Any chance you've been struggling to focus and smash through all the tasks you set yourself this week ... just can't seem to get into the zone?
In this week's episode Anna had the pleasure of chatting to podcaster and author Srini Rao who shares the factors that increase productivity and how listening to and gaining control of your environment can lead to significant shifts in your focus and productivity.
Get ready to have your mind blown as he shares exactly how to do a visual, audio and kinaesthetic audit of your everyday – and clear things out once and for all so you can reach the ultimate level of productivity.
Like this episode? Head to the ratings and reviews section in Apple Podcasts and share the love.
Anna Jonak: [00:00:45] Welcome to Episode 18 of the Brave Business Podcast. We're Anna and Flori the queens of small business and we deliver female entrepreneurs both the business and mindset tools needed to start, grow and scale your small business for success. Now a massive hello and welcome to today's episode. Anna Jonak at the helm. And oh my, do we have a cracker of an episode planned. I am very excited today because I have the pleasure and privilege of interviewing the incredible Srini Rao. Now for those of you that have yet to come across him, Srini is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast. A podcast designed to help you really unleash your creativity and also your productivity all at once. Now his podcast, on this podcast you have interviewed like over 700 people and I love the fact that you've been interviewing people from bank robbers to billionaires and in terms of business in this sphere that we're in you've interviewed some amazing guests like Tim Ferriss, Elle Luna, Seth Godin, oh my gosh I don't know how you fit them all in, let alone the fact that you've also been able to create four books. So a massive welcome Srini. I am so pumped to connect with you and bring you to our listeners. Specifically for me, why I am a big fan is because from what I can, what I've learned about you as we've been introduced is that you are really all about inspiring people to stand up and dare to stand out all whilst being true to yourself. And this stuff really lights me up. So a massive welcome today. How are you going.
Srini Rao: [00:02:14] I'm great. Thank you so much for having me.
Anna Jonak: [00:02:16] Well look today I would love you to start by sharing a little bit about your journey today like how you came to be in a place where you've managed to output so much content really with all these podcasts and these books and become the kind of champion you are for embracing your creativity.
Srini Rao: [00:02:32] Well you know I'll try to give you the short version of what might turn into a ridiculously long story. So I finished business school in April 2009 thinking that my MBA would lead me to sort of the standard corporate job that you are expected to get after business school. But the problem was that it was April 2009 and none of those jobs were available, hardly any jobs were available. And so I started tinkering with the web, I was a social media intern between my first and second year of business school that summer and so I started tinkering with blogs and content creation and all that during this time. But when I got out of school I knew that I needed to find a way to stand out in the job market so I actually started a couple of different projects before I finally got to some semblance of consistency. The first which was this really sort of laughable attempt at a way to stand on the job market called 100 reasons you should hire me and after three weeks I couldn't come up with a hundred reasons [Anna laughs] so that was the end of that. But what started happening after that was I just started doing a lot more research. I ended up enrolling in this online course called Blog Mastermind that was created by a guy named Yaro Starak and one of the lessons of that course, ironically despite the fact it was a course about starting a blog, one of the lessons in that course was to interview somebody as a way to get traffic to your blog. So rather than doing just one interview I actually started a weekly series called Interviews With Up and Coming Bloggers. Then after about 13 interviews, the 13th guy interviewed emailed me some time I think in January of 2010 and he said hey you know I'm going to go on a soapbox here. He said well you're a much better interviewer than you are a writer, not in those exact words but that was the gist of it. And he said you know your personal development writing is great but he said what stands out on your work is your interviews and he said but I think you should take it and spin it out under a separate site. So an hour later I mocked up the first version of a site basically called the Blogcast FM, emailed it to him and said is this what you had in mind. I don't think he was expecting that I would move so quickly which we can talk a little bit about that as well. But he said great, when do you want to get started and so that actually was how it began. Obviously it's really kind of morphed and evolved over the better part of almost 10 years. So over that time, I lost interest in interviewing bloggers, eventually I really realised I didn't care about how people grew their email list or how they increased traffic to a website because they were all technical details that I just found the stories kind of mind numbing after a certain point and I realise this is not what I wanted to do and fortunately I had a mentor in 2013 who was wise enough to see that if we'd continue down that path we would become irrelevant. And he basically oversaw what ended up being a substantial rebrand and the evolution of the brand into being The Unmistakeable Creative which is what it is today. And the result as you mentioned of that is the most bizarre lineup of guests you probably will find on any podcast ranging from bank robbers to billionaires. We've never limited ourselves to just talking to entrepreneurs. I think that there's a number of different reasons for that. One thought was that we had a lot of listeners who they hesitated to tell people, you know their friends and family, about the podcast because of the fact that it sounded like something that was not relevant to them, you know with the name Blogcast FM if you thought well I don't have a blog so I don't really care about this. But it turned out that really the conversations we were having were about far more than blogging and eventually we just sort of shifted the style of the interviews and if you've ever heard an episode of The Unmistakable Creative, it's amusing because you can't really say okay tactically I have this list of things that I'm going to do based on this interview. And what's interesting is if you talk to four or five different listeners they'll give you four different lists so you know we have parents who home school their children using the content of Unmistakable Creative, we have professors who assign it as part of their curriculum. We have therapists to use it to counsel patients. So the wide range of outcomes we've seen this work has been really kind of a cool gift and so that's the short version of how I ended up here in addition to all of that I write books. I just had a new book come out called An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake and I'm also a speaker as well. So that's a short version of what could be a ridiculously long story.
Anna Jonak: [00:06:38] Well it's a fantastic short version. What speaks to me straight away is the fact that you kind of took action at every step, is that someone gave you a bit of a light about which way you could go and you just you know went for it. And the same thing when you took the advice from your mentor to kind of go on and rebrand and I mean what a fantastic brand you have it's so unique and it really stands out in terms of when you hit your website. Where did you get the whole kind of design feel for that. Because it really does, it really does stand out.
Srini Rao: [00:07:05] Well the design feel for it I think is really actually it's such a fitting question to ask given the subject matter of the new book an audience of one, so I think sometime in 2013 I started coming across work that was designed very differently. The first of which was this really cool collection of essays called The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit by my friend AJ Leon. And it was a free e-book but it was so beautiful the artwork was amazing. I'd never seen anything like that in a free e-book and I found that inspiring and I realised that I really wanted to have visuals be a part of my work but I didn't have the visual talent to bring any of this to life. So I sat down I think probably in July of 2013 and I embarked on a 30 day project where I was going to teach myself how to draw and I documented the whole thing on Instagram and at the beginning of that 30 days I drew an apple at the end of it I tried to draw a picture of Steve Jobs, strange coincidence.[Anna laughs]. But when I came to the conclusion, the conclusion I came to after those 30 days was that I can't draw. But what ended up happening was that it kind of lit the spark for this idea of using visuals and we got the first version of the website by the guy who designed that version of the site and we were going through it picking icons and stuff and he had me go through and he said pick a bunch of stock photography and I remember looking at the site thinking wow this is this our epic rebrand. This looks nothing like what it's supposed to look like. And I remember looking at it and I thought to myself okay I see the icons for podcasts and all this stuff and I email my mentor I said I know how to fix this he said what I said we should have Mars Dorian custom design all the icons. The album covers came about organically because we asked one of our listeners who was a cartoonist if she would be up for just doing something as we're getting kind of bored of profile pictures. We didn't know that that's what she was going to come back with. And when she did we were like holy crap. And those actually it was funny because the very last batch of interviews for Blogcast FM all had those album covers. And so when we rebranded as Unmistakable Creative we decided that the album covers would be our signature thing that we did for every single interview and I think the interesting thing is it's a combination of multiple insights. The irony of course is that I don't draw any of it [Anna laughs] but I think that what really we were aiming for was this idea that when our work rolled through your Facebook news feed it was something you automatically recognised as our work there is no question as to who it came from. You could take one look at it and say ok the guys at Unmistakable Creative did that and try to basically infuse that into virtually everything that we created so even if you see some of our content on Medium where we do a lot of writing you'll see that illustrations and art work are woven throughout it, not because you know mainly because we like it. And of course that makes it stand out in a really unique way.
Anna Jonak: [00:09:55] Well it gives you that stand out absolutely I think in the news feed and it's distinctively yours, but also really speaks to the concept of your whole kind of podcast which is all about being creative and finding I guess a different way to have that outlet or to kind of speak your truth in one form or an another. So absolutely love the brand and we're going to put links up to all of your stuff so people can go check it out but it's definitely one of the things that spoke to me when I first hit your site along with the plethora of people you've spoken to and I think that also makes it quite different is the fact that I think one of the episodes you've got behaviourists and scientists and it just gives you an interest into the insights and experiences of so many different people from all walks of life coming together to really kind of I guess inspire your own vision which is amazing. [Srini agrees]. Now we did talk about the fact that we could go in many different directions because you know the content that you have is so broad in so many ways then we've decided to hone in for our listeners based on your experiences and me knowing a little bit about them really on and how to maximise productivity, by gaining control of your environment. And we kind of felt this was particularly pertinent because our audience, a lot of them work from home and are juggling kids and a crazy family life and can quite often get overwhelmed. So there's a lot happening whether it's in the environment or by distractions or lots of people pulling them in different directions. And I know that from your book The Audience of One, you definitely talk about the importance of environment and kind of being in control of your environment. And I'd love for you to share a little bit more about why you feel that having kind of mastering this space can be so important to your creativity and productivity.
Srini Rao: [00:11:31] Yeah this is such a great question. At the core of it really comes down to this idea is that all our behaviour, our habits, our tics, everything that we do, everything that we think, is largely influenced by environment. I was watching this really interesting documentary last night by the guys who run the Venus Project where they've done you know documentaries on something called the Zeitgeist where they talk about different things. And you know Jacque I don't remember his last name but he said he said you know if you think about it, you look at a serial killer, there's no serial killer who was born destined to be a serial killer. It's largely the byproduct of the environment that that person has been brought up that leads to that outcome. Fortunately we can use that in a really positive way because if you look at the design of a space, the space is actually something that really informs behaviour but space is one place. Let me tell you where this idea came from first. We had a guest, a podcast guest named Jim Bunch who talked about this concept called the Nine Environments That Make Up Your Life, and the core idea is this - everything that you see, hear, smell, taste or touch is an environment that's adding energy to life or draining energy from your life. That means the people that you interact with, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the place you live, the space that you work in, the information that you consume, the podcast that you listen to, the blogs that you read, the newsletters that you read and the books that you read and the news that you watch, all of it has an impact both on behaviour as well as what we think and feel. But for the sake of your audience and particularly in terms of how we increase productivity using environments, let's talk specifically about the one that is probably the one that comes to mind for most people and that is the physical environment, the physical space that we we work in. So if you look at your physical space it's very much designed to lead to a certain type of behaviour. So I'll give you an example when I wake up in the morning there are only two things on my desk - there's a notebook, a pen, well not two things sorry, a notebook, a pen to write with, the book that I'm going to read and my planner and some noise cancellation headphones. So there is literally nothing else I can do other than write or read in the morning. And those are my two biggest priorities when I wake up in the morning. So as a result the behaviour becomes automatic. The other part of this is particularly when it comes to creative people if you look at how somebody designs an office there's a reason that people put up paintings and decorate stuff and have motivational posters. It's because those things serve as visual reminders. So for example one of the things that I thought a while back was if I had a million dollar recording studio I would hang up framed prints of the people that I interviewed on my wall and my friend Charmaine said honey you don't need a million dollar recording studio for that you need 12 dollars and some frames from Ikea. So I did that. And so basically I have this constant reminder of the messages from Unmistakable Creative that are most inspiring to me. And this applies to everything from the set up of your car. So if you've ever gotten in a car after a car wash you know that it feels really different than a car that's a total mess and so the same thing kind of applies to your physical space. I tend to lean towards the minimalist side of this because it's much easier to manage your attention when you don't have a thousand different things competing for it which we can talk about in a little more detail because I spend a lot of time thinking about attention management as somebody who has struggled with it my whole life. But what it comes down to is this, at its core it is the environment that you do your work in, is the environment in which you operate, a deliberate choice or is it just a default choice. So most people don't even change the ring on their iPhone or the screen on their iPhone. And if you think about it default choices in virtually every area of our lives are usually the result of other people's priorities. So think about it this way when you download an app like Facebook from the App Store and the default settings are hey we want notifications to stay on. Well of course Facebook wants notifications to stay on because that way you'll keep coming back and checking Facebook. And the more that you check Facebook the more money they make. So again it's a really simple choice you know part of your environment that's our default that ends up actually being something that somebody else wants you to do. And so that's at its core what this idea is about.
Anna Jonak: [00:15:49] I like the whole concept of deliberate versus default so kind of rather than just being and this is I guess realising that you have the responsibility and you can choose what things look like. And I think that I definitely teach this a lot with students is that they have this power of choice in what they do and they have this power to influence and create change. But sometimes it starts with that conscious awareness which is really about you starting to move into the space of being deliberate. So totally resonate with that. Like I have to start my day my kids, if I just said to you I rushed my kids out the door to daycare this morning but before I kind of do anything everything is tidy. Like the whole house is tidy, beds are made, everything's put away so when I am sitting down to my work at my desk which again is also tidy. I feel like I've kind of got this kind of space with which I can work from as opposed to knowing that in every room there's mess everywhere. I just find that I can't work in that space.
Srini Rao: [00:16:42] Yeah I think like I said it's the rare person who thrives inside of a mess. Most people need order. And one of the easiest places to get order is in your physical space. I was just reading this book by Sarah Wilson who was the Australian editor of Cosmo called Make The Beast Beautiful and it's all that anxiety. And one of the things that I think I realise why people become minimalist is because of the fact that our physical possessions can actually lead to a great deal of mental anxiety because you've got so much stuff in your environment. So when you have nothing other than a computer and a pen or nothing other than headphones and your laptop when you're working it just becomes so much easier to manage your attention and and to keep yourself from caving into all sorts of distractions.
Anna Jonak: [00:17:26] That's the key word distractions and I think that's definitely something we go to next because that's one place where everybody gets pulled in 100 different directions from their social media, their email, the phone calls and also you know trying to learn and do and kind of work on your business or do your creative thing and it can be incredibly hard to maintain your focus or flow and kind of really get into something [Srini agrees] when you're being kind of like beeps happening every which way or you kind of get as you said in your book you know the dopamine of being pulled into social media and there you go 'bam' you've lost half an hour.
Srini Rao: [00:18:02] Yeah yeah absolutely. Distraction is one of those things that it's become more and more prevalent in our culture and as a result our attention spans are getting worse and worse. It's amusing to me because people don't return phone calls quickly, people don't respond to text messages quickly. We've just become so inundated with information that it's created just kind of a disaster of a situation in terms of how we deal with this. But fortunately there are a lot of things that people can do to mitigate this issue. I think that it's funny because if you think about it the technology that you use is very much an environment, we dedicate an entire chapter to this in An Audience of One. But if you think about it you know I said the information you consume, the apps use the set up of your desktop. So if you're a person who has like five browser windows open, email open, messenger open and you're trying to concentrate on something well you're kind of operating with a self-imposed handicap right out of the gate. So that makes absolutely no sense to do that. So what I usually recommend is this is it's funny because this advice is so cliche yet so many people don't do it and that has to work on one thing at a time if you can and you know part of the way you deal with all these environments as one is to use at all like rescue time to block distractions so that you're not caving into distractions constantly. Because I think that we assume that were going to have enough will power to resist or resist the temptation of something that's a really distracting technology where in all reality what ends up happening is the opposite. You know we don't end up resisting it. We think I have enough willpower to resist and then next thing you know you find yourself on Facebook and you don't even know why you're there. [Anna agrees]. Well if you had already used it all the block distractions you would have been oh well I can't access it so I'm not going to do it. So that's a really big thing.
Attention management audit
But I think, so let me kind of explain the concept of the attention management and I talked a little bit about this in the class that I taught for Creative Live. Basically when it comes to your attention, you have three inputs that are competing for your attention. There's visual input which is everything that you can see, there's auditory input which is everything that you can hear and there's kinesthetic input which is what you feel. So let's talk about visual input first. So when I say everything that you can see I mean everything that's in your physical space, on your desk, everything that's on your computer, every browser tab that's open, every other thing that's open. Well if you have a lot of visual input then you're going to have a really really hard time managing your attention and focusing on just one of those things so the way we deal with that is you reduce the visual input. There are couple different ways to do this. The first is to when it comes to certain activities like writing use distraction free writing tools that are specifically designed for this purpose where you don't actually see the editor while you're working. It's just like a black screen with whatever colour text you want. So a tool called the Ulysses is fantastic for this. Another one is called MacJournal. So that's how you reduce visual input. The other thing is obviously to close everything that you don't need, another tool that I use if you look at somebody's physical desktop usually there's a 100 different icons. There is a tool called the hidden me that allows you to hide everything on the desktop and one of the added bonuses to that is then you can put a sort of motivational phrase or a reminder of your most important goals on a desktop and so then you end up reducing the visual input. So I think you're getting the basic concept. So really what it comes down to is to really make a list and say okay how much visual input is competing for my attention and how do I narrow it down to the bare minimum. So I think Adam Ghazali who is a neuro-scientist who studies attention has talked about this and said what you really want to do is you want it to be in a situation where there is literally nothing that you can see that has nothing to do with your work. Maybe the one exception to this is something that you find motivating or inspiring. Like if you have stuff from a new age gift shop on your desk so be it. But that's the one exception to that in my mind. The next of course is auditory input and you know you mentioned that you have a lot of people with kids and so auditory input is pretty much everything that you hear and the way that you reduce auditory input or at least the way that I reduce auditory input is I just use a pair of noise cancellation headphones and I blast a techno track on repeat. And this does a couple of different things. First it reduces the auditory input but because of the fact that we're listening to the same track over and over and repeat you also start to get into a bit of a zone and you increase the likelihood that you'll get from focus to flow which we can talk about this after we kind of go over this attention piece because focus kind of precedes flow, it's the most essential central trigger. Without it you're kind of never going to experience flow. So now you've reduced the auditory input. And when it comes to going from focus to flow you have to give yourself the right amount of time. And we can talk about flow triggers if you want I can explain that in a bit more detail. The last piece is what I mentioned as kinesthetic input and that's what you feel. Now this is a bit more nebulous it's how cold is the room, how comfortable is your chair, you know how are you feeling because if you have a chair that is incredibly comfortable and I'll give you a perfect example. I had a chair that I had recorded literally hundreds of interviews from. It was an Ikea chair I had put it together myself which is something I realised I should never do because when I put furniture together it falls apart and there are parts left over. This chair was incredibly uncomfortable and then one day I finally fell out of it and said ok I think it's time to get a new chair. And what I didn't realise was how much discomfort I had been tolerating that was actually taking away from my ability to do my work. So that's that, so that's the audit. Those are basically the three sort of things that you need to deal with when it comes to managing attention.
Anna Jonak: [00:23:51] So I mean there's so much in that for people though from you know some of the great tools that you suggested there. But you know turning off the Internet being able to kind of like close things off completely and you know distraction wise I think that's a huge one. I've certainly on my phone just because I've wanted to kind of create space and keep my phone more for me and just for my family, started to remove apps and just take things off of it. So it's become a very clean space and has a different meaning rather than my laptop and I've tried to keep my laptop where I work. So I'm really really with you on that whole kind of visual side of things and what you see and kind of get sucked into. And likewise on the chair. I also have an Ikea chair and I swear I end up with backache every other day but I think that all of these things if you can begin to harness them and realise again that you have the power to kind of turn things off to make yourself feel more comfortable is really great. But one thing I find interesting though, you say from an auditory perspective, is that you listen to a track on repeat. I'm definitely down for talking about focus and flow but I find that audio for me is massively distracting. Like I hate having any noise like for me it's quiet.
Srini Rao: [00:24:58] Yes this varies from person to person. For me it's essential because it really does drown out the noise. One thing I didn't mention and this is something I should have said is that it also depends on the nature of the work that you do. So for example if you're writing you don't want to listen to music with lyrics because you need to be able to process information verbally but if you're working with your hands like painting or something like that you can absolutely listen to music with lyrics. But yeah absolutely there is a caveat I think but the other thing is there are nuances to all of this meaning that none of it should be treated as gospel you should experiment with it and see which of it works for you and which doesn't. And then you know adapt. I always say basically what you're doing is you're making recipes but you're using ingredients to come up with your own recipes basically.
Focus and flow
Anna Jonak: [00:25:42] Yes I like that. Ok so talk to me then about your focus and flow. I think flow is an interesting term and I personally came across it first back when I was reading Martin Seligman's work on authentic happiness. The whole concept of the state of flow. I mean I guess I would describe it as being completely in a state of absorption in what you're doing. You're kind of in a zone.
Srini Rao: [00:26:05] Yeah Yeah that's the description of it so you know when you see a surfer catching wave after wave after wave and just performing in a way that seems almost superhuman. That's because that person is entered a state of flow. Same thing with athletes. For example when they get in a zone you see a three point shoot or somebody in NBA who was running down the court and suddenly they scored 25 points in the span of five minutes that's because they suddenly entered a state of flow. So flow is an optimal state of consciousness and it's preceded by focus. Focus as one of the essential triggers. The only way that you can achieve this state is by doing one thing and having your attention in the here and now. So there is no way that you can do it with you know a thousand browser tabs open and a bunch of other stuff. But the benefits absolutely are worth the sacrifices that you have to make because Steven Kotler said that top executives in flow have a five hundred per cent increase in productivity.
Anna Jonak: [00:27:09] Wow.
Srini Rao: [00:27:09] And you see creative breakthroughs. So think about that this way. If you have a 500 percent increase in productivity that means that two hours of the day spent in flow are probably worth more than the entire rest of the day combined. So this is why I am very very deliberate about how I start my mornings because I know that the mornings are the time when I am more likely to experience these states. Now this varies from person to person. There are people who are night owls. I'm not one of them I think the majority of people are actually not night owls. So focus is where it all starts. Doing one thing and nothing else. The other part of this is time. This isn't one of those things that's like an on off switch. It's more like something that you turn the volume knob up on and Steven Kotler says 90 minutes completely uninterrupted is what it takes which might be hard for some of the listeners if they have kids or other things that are competing for their attention. So two options to deal with that, one get up earlier or set aside a time. I am convinced at this point in my life that most people don't have time management problems, most people have attention management problems, if they were to give up Facebook for a week they would find an hour a day with no problem.
Anna Jonak: [00:28:24] Totally agree.
Srini Rao: [00:28:24] That's unanimously across the board myself included. The amount of time we waste on things that don't add any value to your life. So think about it this way right. Attention is really the currency of achievement and all the proof you need for that fact is that Mark Zuckerberg has become a billionaire because he's done one thing, he's learned how to capture your attention.
Anna Jonak: [00:28:47] Yeah I love that. Attention is the currency of achievement. Absolutely if you can get into that focus and flow that's where it's at. But the majority of people get stuck in distraction.
Srini Rao: [00:28:58] The funny thing is if you look at these tools you know and if you even checked out the work from Cal Newport he's really kind of the expert on this he talks about a concept called Deep Work, but if you look at these tools they're designed to fragment your focus and fragment your attention over the course of the day. And so as a result you get this dopamine fix it sustains you for an hour and then you come back and you want more, let me see what other people have said about my new profile picture, let me see if there's more likes on this thing that I just posted and it's just this vicious cycle that keeps repeating and of course the thing that they've captured is your attention and they've captured your attention and sold it to advertisers and become very very rich as a result. So I think that's all the proof we need to see the attention absolutely is the currency of achievement. It's funny because it takes a hell of a lot of effort and attention to build these tools. It takes almost no effort and attention to use them. [Anna agrees] And so that's something to think about. But that takes us into this idea time right. You need at least an hour before you're going to hit flow. So I have found that I write a thousand words every morning. Maybe the first six or seven hundred are just unusable and absolutely terrible. But then something happens where you go from focus into flow and everything just becomes clear. It's a bit like being Neo in The Matrix suddenly you're just on. You find this level of clarity that you didn't have before, creative insights start coming through, ideas start to emerge and dots start to connect and then the other part of this is that it is also an incredibly joyful feeling. It's why entrepreneurs start companies, that's why people who do extreme sports keep pushing the limits of what they can do. Because if you think about it why does somebody who has 100 million dollars need to start another company they could literally sit around and do nothing for the rest of their life and that's because this feeling of flow is that rewarding, it's that fulfilling and it's so much more rewarding than the temporary sort of higher buzz you would get from being on Facebook.
Anna Jonak: [00:30:54] The satisfaction that you feel afterwards when you've kind of gone into a zone and come out and you have achieved and you smash through things yeah there's definitely
Srini Rao: [00:31:01] it's a whole other level and so, so you have that and basically from there there are a few other triggers. So something has to be hard enough that it challenges you but not so difficult that it paralyses you. I like to use skiing as an example. So I'm an avid snowboarder but I started when I was 30. If you took me to the top of a double black diamond I'm not going to experience flow I'm going to experience fear and paralysis. As you take me to the top of the bunny slope I'm going to experience boredom and so what Steven Kotler has said in his book The Rise of Superman is that flow occurs at the midpoint between boredom and anxiety. So it has to be challenging enough that it pushes you but not so hard that it breaks you. So bend not break is really the idea. So for example if you've never written a thousand words that might be too ambitious to start at. So see if you can go to two or three paragraphs and eventually what happens is that what was once something that triggered flow no longer does because you've got more skills so you have to keep adjusting for the flow triggers, you have to keep challenging yourself.
Anna Jonak: [00:32:07] Okay that's cool, that's interesting. I was going to say like do you feel that you can train yourself in flow. Because I think that like you talk about sitting down and the peak state of flow kicks in an hour like I know for me personally I've always been able to sit down for long periods of time but a lot of people find that after an hour I need to go and take a break.
Srini Rao: [00:32:25] So let's talk about taking breaks this is actually a really good point. So I struggle with this. I can't sit for hours on end. That's why I don't think I can work a normal job because I just couldn't stand being at an office all day. There are ways to deal with this idea of taking breaks so the thing is that the quality of your breaks really matters when it comes to this. So couple of different ways that you could take breaks. One is what we basically call interval training where you say you know what I'm going to focus for 20 minutes on one thing and then I want to just take a break and get up and walk away from this thing. But here is the thing. If you use that break to look at pictures on Instagram, log into Facebook or log into Twitter, basically you've undone all the benefits of the break and the whole cycle of trying to get back into flow begins all over again. You just can not do that because what happens when you do that is you fragment your attention and when you fragment your attention and you come back to the original thing you're doing you experience what's known as attention residue. So let's say for example that you checked your e-mail, there's some fire that you can't put out right now but now you come back to do this thing for example your writing, but your writing and no matter how much you want to convince yourself that it doesn't matter, the fire that you just tried to put out is still on your mind and as a result the thing that you were originally working on suffers. So basically instead of doing one thing really well deeply focused, you're trying to do a bunch of things poorly with no focus.
Anna Jonak: [00:33:50] Yep I've heard of contextual switching when you're constantly moving between one thing and it takes like twice as much time to get back into the thing that you are doing [Srini agrees] and then you just like your losing hours of your day. So your recommendation then for breaks essentially is just to keep them clean just completely clean.
Srini Rao: [00:34:06] Yeah I think that's a good way to put it. We can call this digital hygiene I guess which is a term that I just came up with, but yeah absolutely keep them clean. I also leave my phone out of the room when I'm working I never keep my phone in the room when I'm working because it's amusing to me that we've gotten so far advanced. I had a friend who once said you know we've created technology that's so good that we have to do things to make it worse in order to resist it. But yeah I mean something as simple as leaving your phone out of the room it does wonders and most people don't. It's such a simple idea and yet most people do all these things like download 100 apps and implement all these productivity hacks but why don't you just leave the damn thing out of the room.
Anna Jonak: [00:34:43] I think I know that you talk about this as well as rituals and I think rituals and habits. I think that again this comes back to the realisation that we can create these changes by making small shifts and doing things like that and then letting them become habitual so that it becomes normal for you to leave your phone somewhere or leave your phone out of your bedroom at night and you know not have that as a distraction when you're going to bed. Ok I like it. One question I did have for you was on the importance of passion in getting into your flow or kind of creative state. Do you believe that passion is something that one must have in order to kind of get into that kind of productivity and kind of reach your aspirations. What are your thoughts on this.
Srini Rao: [00:35:28] Yes but there is a caveat.
Anna Jonak: [00:35:32] Okay.
Srini Rao: [00:35:32] So the caveat is this, it's an absurd gamble to say that you're passionate about something without ever having had any experience with that thing. I actually wrote a Medium article about this very subject which is why it's fresh in my mind. What I realised, the title of the article is don't follow your passion pay attention to what engages you instead. So I interviewed this woman who is a professor at Stanford named Tina Seelig and we were talking about this idea of passion and particularly because she works at an elite school and particularly of these kinds of educational institutions students come in with this preconceived notion that they're supposed to have some sort of passion that is predetermined and of course passion the whole idea of follow your passion makes for wonderful commencement speeches and self-help books. But it's not realistic. It fails when it's applied in real life. And there's a reason for that. So let's take the example of medical school. I'm Indian so this is something we've been encouraged to do since we were kids. Now if you're you know somebody who has never set foot in a hospital, who has never taken a single science class and have never done any volunteer work at a clinic, to say that you are passionate about becoming a doctor is absolutely ridiculous. You have no experience with what it's like to be a doctor. And so what I tell people when it comes to this is to pay attention to the things that you find engaging. And we tend to write those off because they seem frivolous at times. So I've been tinkering around with technology and using the Internet to make things since I was in my early twenties and I only realise this in retrospect but what I started to see was that there was this pattern. The times when I was most engaged in whatever I was doing was when I was expressing my creativity in some form and using the tools that technology created to allow me to make something and that pattern I saw consistently across the board and the jobs that I enjoyed as well as the work that I enjoyed. So no. Yes passion matters but it's not something that we just have, Cal Newport once said we put the cart before the horse when it comes to passion. Passion results from experimentation, from exploration and from paying attention to the things that you find engaging. A couple of other other things here.
Anna Jonak: [00:37:58] So I was going to say so basically passion comes from experiences of things that light you up which kind of ignites passion.
Srini Rao: [00:38:05] Yeah absolutely. But the idea that you or we have this notion that there's some sort of predetermined passion that we're all supposed to have is ridiculous. So some people say oh Srini you must be passionate about interviews. I can tell you I was never passionate about doing interviews. I started doing them. I found the process engaging and as I did them more and more. I became passionate about them so that's another caveat here. Most people will say ok well I have too many interests which is a common problem and that's not a bad problem. The thing that you do how you mitigate that is you explore one of those interests long enough to see whether you find it engaging enough so one day is not a viable sample size. Let's say that a pharmaceutical company made a drug and they tested it out on one person and then they tried to sell it to you saying hey we've gone through clinical trials, we want to give you this thing for some heart problem that you have. You have to be out of your mind to take that. [Anna agrees] That's precisely what people do with this whole passion idea. They try something for a day or two. They don't find it engaging and then they're like okay well I'm not passionate about that. So the other caveat is that you have to give it long enough to see if you can produce some sort of a result from it. And I think a minimum time line for that is about a month. I go into much more detail about this in the article.
Anna Jonak: [00:39:22] Oh interesting. We'll definitely send people there. I think it's an interesting conversation because I think a lot of people talk about passion being a driver but I like the concept that essentially the passion is born from essentially something that you get excited by and engaged in initially. So you have to have had the experience with it. So a fantastic way of looking at it. Oh my gosh so many amazing insights and tips. Now what I do want to do is direct people to your book An Audience Of One now we'll be putting up some links in the show notes but do you want to give them a quick direct link to where they can find out more about it because what we said today is just a little snippet of some of the things you talk about around productivity and happiness and so much more.
Srini Rao: [00:40:00] Yes. So you can find the book anywhere where books are sold, Amazon, all those places and then if you go to unmistakablecreative.com/audience you can actually download a free chapter and learn more about the book.
Anna Jonak: [00:40:11] Oh awesome what chapters are up there what are they going to learn.
Srini Rao: [00:40:15] Well it's the introduction which really makes an argument for this this idea of creating for an audience of one but why there is great value to doing something creative even if the only person who benefits from it is you. Because as a culture we've reached a point where nobody does anything creative unless they can figure out how to make money from it or they can build an audience around it or it's some skill they can add to their resume but that's such a limiting perspective on creativity. Think about how many things you miss out if those become your filters.
Anna Jonak: [00:40:42] Oh 100 percent. And I think when we first spoke I remember doing some reading through Brene Brown and she was talking about the fact that how important creativity is to live like a fulfilled and wholesome life. So it plays such a pertinent role and I definitely recommend that you guys go check it out. I have certainly I mean it's so easy to read. It's just so it just kind of you just pick it up and devour the pages because it's full of just such useful and practical tips for you kind of to lean into things and to clean things up and get yourself into your productive zone. So I look forward actually to, we'll put it on our reading list in fact, we've got a reading list for students so we'll pop that on there as well because it really fits in I think with what we talk about when it comes to things around time management and kind of getting into into your best flow. Awesome. Well look is there anything else you wanted to add around your journey to developing this book.
Srini Rao: [00:41:34] No you know you can find out more about what I do at unmistakablecreative.com and if you like podcasts were in iTunes and pretty much anywhere where you can listen to podcasts.
Anna Jonak: [00:41:41] Beautiful will stick up the links for all of those as well. So they'll be all at the end of our show notes. Okay. Well let's wrap things up. Thank you so much for today. It's been an absolute pleasure. I think that I'm going to have to listen to this a few times because there was so much gold that you dropped in here so I'm sure the listeners will do the same and certainly go and seek you out and go and have an experience with your podcast as well so that they can learn and grow. Now normally we end with the parting thought so would love for you to leave our audience for something to think about. So if you could leave them for one thing you know to think about one thing right now what would be. Putting you on the spot.
Srini Rao: [00:42:18] Interesting. I was listening to this podcast the other day called nobody told me, and they end with the question of what's something that nobody told you and I was thinking about how to answer that question and I am working on an outline for another book right now. And the one thing I wish that somebody had told me when it came to virtually every aspect of life, this is true with jobs, this is true with romantic partners, this is true with careers in particular this is very true and that is that you don't have to choose from the options that are put in front of you because when you do, you miss out on the possibilities that surround you.
Anna Jonak: [00:42:53] Fantastic fantastic perfect note to end on. Okay. I'm going to leave it there and tell our listeners just to remember. Be brave in your business.
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