Productivity, Connectivity and Personal Development

Although I’m a researcher, and I’ve loosely deemed this an ‘academic’ blog, you may notice that I don’t typically share much actual research here. There are a few reasons for the lack of serious, scholarly material on my blog. The first reason is time. A research-based blog post needs to be backed up by detailed reading and proper referencing; while I do quote from time-to-time, I like to keep my blog posts reflection based, so that I can devote the time for citations and detailed analysis to my research output (which also includes blog posts for the Baudelaire Song Project – those are arguably a little more scholarly than the ones on my own site). The second reason that my blog is not full of detailed research and citations is because, if you like that kind of reading, then I can direct you to my more scholarly writings via my page (don’t hate me – whatever people say about, I like to have my little corner of the internet for sharing papers and networking!). The third and most important reason why I don’t produce properly scholarly output to share on my blog post comes back, once again to time: I write these posts in very short bursts, between 6am and 7am, using The Most Dangerous Writing App.

Lots of academics have their own personal site or blog; many of them are wonderful, showcasing their ideas, exciting research and relevant materials. Plenty of them are opinion-based, rather like mine, combining outlines of research and ideas with thoughts about the internet. Another sub-section of academic blogs are completely abandoned, a testimony to good ideas and time pressures – this was more or less the state that mine was in until the start of 2017, when I read a book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.

This post is not about research, but about personal and professional development. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the self-improvement industry. I was brought up to believe that self-help books were silly, indulgent and founded on a load of rubbish. I realise, here that I’m conflating quite a few different genres, but that reflects the way I thought about these kinds of books – whether they lurked in the psychology section, the self-improvement section, the spirituality section or the business and management section didn’t really matter, my mind was closed to learning about personal development. Then, back in 2011 or 2012, a few things changed.

First of all, I started going out with someone who had family working in the self-development industry (in a relatively high-profile way) and who loved reading those kinds of books. I gave personal development a chance, flicking through favourites such as Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and suddenly I saw a different side to self-improvement. I should admit, here, that I still have reservations about these kinds of books – many of them are badly written, or expressed in overly positive North-American prose which slightly puts my nose out of joint, but all in all, adding personal development books to my personal reading list has been a really positive step in 2017.

It was my partner who read The Miracle Morning first, as an audiobook. He started getting up at 6am and then at 5am, fuelled by enthusiasm for the book and for the effects of this structured, early start. So I downloaded the Kindle version myself, and had a read. I  hated the prose, and I got irritated with all the excessively drawn out personal stories, which attempt to play on your emotions, but reading between the lines, I could see the benefits. So the next day I set my alarm for 6am, and I’ve not looked back.

The first day of the “Miracle Morning” was easy – I was excited to get out of bed and get on with my day. I vaguely followed the plan of water (Berocca), exercise (a few squats), meditation (getting frustrated because the Headspace app didn’t work for me) and writing (blogging, using The Most Dangerous Writing App). While the exercise I did was minimal, and some weeks later, I still haven’t got behind the meditation, the early start still made me feel more alert and motivated than the usual 45 minutes of snoozing and the subsequent rush which typically characterised my mornings. I never took it any further than 6am as I’m convinced that I need a decent seven hours’ sleep at least. While my partner maintains that you can train yourself to emulate a Margaret Thatcher-style routine, I’m sure that normal human beings require sleep as well as positive habits to succeed!

Why am I explaining all of this on my ‘academic’ blog? Well, first of all, I want to sing the praises of The Miracle Morning – I’ll be honest, I hate the prose (have I already mentioned that?!) and find some of the ideas in it a bit cheesy – “journalling, scribing and positive affirmations” are all a bit too ‘self-help’ for me, but the basic premise of getting up early, starting the day in a healthy, positive way and getting things done – either for work, for personal growth or even for pleasure (!) – is really effective.

In addition to skim-reading The Miracle Morning, I’ve been listening to an audiobook, called Deep Work, on my way into the office. Written by Cal Newport, himself an academic with a background in business, the premise behind Deep Work is that we need a good stretch of time to focus deeply on a piece of work, in order to be productive. This means allowing ourselves space to work without being distracted by appointments, meetings and, of course, social media. I’ve long thought that the internet is damaging the concentration of adults and is potentially having an even more significant effect on the way young people focus and concentrate. Research suggests that it’s more a lack of willpower NOT to touch phones or Google things than an inherent inability to concentrate as a direct product of gadgets and social media, but either way, I know that the “always connected” lifestyle is good for me in some ways, but detrimental to my focus in others. Since listening to Deep Work, I have managed to put some healthier habits in place to enable me to focus more and get more from my work time… so far it seems to be paying off.

I’ve always enjoyed engaging with personal and professional development programmes at work, hence choosing to learn how to be a better teacher and supervisor in HE, but reading some personal development books has been an important first step in making me a better researcher. Although I’m with Cal Newport, in finding disengaging with the internet and with social media very helpful as I seek to develop a more positive, clear focus, I also have to celebrate the internet for all the amazing research, productivity and personal development information and tools it provides (many of them for free), so my task over the past few weeks has been about finding balance – between work and life, between connectivity and disconnectivity, between productivity and procrastination. I’m not there yet, but focussing on personal development has certainly helped kick-start the process. Finally, apologies for the typos – I wrote this blog post in twenty minutes and if I stop typing, The Most Dangerous Writing App will eat my words, and if that’s not motivation to sit down and write, I don’t know what is…



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