Work and Meta-Work

One of the most important distinctions we need to make in order to lead productive lives is between work and meta-work. Sadly, productivity enthusiasts fall into the trap of mixing the two, thinking that they are being productive and getting things done, when all they’re doing is getting meta-work done, which isn’t real work.

I know, because I’ve fallen into this trap so many times that it’s now my second home!

What’s Meta-Work?

Meta-work is any work you do that’s not an end unto itself, but a means to get the real work done. The clearest example is a to-do list. You don’t write a to-do list for the sake of writing a to-do list. You write a to-do list so you can get the items on the list done. If you spend all your time preparing your to-do list, re-shuffling the items on the list, re-writing the list so it can look prettier, looking for softwares that can be used to write to-do lists, and anything along those lines, then you aren’t really getting work done. You are simply wasting your time with meta-work.

Don’t get me wrong. Meta-work isn’t a waste of time. It’s essential for managing the work you need to get done. But it only exists for the sake of the real work. Being productive isn’t about having a sophisticated system of meta-work. It’s about getting the real work done. You only need meta-work to the extent that it makes you better manage your work.

And since we manage different kinds of activities, we need different meta-work tools to better manage our work. For example, a to-do list is different than a calendar, because a calendar records time/date-bound events, whereas a to-do list is time-independent. A to-do list can be split by location (e.g. at home, at work, etc) to better suit the reality in which the activities will be carried out. Having a single to-do list with everything we need to get done might be confusing, especially when we can’t do most of the things where we are right now.

Meta-work that enables us to develop a supporting system for our work is essential for enhanced productivity, but it shouldn’t replace the actual work we need to get done.

4 Tips for Effective Meta-Work

Follow these simple tips in order to establish healthy meta-work habits to boost your productivity!

1- The Meta-work to Work ratio: For the time you assign to work, you need to reduce the amount of meta-work that you do as much as possible, and increase the amount of time you spend working as much as possible. Your aim is to focus on getting productive work done. Leverage your meta-work in order to achieve that. That’s the whole point of meta-work!

2- Allocate specific time for meta-work: When you mingle meta-work with actual work, it can be difficult to tell how much time you are spending on meta-work, and how much work you are really getting done. Besides, you don’t want to overlook meta-work. Otherwise you might lack a supporting structure for the work you do. Therefore, allocate some time where you focus solely on meta-work. You shouldn’t feel guilty about this time, because it will be used to enhance your productivity when you get to doing your work. But you don’t want to leave this time open-ended (it might get in the way of your work).

Make sure you select the most appropriate time, according to your work schedule. This could be in the early morning, the night before, or several mini-sessions throughout the day. Choose whatever works for you.

3- Allocate time for learning about meta-work: Another trap productivity enthusiasts fall into is learning about the many, many different forms of meta-work. They search for tips, tricks and tools that can enhance their productivity, but overlook the work they need to get done, or how they will use what they learn in their own meta-work. There is a difference between having your own to-do list, and reading up on how a to-do list is to be written. Learning more about meta-work is important. It can expose you to new ideas and point out bottlenecks in your own productivity approach. But this should neither replace your meta-work or your work. Therefore, allocate specific times for learning, and adjust your meta-work in order to incorporate what you learn.

4- Have specific benefits in mind: Why do you have a to-do list? Why do you use a calendar? Why do you want to organize your desk? You need to know the specific benefits and use you have for everything in your meta-work system, so you can get rid of the actions that have no purpose, and so you can know whether you are achieving your goal or not. For example, whenever I used to clear up my desk, I usually leave it completely empty, and store away all papers in my drawers. The desk becomes very tidy, but I lose my creativity. I have nothing on the desk to trigger my thoughts and to remind me of what I need to get done. The problem was that I didn’t specify the actual purpose I had in having my desk tidy. I wanted to keep my desk tidy so that I can know where everything is and to be able to focus on a single task, without getting distracted.

Having this purpose in mind – and the benefits I was seeking – would have changed my approach to “tidiness.” Instead of hiding everything out of sight, I would organize my papers for easier referencing, and leave a single project on the desk (for me to work on), and a to-do list of things I need to get done (to remind me of the projects I need to work on once I am done with the project I am currently working on).

By maintaining the distinction between work and meta-work, and having a sensible strategy for the use of meta-work, you will be able to enhance your productivity, without getting distracted!


Inflated and Deflated Egos

Whenever there is conflict or tension between individuals, be it in a professional environment or a social one, “inflated egos” are usually to blame for the conflict. Some individuals wanted too much attention for themselves, and they were willing to compromise social cohesion in order to make themselves stand out. Many meetings are a complete waste of time (and energy) because attendees aren’t concerned with the well-being of the company they work in, but simply wish to defend the ideas they came with and to undermine the contributions of others, so they can look better.

This – according to popular myth – is caused by “inflated egos.” In reality, the opposite is true. It’s not inflated egos that are to blame, but deflated ones.

Inflated egos are required for healthy living and fruitful social interaction. Problems only arise when egos are deflated, and the poor ego tries desperately to inflate itself through any means possible.

To make sense of what I’m saying, it’s important to re-visit what “ego” means, and we will then go on to explain the characteristics of an inflated ego and a deflated one.

What’s “Ego” in the first place?

Ego means self. It is how you define and identify with yourself as an individual. It is the answer to the question: Who am I?

How you see yourself is your ego. Just as our opinions can be conditioned by the opinions of others, our view of ourselves can also be based on other people’s opinions about us. We may attach labels on ourselves that we have borrowed from others, without questioning whether they are true or not. In fact, our ego (impression of ourselves) may not be an accurate one, but it is the basis of how we see ourselves and, therefore, how we treat ourselves and the value we see in ourselves.

Inflated Egos

An inflated ego takes on a realistic, healthy shape of itself. It values itself based on real qualities and real accomplishments. It, therefore, doesn’t resort to self-deception in order to increase its self-worth. As an inflated ego, it can already recognize its self-worth.

It doesn’t need the praise of others to inflate it or keep it inflated. A healthy ego is driven by its own impression of itself. But since it does not seek to deceive itself, it is open to the criticism of others. Criticism isn’t seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to re-evaluate itself, based on the observations others have made, which the individual may have overlooked about himself. If the criticism is valid, it does not deflate the ego. It merely points out an area that requires more attention.

Inflated egos aren’t threatened by the accomplishments of others. They realize that others possess strengths they may not possess, but it does not undermine their own strengths and worth. An inflated ego is willing to learn from others, so it can grow its strengths through their strengths.

Deflated Egos

A deflated ego doesn’t value itself, because it doesn’t have a healthy vibrant shape that can summon confidence and self-worth. It can remain deflated, and one can step on his own deflated ego if he doesn’t see much hope in inflating it. He can undermine his worth through negative self-talk, and may even carry out actions that undermine his worth in the eyes of others and, thereby, surround himself with more opinions that will trample his crippled ego.

There are two dangers with deflated egos: when the individual doesn’t seek to revive his damaged ego, or when he tries to inflate it through any means possible, especially while relying on self-deception and the opinions of others. The latter danger is when all hell breaks loose.

Those who seek and feed on people’s praise do not have inflated egos. They are desperately seeking to inflate their broken, deflated egos. They, therefore, attempt to snatch as much attention as possible in any gathering. They try to prove to others that they know a lot, even when the occasion doesn’t call for it. They don’t give others the opportunity to shine, because it will eclipse their worth in the eyes of the people. In fact, they would go so far as to undermine others so that they can seem grander by comparison. In other words, they try to puncture other egos so they can become deflated as well.

Deflated egos lead to arrogance and the exaggeration of one’s worth and accomplishments. An inflated ego isn’t concerned about other people’s praise. It doesn’t need to resort to exaggeration and self-deception. But a deflated ego cannot depend on real accomplishments to elevate its self-worth, especially when it seeks to impress others. Arrogance stems from desperation to inflate one’s ego, which an inflated ego isn’t in need of.

This is why you can find people willing to take credit for the work of others. It’s not that they believe they are worthy of the credit, but because they want to feel important and of value through any means possible.

It’s important not to mix up inflated and deflated egos (as is the case in the world today), because one’s praise of himself in public doesn’t stem from a strength, but a weakness and the desire to feel better about oneself. That’s not the characteristic of an ego that feels confident in itself, but one that seeks reassurance about its own self-worth. Of course, it is possible for an ego to be over-inflated (i.e. it sees in itself good qualities that it does not possess), but the drive for recognition and praise only stems from a deflated ego seeking to inflate itself.

The Importance of Nurturing a Healthy Ego

A healthy ego enables you to feel comfortable about yourself for who you are, while acknowledging both your strengths and your weaknesses. It is also more independent of the opinions of others and, therefore, cannot be the victim of vicious deflated egos that seek to undermine it in order to feel better about themselves. You can have amazing qualities, but if you cannot acknowledge their worth through your own eyes and with your own judgment, you may not allow them to fully shine and reveal themselves.

How we perceive ourselves will ultimately determine the quality of life we have, and it is, therefore, crucial that we strengthen our own self-worth not by relying on self-deception or other people’s praise, but through genuine growth and personal responsibility for our own lives.


Eat Slowly for Greater Joy and Better Health

Diets tend to focus on what to eat and what to avoid. But an essential part of healthy living is how to eat.

I have personally found that eating slowly allows me to enjoy my food, as well as control my appetite, leading to greater joy and better health!

Eating the Foods You Love

When you control how you eat, you can continue to eat the foods you love. You will simply adjust how you eat them. This helps you advance your health in a way that doesn’t strain your willpower. In fact, by eating slowly, you get to enjoy your food more! Remember, your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach! So make the most out of the food you eat while it’s still in your mouth.

Health Benefits of Slower Eating

Besides being more enjoyable, there are a number of health benefits to slower eating. I’m not a health expert, but these are the benefits I know about:

1- Helps Digestion: By breaking down the foods you eat, you help your digestive system handle the food better, down the road. This allows your body to absorb more nutrients from the foods you eat. Some foods are only broken down with enzymes that exist in your mouth. So if you don’t chew your food properly, the rest of your body won’t be able to deal with these kinds of food.

2- Eating Less: When you take your time eating, your focus turns towards enjoying the taste of the food, and not the amount you eat. Whenever we see food we like, we think that we need to eat a lot of it to enjoy it! But that’s not true at all. If we eat it slowly, quantity is no longer the issue. We can eat less, but enjoy the food more.

3- Knowing When You’re Full: When we eat very quickly, we don’t have the time to check with our bodies on whether we are full or not. We end up over-eating, which makes us feel uncomfortable, unhealthy and less joyful. Eating slowly helps us recognize when we’re full before it’s too late!

Adjusting to Slower Eating

This might sound strange (and if you’ve tried eating slowly before, it’s not that strange!), but eating slowly can be very difficult! You might feel that you don’t have the patience to slow yourself down, especially when you’re really hungry! These are my suggestions on some ways you can use to help yourself adjust to slower eating.

1- Don’t starve yourself: If you can’t slow yourself down, chances are you’re starving yourself before you eat. When you’re starving, it can be quite difficult to tame yourself. Therefore, try not to starve yourself before you eat. Have a healthy snack, drink some water or try to have your meal at an earlier time.

2- Chew more: Eating slowly and chewing more aren’t the same thing. You can slow down your chewing and you can chew your food more before you swallow it. Do both. But if you find that you can’t control your pace, then chewing more might be right for you. You can even have a minimum number of chews before you swallow. 30 to 40 is recommended, but that might be a high range to aim for from the beginning, especially if you’re not used to chewing at all!

3- Put the knife (and fork) down: When you’re armed with your knife and fork, it can be difficult not to make use of them to prepare your next bite, which makes you feel compelled to swallow the food currently in your mouth! Put the knife and fork down while eating, so you can focus on what you’re eating and not the next bite you will be eating.

4- Enjoy the food in your mouth: Some of the joy we derive from eating is the anticipation of the next bite coming. Don’t think about that. And don’t think about clearing your plate. Think about the food currently in your mouth. Enjoy the taste. Let your taste buds have their moment. Give them the attention they are craving. After all, if you don’t give them your attention, you won’t enjoy your food as much as you can!

Try eating your next meal slowly, and you’ll realize the joy you can get from eating, without compromising your health!

Personal Growth

Healthy Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are a common practice amongst personal growth enthusiasts. Not everyone seems to experience their powers, but everyone seems to believe that they should work, even when they don’t!

They fit nicely with the idea that we have the power to change our thinking and, therefore, our emotions, which is a central tenet in personal growth.

So why don’t positive affirmations always work? And how can we experience their powerful effects?

Positive Affirmations and Self-Deception

Not all uses of positive affirmations are healthy. Many people totally ignore reality, choose not to think and understand the situation they are in or the feelings they experience. They hope that by repeating a positive affirmation they can somehow make the bad feelings go away, or their situation to transform somehow.

Contrary to popular belief, positive affirmations are powerful, but they’re not magical.

In some situations, your mind will prevent positive affirmations from changing your emotions!

Is your mind acting against you? Is it trying to sabotage your success and well-being?

Not at all. It only tries to prevent you from fooling yourself!

Whenever you try to use positive affirmations to cover up a feeling you should acknowledge, that feeling will pop up at a later time and in situations you did not expect.

If you aren’t feeling happy, repeating to yourself “I am happy” can only work for a short time while you’re trying to get your mind to look away from your problems. But “looking away” is never a good option, and it’s not something your mind is comfortable doing for long periods of time.

Accepting Reality

Positive affirmations affirm something you already believe to be true. They are not intended to manufacture a new belief or a new reality.

The purpose of positive affirmations is to bring your focus to the reality that you acknowledge, but can easily forget about. You must always deal with facts when using positive affirmations. Otherwise, you will only be participating in a self-deception exercise, which your mind will punish you for (you HAVE been warned!).

The Proper Use of Positive Affirmations

Let’s say you made a serious mistake at work. Your default thought process can be to blame yourself, rationalize the mistake, look for excuses, criticize yourself, doubt your abilities and a string of other ways to punish yourself for the mistake.

With such an approach, you can leave yourself pretty damaged. It will lead you to shrivel up and recoil into a dark corner rather than to flourish and grow, as you should.

Rather than focus on the negatives of the situation, positive affirmations are intended to bring your focus to the positive aspects.

Instead of saying:

“I am OK”

“I feel great!”

“I am a beautiful human being”

“I’m the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” (if you do happen to say this to yourself, you might wish to see a therapist every now and then. Just a suggestion)

Link your affirmation to a fact that can help you develop that positive focus:

“I choose to learn from my mistakes”

This way, you are acknowledging that you have made a mistake (i.e. a fact you’re not denying or overlooking), yet you choose to focus on learning from the mistake. This is a healthy positive affirmation.

Whenever you doubt your abilities, repeating “I can do it!” might offer you a short-lived motivational high. But it’s something your mind can doubt. Remembering past accomplishments, and incorporating the reminder into your affirmations will win over your mind, and you won’t be experiencing any tension between what you say and what you think:

“I can do it, I’ve done it before!”

This way your affirmations will have the support of past experiences, which will boost your conviction and your confidence.

You can do a simple survey of your life, especially the low points, and you will realize that they are times when you forgot (i.e. did not bring to your attention and focus) all the accomplishments you have made in the high points.

Positive affirmations are meant to bring your focus to the experiences and the facts that can support your life decisions and revive your confidence in yourself and your abilities. They should never be used to affirm an idea you don’t truly believe in or that overlooks the feelings you experience and the situation you are facing.


Why I Hate the “Work-Life Balance” Expression

I am usually a calm and collected individual. I don’t get worked up that easily. But whenever I hear silly expressions like “work-life balance” I can get worked up to unhealthy levels!

It might not seem that obvious why I have a skeleton – not just a bone! – to pick with this expression, but once you realize the grave offense we’re taking so lightly in using this expression, you will join me in hating it as well.

But Hate Is Such A Strong Word

Not really…

In fact, you can look “hate” up in a thesaurus and use all the synonyms you find combined! That’s how I feel about this dumb expression. And what gets me worked up even more is when I start using it myself!

That’s when I feel the sudden urge to chew a bar of soap.

Why The “Work-Life Balance” Expression Deserves to Be Hated

When you try to balance two things, it means that they are either different or opposites of each other. You can balance the time you spend reading with the time you spend writing. You can balance the time you spend with family and the time you spend with your friends. You can balance the time you spend between two (or more) projects.

What you can’t do is balance something with itself or its subcategory!

Did that sentence make any sense?

Of course! If it made you raise three eye-brows (OK, that doesn’t make much sense), it means you have been fooled by this deceptive “work-life balance” expression!

Put simply, work is a part of your life. You shouldn’t treat it as something separate from life.

It’s like saying: “I really have to balance my health and my nutrition. I don’t want my nutrition to get in the way of my health!”

Sounds silly? You bet!

But that’s exactly what we’re saying whenever we try to balance work and life.

The fact is, it’s not work and life that we should be balancing. Work is a part of life. We can balance recreational time with work, but we can’t balance between work and life.

This may seem like a slight, silly mistake in the expression, but if you consider the impression of work (and life) it reinforces,  you will realize how serious this “mistake” really is!

Our View of Work and Life

When we don’t consider work to be an essential part of our lives, we see it as a joyless chore we have to get done. It’s a necessary evil that we try to tame so we can get a chance to live.

But does work have to be this way?

The more we talk about balancing work and life, the more we ingrain this idea in our heads and the more we exclude the thought (and, therefore, the possibility) of finding and experiencing work that we truly enjoy and find enriching.

If we consider life to be anything except work, then we will dread any productive pursuit, because we will label it as “work” instead of an activity that we can enjoy and a means of expressing our creativity and refining our skills (which is what work should be).

If you feel that work is dragging you away from what you enjoy doing, then you know the thought-seed behind such feelings: the idea that work is separate from life. And you can have the “work-life balance” expression to thank for robbing you of the joy you can experience at work!

In the Personal Growth Map, I consider work to be one of 7 Life Areas that make up our lives. We need to give each life area our attention, and be able to advance in all life areas in order to lead a balanced, fulfilling life.