevents people from trying things and reaching their full potential. Dweck did another study with children and found when offered the option of redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or moving onto a harder one, those with a fixed mindset wanted to re-do the puzzle they already solved. These children told researchers that smart kids don’t make mistakes and thus were afraid to make one. Children with the growth mindset thought it would be strange to do the same puzzle again and wanted to learn something new. The growth mindset is focused on becoming smarter rather than the immediate gratification of success.

    How to Develop a Growth Mindset

    A growth mindset is something that you can nurture and cultivate within yourself. People may argue that we are all predisposed to certain skills based on our genetics. While it is true that at top performance levels genetics may be a limiting factor, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon where you’ve started and even excel beyond most people. Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Companies) struggled in school as a child because he is dyslexic. Instead of viewing this as crippling, he learned to work around it and built one of the largest companies in the world. Ultimately, a person’s potential is unknowable.

    I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

    Michael Jordan

    To develop a growth mindset, begin by listening to your internal voice. Fixed mindset thoughts are things like: “What if I fail”, “I’m just not good at this”, “It’s not my fault”, or when receiving feedback “They don’t know what they’re talking about”. Realize you can interrupt this voice and change it. Start to catch these thoughts and change them to a growth mindset by saying: “How can this help me?”, “This is an opportunity to improve”, “I just need to keep at it and work harder”.

    Additional Growth Mindset Tips

    • Adopt a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.
    • Don’t ignore feedback that can help you improve, ask for this feedback.
    • Think of life as a continual process of learning. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
    • Own your mistakes and failures. Learn from them and stick to it rather than running from them.
    • Look for friends, partners, and experiences that will challenge you to improve.
    • Focus on your dreams and set goals that you’ll need to work at to improve on your current position.

    How to Teach a Growth Mindset

    Once you’ve established your own growth mindset, you can also encourage this mindset in others. These are really important skills for parents and teachers to ingrain in their students. You can also be an example to others by responding to comments about how talented you are by telling them how much effort and practice you’ve put into your skill.

    Additional Growth Mindset Teaching Tips:

    “Parents should praise children for their effort, their concentration, their strategies,”

    Carol Dweck
    • Explain the mindsets and how they work.
    • Teach children that as you practice and learn new things, your brain makes new connections which makes you smarter.
    • Dweck mentions schools using a grade of “Not Yet” instead of “Fail” to show that knowledge is a growth process.
    • Praise others for their focus, work, and improvement rather than their talent. Instead of “You’re so smart!” say “Good job. You must have worked really hard!”. You might think praising someone’s intelligence helps their self-esteem, but it actually jeopardizes it and increases the fear of failure.
    • Instead of deflecting a failure by saying “You were great” or “You deserved to win”, encourage any progress and point out there is an opportunity to continue to grow and find future success.

    More on the Growth Mindset

    If you’d like to learn more about mindsets, I’d recommend reading Carol Dweck – Mindset or listening to the audiobook. She also did a TED talk which I’ve included below.

  2. Simple Daily To Do List Template

    Leave a Comment

    It’s important to understand where you’re headed in life, but to be exceptional you’ll need to have an intense focus on what you’re doing right now. This can be a very tough balance to maintain, but there are some tools that can help. I’ve found the combination of keeping a permanent list of long term goals and a disposable daily to do list extremely effective. I tried out a number of to do lists before discovering this simple, daily to do list template that I’ve been using.

    Make It Simple

    Longer term goals require tweaking and reviewing, but daily task lists should be as simple as possible. Their purpose is to remind you where your focus should be for the day so you can quickly take action. I’ve tried a number of apps to do this (Wunderlist,, Evernote) and they all have their strengths and work well. However, I’ve found that an even simpler method works better for me.

    I saw a couple of posts from John Zeratsky and Daniel Burka on Twitter a while back which showed John’s idea for a Post-it to do list. I’ve been using this daily to do list template for almost a year now and I love it.

    Simple Daily To Do List Template

    Get a Post-it and divide it into 3 rows:

    1. Make the first row 1 big item. This should be the most important thing to do today, and often will take the most time. You should feel like your day has been successful if you can accomplish this.
    2. Divide the second row into thirds and put in 3 medium things (maybe an hour or so each).
    3. The final section can hold some tiny tasks. I don’t always plan to check all of these off. Sometimes I also list things that I need to remember and will move into the top buckets on tomorrow’s to do list.

    Planning Your To Do List

    I plan out this simple to do list every morning right when I sit down at my desk. My first thought is, “What one thing can I get done that will make today a success?”. Sometimes this top item is obvious. If it isn’t as easy to decide, I’ll often take a look at my long term goals and figure out what I could do to move one of them forward. Otherwise, I’ll think of something that I’ve been putting off doing and make sure it gets done.

    Once you’ve got that one thing, the rest of the items should be a bit easier. Think of things that aren’t that time consuming, but that you’d like to get done. Don’t overload your day with too many large items. I also like to reference my list from the previous day and transfer things that I didn’t get done or that I added to the bottom bucket.

    Tips for Using the Daily To Do List Template

    These are a few tips that I’ve found helpful from using this method:

    • List only things you can accomplish, otherwise break them into smaller chunks.
    • I often have a free 15-30 minutes before I need to do something else. That is a great time to pick something off row 2 or 3 and get a quick win.
    • When something comes up during the day that I won’t be able to get to, I jot it down in the 3rd row so I can transfer it to tomorrow’s to do list.
    • Put the list wherever you’ll see it often. I put it on my laptop next to the trackpad. You could also put it on your phone, wallet, or desk.
  3. How to Read More Books Using Audiobooks

    Leave a Comment

    how to read more with audiobooks

    Discovering the Problem

    When I’ve gone through the process of setting goals for myself, I have often attempted to read more books. Typically I’ve set a numerical goal (for example read 12 books, so I can read at least one book per month), but have either found myself not accomplishing the goal or finding myself in September having only read several books and trying to play catch-up. This year I finally figured out how I can consistently finish books and have really been enjoying it.

    The first step to solving this problem was figuring out why I kept failing at this reading goal. I have a hard time sitting somewhere quiet and focusing on reading without getting distracted or falling asleep. This makes reading a book take a really long time. Even if I’m enjoying the book it’s hard to get in a good consistent rhythm of reading, which led to a lot of partially finished books.

    How to Read More Books

    So the issue wasn’t setting an unrealistic goal or forcing myself to do something I hated, it was finding a better method to approach the goal. The first thing that I decided to try was switching to audio books. I had tried Audible in the past and had some success, but ended up having similar issues with falling asleep and then losing my place in the book, which was frustrating. So in addition to switching to audio books, I also switched the context where I was listening to them. I’m in the car at least a couple times a day (if not more) and it’s a perfect place where my mind is alert and there aren’t many distractions. I used to always listen to music in the car, so I just switched to listening to audio books. In just this short amount of time I can finish around 2-3 books a month. I’ve also found that going for a walk is a great time to listen, for similar reasons to being in the car (alert, captive mind). Not only am I going to easily achieve my goal this year, but I’m really enjoying it and learning a lot.

    Finding the Optimal Path

    My biggest take-away from this experience is that it can be extremely helpful to take a step back from what you’re doing and see if there is a better approach. To reach your goal try changing things like your environment, the tool you’re using, your sequence of actions, or even digging into your motivation for doing this in the first place. Even if you’re finding some success currently, you might find that there is a much easier path.

    Here are some of the books that I’ve enjoyed so far this year (I may write some more about these in the future):