1
My Experiences with the ‘Smart Drug’ Modafinil
2
How to Delay Gratification in a World of Immediate Distractions
3
Clustering Tasks to Stay Productive (and Sane)

My Experiences with the ‘Smart Drug’ Modafinil

This is a post about my experiences taking the popular ‘smart drug’ modafinil.

I often see friends and marketing acquaintances posting about cognitive enhancers on Facebook.

From smart drugs, to nootropics, to vitamin stacks…

We’re all over that like pigs in shit.

Modafinil is a small pill that is becoming difficult to ignore.

I’ve seen opinions all across the board, from those who swear by it, to those who didn’t notice a single change on a high dosage.

As you’ll see in this post, I have had both good and bad experiences.

What is Modafinil?

Disclaimer: For the love of Jezuz, please do consult a qualified medical professional before interpreting any of this post with anything other than a pinch of the saltiest balls.

Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting agent used to treat narcolepsy.

It is prescribed to patients who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, and those with shift work related sleep disorders.

That’s the official use.

Off-label, modafinil has become the default ‘Smart Drug’ of choice for those seeking productivity gains in the form of sustained concentration and intense focus.

It is the unlikely tonic of both CEOs (“Smart Drugs Are Coming to the Office”) and students (“Smart Drug Taken By One in Four Students“).

If you have shit to get done — many piles of it — chances are, you’ve spared a thought to the idea of a shortcut, or seven.

How can I get more work done whilst procrastinating less?

This is the crowd that modafinil appeals to.

Anybody with an inbox that won’t subside, an essay that won’t write itself, several pages of code waiting to be freed from the spinning wheels of mental inertia.

The Appeal of Modafinil

Limitless movie

Ever see Limitless?

It’s a decent movie, with a great central hook.

  • Hopeless Writer Bum procrastinates his life away in failed attempt to deliver manuscript.
  • Writer Bum stumbles across new experimental smart drug, NZT.
  • Writer Bum pops the magic brain pill.
  • Writer Bum explodes in to fit of productivity and delivers manuscript in a single sitting.
  • Editor: “You OK, hun?”
  • Writer Bum takes over the world, unleashes his true cognitive potential; ably assisted by NZT.
  • Goes ape shit in the process.

(Sorry for the spoilers, chaps.)

Limitless was, of course, entirely fictional.

Hollywood Science.

There is no such drug that is capable of ‘fully utilising the un-used parts of the brain’.

But, anybody who saw that movie came away with the same idea.

“I’d fuckin’ have some of that, matey. Straight down the hatch. No questions asked.”

If your moral fibres beg to differ, then you’re trespassing on the wrong blog.

And so… modafinil.

Arguably the closest thing we have to an effective brain drug in 2017.

As an affiliate, I heard about modafinil via the usual circles.

On Facebook, Skype and Reddit.

Loads of you swear by it.

Some of you even post photos of the little pill pre-popping.

An ode to a smart friend.

Well, we know affiliates are particularly adept at riding the next hot trend. All the way to the bank.

Trends don’t come no bigger than a ‘smart pill’ that decreases your overall BellEnd’atude and slices through the to do list like a knife through jam doughnuts.

(Yes, I’m dribble-typing in a bakery.)

I can’t remember when I finally decided to experiment with modafinil, but I tracked that package from the factories of Mumbai like a hawk.

This is it, Finch.

This is is, you pathetic labouring dinosaur.

We’re finally gonna get some work done.

MO-DA-FI-NILLLLLLLLL

Initial Impressions

It’s impossible to discount the placebo effect when you go to bed excited to wake up and try a smart drug.

I’d read so many user accounts and follow alongs that I’d psyched myself up to become a new man.

That said, the first weeks using modafinil were startling.

My routine would look like this:

7:30am — Wake up, pop a tab.
7:45am — Shower and feed the dogs.
8:00am — Wait 30 minutes for my Modafriend to kick in.
8:30am — Arrive at desk.
BLITZKRIEG-MODE
1:00pm — Quick lunch.
1:30pm — Arrive at desk.
BLITZKRIEG-MODE
6:00pm — Dinner and wind down.
7:30pm — Fuck it, arrive at desk.
BLITZKRIEG-MODE
Midnight — Calmly close laptop and think about what I’ve just done.

Placebo, or no placebo, it didn’t really matter.

On the 3-4 days per week that I’d use modafinil, I’d bulldoze my way through tasks where previously I’d been stuttering, getting restless, and eventually reversing back to my News Feed.

The best way I could describe the effect was rapidly-induced tunnel vision.

Without really noticing anything different.

The elusive state of Flow — which I reckon I’d be experiencing now if it wasn’t for those jam doughnuts — is where we all want to be.

My first few weeks using modafinil marked a sudden dramatic spike in output where those little distractions that occur throughout the day had no effect on me.

If somebody messaged me on Facebook, I’d barely twitch an eyeball.

If a distracting email landed in my inbox, I wouldn’t see it.

My procrastination pro-skill of cycling through news sites, inboxes and social media accounts (Seen them all? Start again…) was overcome through sheer total-minded tunnel vision.

As a result, my first experiences with modafinil — besides the occasional intermittent headache — were entirely positive.

There seemed very little downside.

The Tolerance Builds?

Some of you guys are crazy.

I’ve read accounts of affiliates going from no modafinil, to taking two pills per day, every day, and then wondering why…

  • Your sleep is shit-hammered
  • The effects of the moda have decreased

I’m going to put this bluntly:

If you have an addictive personality, or don’t feel like you could control the urge to say no to a smart drug on a normal day at the office, then don’t get started. Period.

It’s a no brainer that taking modafinil every day is going to reduce the efficiency of the drug, whilst potentially introducing unwanted side effects (and worse: dependency).

I was mindful of only taking modafinil on days where it would be beneficial — specifically, on tasks that required intense concentration rather than lucid creativity (which btw, it can hinder spectacularly).

Despite this, after several weeks, I noticed that the performance high had tapered off.

I was still getting more work done on modafinil, but without the same intensity or total-mindedness that marked my early experiences.

This could be down to a tolerance of the drug, or an erosion of the placebo effect.

Whatever the case, I did not feel Limitless.

End of the Experiment: Panic Attack

My dabbling with modafinil came to an abrupt end in January this year when I suffered a panic attack.

This had never happened to me before.

It scared the shit out of me.

I was sat at lunch with my fiancee, in a food court, feeling overly ‘buzzed’.

I had taken modafinil that morning, along with a large highly caffeinated coffee… which I suppose is the equivalent of raising two fingers to the Gods of one’s nervous system.

Over the previous weeks I had occasionally felt a sense of unease. Heightened senses. Jittery restlessness.

Particularly around meal times.

My theory was that pulling myself away from work, out of the tunnel, was causing an avalanche of thoughts, feelings and emotions to rapidly rush back in and fill the vacuum chamber I’d created.

I hadn’t yet put my finger on anxiety as a root cause.

But this day would mark the first time I’d ever felt the need to read about it. To understand the signs.

All of those signs I was feeling over lunch:

  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting
  • Sweaty palms
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sense of paranoia
  • Sense of foreboding
  • Racing heart rate
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • A complete disconnect from my surroundings
  • A need to GTFO

Over the years, I’ve encountered all of these symptoms — to some extent — but never a situation where they’d all come rushing to the surface over a lunch of fucking fried rice.

It was inexplicable.

The colour had drained out of my face, my hands were shaking, and the murmur of foreign voices lunching was swirling around me. One big cacophony of mental noise, amplified by the silence of my fiancee eating her lunch with a concerned look. I don’t remember talking, just muttering: “Need water, I need water, where’s the water…”

Finally grasping that what I was experiencing was a panic attack, my next thought was: oh shit.

The modafinil.

It’s not going to leave my system for hours yet.

I needed this to be over in seconds, not a whole afternoon.

I left the restaurant in a hurry and we sat outside. I felt like I’d run in to a brick wall, mentally.

Seems crazy, but that’s when it dawned on me: it had taken me precisely 29 years to establish how anxiety feels when it manifests physically.

Even though the small signs had been there all along.

I did not like the feeling one bit.

After making it home through an extremely shaky taxi ride where I wanted to jump out of the vehicle and run at the sight of every red light, I went to bed and slept for hours.

The following weeks were tough.

I was shaken badly.

Riddled with this new catch-all feeling of anxiety, particularly around meal times.

I suffered a few recurring smaller attacks, despite ditching modafinil.

The recurring theme had become coffee.

Within 25/30 minutes of dousing myself in those sweet velvety beans, I’d grow restless. I’d feel sweaty palms.

I’d be reading the Kindle and panic would sweep over me at the turn of a completely harmless sentence.

I’d flee the coffee shop and spend the next hour pacing my apartment furiously, or laying down and daring my pups: “Calm me down, calm me down…”.

The closest I came to a short-term fix was playing games of Fifa online.

That way I felt less anxious, and more disgusted at the pause-spamming antics of the bastard who’d just dispatched a mentally understrength Finch FC 4-1.

(And some people call me fickle…)

Anxiety in Disguise

Looking back…

I’ve suffered from varying degrees of anxiety for as long as I can remember, but the symptoms had never de-railed me, or escalated to such an extent that I felt paralysed by them.

They were too small for a busy mind to notice.

I’d just stampede over them.

A nervous disposition rather than a simmering wreck.

My mind goes back five years to a particularly tough time in my business.

I didn’t appreciate it then, but I was under extreme stress and running on toaster fumes. My body was breaking down without breaking down.

I’d feel sudden pangs of nausea, a sense of complete disrepair. Dizziness on my feet. An overwhelming sense of… faintness.

I remember fearing I had a heart condition, or diabetes. Blood sugar problems. Who knows? You don’t want to speculate online since you know all roads lead to Oh shit, It must be CANCER.

What I now assume I was experiencing — the palpitations, the breathlessness, the foreboding deep-sat feeling that something is wrong — was anxiety.

It just hadn’t been triggered in the way that lead to a panic attack.

And for that, I blame over-stimulation of my nervous system.

Modafinil + coffee.

Maybe It Wasn’t the Modafinil?

I can’t be sure the modafinil was to blame.

This period in January coincided with several changes:

1. I’d just spent two exhausting weeks in the UK for Christmas. Constant booze + shitty train travel + breaking two toes in the first week = Sheer exhaustion when I got back to Bangkok.

2. Sudden lack of mobility (from the broken toes) had severely restricted my ability to get around Bangkok. Which is pretty integral to my peace of mind.

3. I’d recently gotten engaged — which obviously, I was happy about — but felt overwhelmed with the prospect of organising a wedding in a foreign country. Family and friends gathering 6000 miles away? Organizing the proverbial piss up in a brewery is enough to stress me out, so this was no doubt playing on my mind.

4. I’d recently started taking magnesium supplements, which have been (anecdotally) linked to anxiety attacks when used with modafinil.

5. I’d recently dabbled in float tank and meditation sessions.

I know, meditation and floating sounds stupid as a theory for sudden onset anxiety, right?

Float tanks are supposed to be a release from tension and stress, since the mind in zero-gravity has nothing to do but listen to its inner thoughts and ‘heal’.

Well… I can see how that might reduce stress.

I can see how it might unleash it, too.

I can’t say for sure what caused such a monumental fuck-up of a start to 2017.

As with most post-event reasoning, the answer is probably more of a clusterfuck than I am able to digest.

A combination of events, circumstances; one bad afternoon; and a lot of over-thinking.

But yes, I suspect that modafinil played a part.

The trigger, if you will.

Aftermath: Thoughts on the Experiment

Six months on, I’m back to ‘normal’.

It took several weeks to shake off the heightened sense of anxiety that followed me around after the panic attack.

I think much of that was down to a self-reenforcing loop:

I started panicking about the panic attack.

What if I have another one? What if this is my future? What if I’m slowly losing the plot?

Taking any more modafinil was the last thing on my mind.

I actually took two whole weeks off work to try and get my shit together. And to deal with the harsh mood swings of quitting caffeine.

You might be wondering…

Were the modafinil productivity gains worth it?

MO-DA-FIN-NILLLLL

Do I get less done these days without modafinil?

Honestly… yes.

But that is relative to an extremely high bar.

I’m convinced that something close to maximum productivity is possible without modafinil — when I’m in ‘the zone’.

Although I can spend less time there.

And it is harder to find.

There’s no doubt, I get less done on the days where I start badly, or can’t focus, or just can’t get started.

Net result, after quitting modafinil:

  • I’m 10% less effective on my good days
  • I’m 50% less effective on my bad days
  • I’m less anxious in general
  • I’m better at creative tasks

The typical affiliate might look at that and think:

“Jesus, what a bad decision to stop taking it…”

Well.. no.

If you’ve experienced a panic attack, or sudden onset anxiety, you know that it’s simply not worth chasing that extra 10% — or trying to eradicate the bad days — at the expense of your mental health.

Not worth it at all.

Besides, I’ve built up enough competence over the years to still get more done on my bad days than most people get done in their good weeks.

Having a good team certainly helps with that.

Thoughts on Anxiety in General

While a panic attack in public will have to go down as one of my shittier experiences of 2017, I still see it as a positive thing.

The incident opened my eyes to symptoms of anxiety that I have ignored for my entire life.

I never grasped what they were.

It’s also made me more empathetic towards others I know who suffer from anxiety. And others, I suspect, who don’t know they suffer from it.

Previously, if somebody had told me they were feeling anxious, my gut response would be to insist, “Eh, you’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about”, and treat it as a lapse of mental strength.

One bad lunch showed me it could be far more insidious than that.

I’ve also found a few things that helped:

1. Not spiking my adrenaline system with modafinil.

Hey, look, the reason for this post!

I see a lot of affiliates experimenting with modafinil, and other smart drugs.

I don’t blame them.

The pursuit of Total Cognitive Enhancement is catnip to me, too.

I’ve got nothing against that experimentation (clearly), but many of us digital types are built from the same stuff.

Introverts, socially awkward, tunnel vision tendencies, etc, etc.

If any of the above sounds familiar, I would exercise extreme caution in playing with a substance that acts as a central nervous system stimulant.

If you’re going to use it, get in sync with your mind and body.

2. Managing caffeine levels

After the panic attack, I immediately gave up coffee.

My theory being… you’re a jittering mess, any further stimulation is a bad idea.

Well, quitting coffee didn’t have much effect initially.

I suffered a month of smaller ‘aftershocks’ and a greatly heightened state of anxiety and social unease.

Ironically, the symptoms started to subside at the same time as I reintroduced my daily coffee fix.

(And I’m pretty sure that first cup was what heaven tastes like.)

These days, I max out at two cups of coffee per day.

Hell hath no fury like the thunderbolt coming a barista’s way if she should fuck up one of them, or underfill my cup.

I legitimately walked out of Dean & Deluca a few weeks ago after they Full-Fat-Milked me by mistake.

(There’s a diva in us all.)

Seriously though, the links between caffeine and anxiety are well documented.

I have noticed an uneasy floating / not-really-there sensation if I over-indulge in coffee beans.

The same over-stimulation of the nervous system, I suspect, that can escalate to a panic attack given the correct trigger.

3. Acknowledging Anxiety As Is

The third and most important tip I’ve taken onboard was simply the wake-up call from experiencing a panic attack.

Acknowledging anxiety.

I’m learning to acknowledge when I’m feeling anxious, without any attempt to alter the state. To accept the feeling at source.

Sounds like a tiny thing, but acknowledging the feeling is a fundamental step towards controlling it.

You know what they say, right?

Self Help 101:

Best way to reduce anger is to stop and acknowledge: “I can feel the sensation of anger” …as opposed to continuing with “I AM an angry motherfucker” and launching the first plate.

I used to think that was a bonkers cop-out.

But it contains an element of truth.

Controlling that split second freeze-frame between “I am” and “I feel” can make all the difference… between wrestling control of your nerves, and faceplanting your fried rice.

Your Thoughts (And More of Mine…)

As always, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences. On modafinil, panic attacks, anxiety and other epic smart drugs of choice…

Want to hear more from me?

Well, as you can tell, I don’t blog much these days.

However I have recently started sending out a monthly ‘newsletter’ discussing various topics and trends that are relevant to marketers, entrepreneurs (and anybody else reading this shit).

Subscribe below if you want to receive it.

Next newsletter lands next week. See you then.

Featured image creative commons via streamishmc

How to Delay Gratification in a World of Immediate Distractions

Delayed gratification is the theory behind the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait“. It is our ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favour of a larger prize in the future.

Numerous studies have shown the ability to delay gratification as one of the biggest indicators of success through life.

It can be relevant in so many ways; from your ability to budget, to the type of woman you wake up next to, to your willingness to stoneface a Sausage & Egg McMuffin in favour of training for a marathon at 5am. The latter of which, in my case, will never ever happen.

Those who can resist temptation in pursuit of long-term goals are blessed with an enormous advantage over the playing field. It is the essence of focus, concentration, productivity and even the classic quote that an affiliate can’t go 7 hours without seeing on Facebook:

ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS LIVING A FEW YEARS OF YOUR LIFE LIKE MOST PEOPLE WON’T SO THAT YOU CAN SPEND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE LIKE MOST PEOPLE WON’T

Looking at the career of Internet Marketers, many of us were exceptionally good at delaying gratification when we made the jump to running our own businesses. But it doesn’t always stay that way.

In a rather cruel twist of fate, the more successful you become, the more distractions that entwine their way in to your life. It’s kind of like Muse, the band. Does anybody remember how awesome Muse were in 2002-2003?

Here’s a reminder:

Fast forward ten years and you’ll find a caricature of a space rock trio who have clearly spent too much time indulging in fantasies of the apocalypse. If Matt Bellamy spent less time playing with his [admittedly very rich] balls on Above Top Secret, and more hours alone with his guitar, he’d probably write better rock songs.

Many artists produce their best work when the rewards and recognition are nowhere to be seen. It takes a special personality to cancel out the white noise; to produce the best possible work; when distraction is all around him. And that’s what success brings: distraction.

Vincent van Gogh, one of the greatest painters of the last 300 years, died alone and depressed. You could count on one hand the number of people that appreciated his work. Van Gogh’s tragedy, among many, was that he blew his brains out before seeing the recognition he deserved. But it does go some way to explaining why that work is so highly regarded, particularly for its emotional honesty.

There are only so many distractions that one man, a paintbrush and his mental illness has to bear. The product of that delayed gratification – van Gogh’s lifetime battle with depression and introspection – is what we now call genius.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the way to get in touch with your best possible work is to despair and retreat from the world. But I do believe that anybody who has the privilege of working from home has to become fine-tuned to his ‘levels of comfort’.

Too much comfort is a bad thing.

Too many distractions will fuck with your ability to see straight through them and catch the bigger prize.

On a personal level, this isn’t something I had to worry about before I quit my day job.

For a period of several months, I would work all day in the city, and then all night in my bedroom. There’s very little reward at 9:02am, day after day, parking at your desk and feeling like your every fibre has been shagged by a pygmy hippo. But there’s an awful lot of potential if you can sustain the act long enough to achieve progress that wouldn’t have been possible at Pound a Pint Night.

The better you are at delaying rewards, the more productive you are likely to be in the meantime. Likewise, the more motivated you are, the more natural that is going to become. Learning to delay gratification is thus a two-part recipe of finding the right motivation and instilling the right discipline.

The effects it can have on your life are pretty remarkable…

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

One of the most famous studies in to delayed gratification took place over 40 years ago at Stanford University, courtesy of psychologist Walter Mischel, 600 children, and a plate full of marshmallows.

Mischel led each child in to a room free of distractions where they would find a treat of their choice, usually a marshmallow (would have demanded a salted caramel brownie personally, but whatever). The children were told they could eat the marshmallow if they so wished – or wait 15 minutes, and receive two. A very simple premise: more good things come to those who wait.

All of Mischel’s guinea pigs were aged 4 to 6, and it was hoped that the experiment would reveal the age at which a child learns to defer gratification. Sure enough, there was a clear correlation between the older children and a better ‘waiting game’. But it wasn’t until a follow-up study, twenty years later, that the groundbreaking extent of those marshmallows became apparent.

The children who had shown the best ability to defer gratification; to wait for the second marshmallow; had gone on to lead strikingly more successful lives than those who caved in to the immediate reward.

The first follow-up study in 1988 revealed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent“. A subjective analysis, admittedly, but one that would be backed by further findings.

The children who delayed gratification were later paired to better SAT scores, greater academic achievements, a healthier body mass index, among other favourable life outcomes.

Whether the ability to delay gratification comes from nature or nurturing is difficult to assess. A 2011 brain imaging study on the same Stanford test subjects (now seasoned guinea pigs) showed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex for the adept delayers, whereas those who struggled to resist the first marshmallow saw increased activity in the ventral striatum, an area of the brain commonly associated with addictions.

Biology and marshmallows aside, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how a talent for delaying gratification is useful in our world of immediate distractions.

A large number of affiliates walk this earth with the patience of bloodhounds OD’ing on viagra. They wouldn’t wait for the second marshmallow. They’d karate cock slap Mischel, steal the entire bag, and be promoting Adult Friend Finder before lunch.

So…how do we manage that? How do we keep an eye on the greater prize? How in the name of Lucifer’s anus do we learn to defer gratification?

Improving Your Ability to Delay Gratification

Alter The Path of Least Resistance

The Marshmallow experiment is interesting, but one of the conditions I find troubling is that the marshmallow had to remain in front of the child at all times. It was never more than a sweeping arm’s grab away, which is like sticking a bee in front of honey.

What would have happened if the child had been forced to stand up, cross the room, and climb up a pile of boxes if he wished to have the marshmallow? This is what we call altering the path of least resistance.

You take temptation, you bag it up, and you get it the hell out of your sight.

In doing so, you considerably raise your chances of removing a bad habit, or not doing something stupid.

Take for example the confessions of a shopaholic.

What’s a good way to stop yourself from splashing the cash on excessive online purchases that you probably can’t afford? Well, taking your credit cards and freezing them in a block of ice is one option.

Credit card in ice

I make this the equivalent of the consumer ‘cooling off’ period. If a purchase is truly necessary, it can wait 24 hours while the ice thaws.

Note: I highly suggest you get your groceries in before freezing Mr. Plastic Fantastic, and do not try this with your business cards. It will not say much for your professionalism.

The frozen credit card is a good example of how placing a roadblock in the path of least resistance can save you during a moment of weakness. It’s pretty extreme, but it’s a step in the right direction for people who never learn.

If you can take a bad habit and put it 30 seconds away, there’s a good chance you’ll remove the habit. I spoke about this before in my Premium Posts with examples of blocking time-wasting websites, putting your phone in another room, hiding the PS3 controller in your loft, and so on. Alter the path of least resistance.

The less immediate the distraction becomes, the more likely you are to procrastinate over pursuing it, and maybe – just maybe – get some bloody work done.

I heard an amusing tale from a Yorkshire friend who didn’t want to have sex on a first date, so she would turn up in her least attractive underwear and abandon sexual hygiene for the day. The theory being that no matter how drunk she got, she would always remember that it wasn’t a good night to go home with company. I think she probably overestimated the underwear receptiveness of Sheffield men, but I can see her logic. Fair play to the crazy bitch.

Clearly, one of the best ways to delay gratification is to understand your own thought processes so that you can prepare for weak decisions and create gremlins to prevent them.

For example, if you are the kind of guy who likes to take a break from work to play a few games of pool, firstly a) Don’t be so stupid as to buy a pool table for your dining room.

And b) If you are going to be so stupid, use it as a laundry post from Monday to Friday so it doesn’t kill your career.

Pool table distractions

(Life lessons. You’re welcome.)

Kids Need to be Taught About Money

I believe in this quite passionately.

In school, we spend hours teaching our kids about how Jesus fed 5000 with bread and fish, but we don’t teach them how to manage their money. That’s a pretty fucking big problem in my book.

Schools need to do away with political correctness, starting with religious education, and get teaching kids some life skills that actually matter. Like how to manage their finances. How to budget. How to distinguish between materialistic needs and paying the god damn gas bill.

While bestselling hack-jobs like Rich Dad Poor Dad have attempted to instill a wiser attitude towards finance in today’s younger generation, it should not be a responsibility left to men like Robert Kiyosaki. It should be taught in schools. In the absence of any foreseeable change, parents have to pick up the ball…

Pressure on Parenting

I was having a conversation the other day about the difference between Yes parents and No parents, and whether it is good or bad for the kid being raised.

Like many key skills in life, the seeds of delayed gratification are sewn in childhood. Parents who feel inclined to say yes to their child’s every demand are likely to give him a skewed attitude towards the supply and demand of ‘getting what you want’ when he reaches adulthood.

I would argue that, similarly, parents who never praise, or who keep both eyes locked on expectations and ‘minimum requirements’ (you will get a degree) are likely to inherit children with damaging self-esteem issues. And those can be just as difficult to shake.

Either way, I encounter so many 8-12 year old fuck-ups on the London buses that I can’t help but think the best advice is “If you’re not ready for them, don’t fucking have them.

Parents need to prepare their kids for the real world by teaching them about money, and the critical law that governs just about every facet of our lives: supply and demand.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, and neither should it. Expecting millions when your net output is peanuts just isn’t going to work, as the Western electorate is only just discovering. If everybody could have what they wanted; all of the time; nothing would be worth having because all that would be left is sticks and stones.

Delayed gratification is a virtue to those who understand it, and a royal pain in the arse to those who don’t. Would it be better any other way?

I don’t think so.

And on that note, I’m off to shove my pool table in the freezer.

Have a good week.

Clustering Tasks to Stay Productive (and Sane)

Does your to-do list look like this?

Finch's to-do list

Hopefully not.

I’d be worried if your day involved my balls.

One of the easiest ways to tell apart an affiliate marketer from another online professional is by inspecting his clusterfuck of a to-do list. On it you will find tasks that defy pattern, logic and – too often – sensibility.

I have explored many different theories of task management. From restricting my day to a maximum of 3 valuable tasks, to assigning letters and numbers to each, to completing the most important task first, to working in pomodoro sequence, to cramming more tasks in to a polyphasic sleep schedule (and completely shagging myself in the process).

One of the takeaway lessons from these experiments, besides appreciating my need to sleep like a real human being, is that clustering similar tasks is nearly always more effective than jumping between projects like a Kardashian on crack.

Multi-tasking does not exist.

Science has a gone a long way to proving that ‘effective’ multi-tasking is one of the great myths in our generation of workaholism. The brain cannot focus on two tasks at once. It can only stop, start, and switch. Any illusion of multi-tasking is actually the ability to do this fast and effectively.

Affiliates, being suckers for to-do lists with juddering changes in direction, have it harder than most. We have to balance many different skills with the regular burden of being ‘the guy who works from home and can therefore a) pick up the kids, b) wait for a delivery, c) take an hour out of the way to run errands’.

Go ahead. Look at what you’ve worked on today and count the number of times you’ve slammed the ‘reset’ button.

  • Every time you switch from analysing campaigns to creating campaigns, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you switch from designing campaigns to blogging, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you switch from blogging to trolling oDesk, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you pick up a phone or refresh your inbox, that’s a reset.

Generally I find that the more resets I ask of myself – the more shifts in focus – the less productive I become and the greater my tendency to procrastinate. Too many resets and a kitten will eventually perish.

There’s a very simple solution.

Cluster your tasks and reduce the number of resets in your day.

Instead of working on multiple demanding projects, choose just one. Get in ‘the zone’ and cling to it like a fly to a turd.

If you are anything like me, you will have 6 or 7 projects occupying your whiteboard at any given moment. In this case, a project per day is wishful thinking – a great way to ensure you spend a lot of time grafting with none of the thrill of actually finishing something. If you are balancing multiple projects, I suggest dividing your days in to an AM and PM. Then clustering your tasks accordingly.

I might have a day that looks like this:

AM: Blogging for FinchSells.com
– Reply to comments
– Draft post
– Follow up blog related emails
– Brainstorm Premium Posts concept

PM: Scale TJ/Exo Campaigns
– Assess campaign performance
– Update creatives and reset bids
– Scour for similar targets
– Creative research
– Launch in new region

In the past, I would smatter my tasks on a colossal to-do list, which left me hopping between unrelated items, or worse, sandwiching my important tasks with stupid shit that would completely obliterate my focus.

By focusing on just one project for the AM and one for the PM, you can leverage your lunch break as a natural reset. I have been known to go slightly AWOL on my lunch break, venturing in to town and succumbing to caffeine-aided introspection for hours on end. That’s okay. The AM and PM is purely symbolic; a shift in focus marked by the annihilation of a Halloumi wrap and a brief respite.

Of course, the acid test of any task management philosophy is how you deal with chores and the arrival of the unexpected. For the latter, I have matured enough to pick my battles. That means slowly falling deaf and blind to the most common distractions of affiliate-kind, which from my experience is one question that never ceases to relent, “Could I be working on something that makes me more money than what I’m already working on?” The temptation is always to say yes, whereas common sense says if you don’t finish your shit, you’ll never know and you’ll have wasted your time.

If an awesome CPA offer lands in my inbox, it’s probably not so awesome if it’s gone by tomorrow. If my accountant has an urgent question (“Hi Finch, where are you siphoning your money?”), he’ll be phoning me instead of adding to my Inbox Unzero.

Acceptance that your entire life isnt going to crumble and burn if you fail to adopt a 24/7 vigil over the call of your name is pretty fucking essential to anybody who wants to stay sane (or get something done) in this industry. As for chores, well, there’s only so many times you can wear the same shirt before ‘not smelling like a mountain troll’ becomes more important than your task management.

I have started to assign one day of the week to chores.

Just chores, nothing else.

Now that I live on my own, there’s a lot more flexibility in how I handle them. If i want to quit festering in my filth and bust out a vacuum, then that’s my initiative. The could rather than should makes a huge difference.

Simple acts of putting the laundry in, taking out the trash, or returning a phone call might only take minutes, but in momentum and concentration, they are like a sucker punch to the loins. Save it for your lunch break, or the end of the day, or just do what I am *almost* too ashamed to admit… and hire a maid.

Remember, every time you switch attention from your goal, that’s a reset.

“We overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.”
Bill Gates

It’s one of my favourite quotes, and it’s true.

How do you know when you’re overestimating what you can accomplish in a day?

Simple.

Wait for Friday evening and see if you feel like a sack of shit.

If it happens every week, then there’s probably something wrong with a) your expectations, or b) your task setting.

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