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The Semi-Work State

Hey everyone,

I realized this week that I often slip into a state that I call "semi-work." It's far from deep work, but it's also far from relaxation. It's an anxious state where I feel like I should put in another hour or two, but don't really feel interested or excited about my to-do list.

Instead of walking away from the computer, I tend to process insignificant tasks or check my email waiting for something easy to respond to. Starting today, I'm making an effort to kill off the semi-work state. It's either real work or time away from the screen.

If you have any tips about to break away the laptop, please do send them my way. Here are a few other things I've been reading and pondering lately. Enjoy!


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1. The Premack Principle

Plenty of people use this idea without realizing. I find that once I can identify and name a strategy like this, I'm more likely to use it.

A formal statement of the Premack principle is as follows: high-probability behaviors (those performed frequently under conditions of free choice) can be used to reinforce low-probability behaviors.

If a rat likes to run on a wheel, you can reinforce a bar-press by allowing it to run on its wheel only after a bar-press. If you have a hamster that always wants to escape from its cage, then you can reinforce the hamster for climbing onto your hand by offering your hand as a way to escape from the cage. The preferred behavior (escaping) is a reinforcer for the non-preferred behavior (climbing onto the hand of a human). This actually works.

2. How to Transition from Average Engineer to 10x Engineer

I'm not an engineer, but I found this article to be very helpful. In general Edmond Lau's work is really good and I highly recommend his newsletter.

One key observation is that all of these skills and activities are learnable. None of them are ones you’re innately born with — people who are good at a particular skill have simply practiced it for much longer.

Very little of these skills and activities are deeply technical, and yet, if you can 2x or 3x your effectiveness at any of them, they directly affect the impact of your technical output. Moreover, it’s significantly easier to go from good to great on a few complementary areas that compound with each other than it is to become the best at any one of those skills. Unless you think can distinguish yourself by becoming the best in your technical field, you’ll find more success at growing towards a 10x engineer by stacking together proficiencies that help you to effectively solve high-value problems.

3. You Need an Afternoon Routine

I couldn't agree more. It's just so much easier to get distracted in the afternoon. A quick-but-useful read from Lifehacker's Patrick Allan.

...Come afternoon, my energy dips. I’m still full from lunch (food coma time), I’m drained from my morning writing session, my focus starts to fade so I start to mindlessly browse the internet, and my video games and Netflix queue are whispering sweet nothings in my ear. You probably know the feeling.

The afternoon is when distractions have the most power—you’re fatigued, irritable, and way more impulsive. So I had to come up with a routine that kept me productive in the afternoon yet still acknowledged my natural workflow.

4. DripScipts

This is a very cool resource from Bryan Harris at Videofruit. You can browse and download a number of pre-written email sequences. (You can't download the HTML, but I've had success customizing free templates like these and these in Sublime.)

Have a great weekend!


PS - I'm looking to partner with a few great businesses to sponsor this newsletter. It reaches a bunch of smart folks from places like Google, Apple, Spotify, New York Times, Marriott and Harvard. Shoot me an email if you're interested in working together.

PPS — I made a free email course for content marketers. Grab it here.