There are a lot of articles out there about self-improvement during the quarantine. These can be a bit exhausting to read. You’re probably not focused on growth if you have kids at home and are just trying to manage your life and job under the new COVID-19 world order.
But, there’s still value in attempting to take up some positive habits during this bizarre time. Even if they are just in the back of your mind, they could impact your behavior.
So, here are a few ideas if you are interested in personal and professional growth during the lockdown:
1. Watch less news.
TV news is worse for you than cigarettes. It is designed to get people riled up and elicit extreme emotions to keep you glued to the channel. It is not designed to help to deliver or inform the news. It is all noise and no signal.
All daily news is bad.
The U.S. networks that deliver daily news are all bad. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, CNBC, ABC … and even things like the Daily Show … are terrible for you. Eliminate it all. These programs are designed to get you frustrated, angry, and emotional. Just like smartphones, they are created by brilliant people to keep you addicted to the network 24/7.
If you watch 10 hours of TV news, you will learn almost nothing. It might mildly entertain you … but you can watch a great TV show (like Breaking Bad) for entertainment.
If you want news, read the newspaper.
If you really want the news, read an old-fashioned newspaper (yes, you can read it online). Read something like the Wall Street Journal for daily news or the Economist for weekly news. You likely do not need news more than once a day. And if you absolutely need a dopamine-news hit, use Twitter or Reddit.
Eliminate easy ways to consume the news.
Even pre-COVID19, we all should have stopped watching TV news. One way to do it is to eliminate any easy way to consume these news programs. You can cancel your cable (or YouTubeTV) subscription. Since there are no live sports to watch anyway during this stay-at-home time, you likely do not need live TV.
2. Put yourself in a box.
Quarantine is a great time to double down on what you really want and define what your business will not do. In other words, eschew optionality.
Contrary to what many people believe, optionality isn’t advantageous at all.
This is pretty controversial. Most people don’t agree with me here. In fact, almost every smart person in the world will disagree with me. They’ll say, “No, you need to leave your options open. You don’t know where the world is going to take you.” This is exactly why people go to business school (MBA) after all.
But optional is actually really bad. You should be as focused as possible – put yourself in a box – and reiterate what you do and what you do NOT do.
And you should tell everyone who will listen (your customers, your partners, your employees, your investors) about it. Define for them the box you work in and make sure they know exactly what you excel at.
You can be smart enough to know where the world is going and put yourself in a box and really, really, really own that particular box.
And quarantine is the perfect time to do this. You have more control over your attention and can step back to get a wide-angle view of your business and your job.
And, remember, the very best things in life (like lifelong romantic partnership) come from specifically eliminating optionality.
3. Get really good at one form of communication.
Quarantine is a test for everyone’s communication skills. That’s why you should commit to the one form you’re already decent at and get even better.
First, figure out the best medium you communicate in and get really good at that medium.
For instance, my best communication medium is written communication. So I should work at going from good to great in written communication and spend less time going from bad to mediocre on group speaking, one-on-one speaking, phone communication, diagrams/charts, etc.
Getting really good at one type of communication trumps being ok at many of them.
Yes, it would be better if you were great at all mediums of communication. Yes, I wish I was a better public speaker. But the most important thing is that you are really good at one medium of communication first (most people are not good at any).
Improving in many areas at once will not have nearly as good an effect as improving in one area.
Of course, many areas go together. One of the reasons Wait but Why is such a popular blog is that Tim Urban (the author) is a fantastic communicator in both long-form prose and in simple pictures.
One of the reasons Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert comic strip) is so popular is that he can communicate in both short written form and in pictures.
Malcolm Gladwell is an amazing storyteller in long prose, on podcasts, and on stage … but he spends hours every day working on just these skills.
So yes, having multiple ways to communicate is better … but having just one excellent way of communicating puts you in the top 10% (might need two to get to the top 1%).
4. Double down on personal growth.
Your target for personal growth will generally depend on how old you are.
When you are in your twenties, you should be growing at least 20% per year. Most people grow less than 10% per year in that decade.
You can’t measure growth directly, but you can use income as a proxy.
In the for-profit world, one way to track growth is by looking at one’s compensation increase over time. If someone makes double at 29 than what they made at 22, then their comp is growing at roughly 10% year-over-year. Of course, comp is not directly tied to growth … but there is usually a correlation.
As you get older, it may be impossible to compound at 20% personal growth per year, but your rate of absolute growth should go up over time. You should grow, in absolute terms, more every year that you did the year before.
So how do you grow? Here is the growth cheat sheet:
– Surround yourself (virtually) with smart people that will give you feedback.
– Work on projects that are hard to do.
– Outwork your colleagues.
– Ask to take on more responsibility.
Of course, many people will have trouble getting motivated to grow during the quarantine. But if you can, this just means you have a leg up as the rest of them.
5. Keep failing (a lot).
When you work on a lot of things and fail, the cost of failure becomes relatively low (at least compared to others).
People that rarely fail have a high cost of failure and are therefore more likely to play it safe.
That’s why it is critical to maintain a high failure rate – it means you are consistently playing iterated games. And that leads to innovation.
One interesting thing is that the best way to optimize growth is to work on things that you have about a 50% failure rate in. Most people work on things where they have a 5% chance of failure, and that means they might not be pushing themselves enough. So make sure a few of the projects you are working on from home are hard enough for you to feel like they could easily fail. That’s how you know they’re worth working on.
And if you have your own ways of improving your life during quarantine, don’t be shy – I’d love to hear them.
Special thanks to Thomas Waschenfelder for his help and edits.
Improve your life permanently through habits.
Right now is the perfect time to build new ones (exercise, healthy eating, spending time with your family and loved ones).
It’s also the perfect time to break old ones (poor sleep schedule, excessive screen time, binging).
My Dad has gotten into a new habit of calling all of my siblings at 7pm every single day and it has been great to reconnect with him.
This was amazing. I’m a standup comic. My best best forms of communication are writing, and then, performing what I’ve written. I work in an industry where I am surrounded by people who know more than me, and do what I do better – they’re smarter than me. My industry allows me to fail – spectacularly – daily. I get feedback from rooms full of strangers every night. The more I fail, the tighter my writing becomes and the funnier I get, which means more people enjoy my work. Moral of the story (thanks to Jerry Seinfeld: Sucks and Great are basically the same thing In fact, they are the same thing! See his bit on Sucks and Great on YouTube and you’ll understand that you’re life – everyone’s life – pretty much sucks, and it’s pretty great.)