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What We Learned In December: New Ways to Work, to Build, and to Focus On What's Possible

A recap of the best of December — and the most-read and listened-to stuff of 2021!

This is a newsletter about how to become more optimistic and resilient, and how to turn moments of change into great opportunity. Ready to seize tomorrow? Subscribe here — and to hear me debunk today's greatest fears about change, check out my podcast*

What do I know today that I didn’t know last January?

That’s often the way I try to reflect at a year’s end. No matter how weird or painful or stressful a year might have been, it is also one full of addition — of knowledge, connections, ambitions, and more. Similarly, I also like looking back on the things I read and wrote (in a year, or just a month), to reflect on what was gained.

That’s why I’m sending out this recap of December lessons (and then, at the end, my most popular work from 2021). If you’re an end-of-year reflections person, I hope you’ll use some of these to set intentions for the year ahead. If you’re more heads-down, then good news: I’ll be back with a fresh crop one month from now!

As always, take what serves you — and, if you’re so inclined, write in to tell me about it.

And now: Five things we learned in December:

1. Work by task, not by hour

What will work look like in the future? It’s an often-asked question these days, as Covid has reoriented where and how we work. I don’t have all the answers, but I offered one in the newsletter — and got a fascinating and encouraging response from a reader that I’d love you to consider.

First, a recap. I started organizing my tasks by when I’m in the right brainspace for them. For example, I knock out my burly writing projects in the morning and my mindless admin in the evening, sometimes snuck in between kids’ naps and bedtimes. This working style has made me more efficient and effective, and, because I welcome this same thinking from the team at Entrepreneur magazine, it has created a more vibrant and inclusive workplace. Instead of building resentments around when we all need to be on the clock, many of us now do a variety of projects — some for the magazine, some not — at the times that work for us. We trust each other to get our work done, and to support each other when there’s a need, and this in turn attracts creative thinkers who might have otherwise been turned off by a traditional 9-to-5.

The premise that everyone is a multifaceted, responsible adult has been pretty appealing to some of our new hires, and has in fact helped us secure some talent we might have otherwise lost. Granting autonomy: Try it out!

After writing that, I received a note from a reader named Meg O’Hara, an artist I once interviewed on my Problem Solvers podcast. She says that she’s implemented “the 30/11 Rule” for her team, which goes like this:

“If it snows more than 30cm overnight, then no one is expected to start work until 11am. Instead everyone should go skiing and enjoy the fresh powder. Also, if it's more than 30 degrees celsius, then everyone should go swimming at 11am. We have five lakes in Whistler, so we may as well enjoy them on a hot summer day.”

Yes!! If folks are living in Whistler, I would HOPE for them to be taking advantage. And I just love the premise of this idea in general — we can bend time in a way that creates company culture.

One other fun update: The UAE is instating nationwide half-day Fridays.

2. Good things happen

I got a kick out of this WIRED piece on good things that happened this year. Drones Helped Us Get a Handle on Plastic Pollution! China Eliminated Malaria! United Flew the First Passenger Aircraft With 100-Percent Sustainable Fuel! As problem solvers, it’s easy to get so focused on our own tasks that we forget to take stock of what totally separate problems are out there being solved. This tidy list is a great reminder of all the progress that’s being made by totally different kinds of people, all the time.

3. Nobody has a master plan

I recently learned that Stonehenge was an iterative project — rather than, you know, one that was just built out of some grand plan — and I cannot emphasize enough how impactful this was for me.

It’s important for us to remember that things don’t just appear; they are built over time in response to — and in tandem with — the world around them. But as we compare our own slow-and-steady work to the masterpieces of others, it’s too easy to forget that. Here I was, not thinking to question my assumption that Stonehenge was just… there, purpose-built with a single end goal in mind. Even what I think of as a very generous mindset is enough to insulate me from assumptions. We’ve got to make room for ourselves to be wrong!

And thanks to this reader for the other nice takeaway from this issue, as posted on LinkedIn:

What We Learned In December: New Ways to Work, to Build, and to Focus On What's Possible

4. Do your best with what you have

Also on Problem Solvers recently, I published a short episode on how to talk yourself down from stress. My method is a mantra that I repeat to myself and my colleagues all the time: “I will do the best work with the resources available.”

So much of the time, our stress stems from what we see as insufficient access to resources. But when we fuss about that, all we’re really doing is losing energy. If you don’t have the resources, you don’t have the resources! Let’s learn to live with that. Free yourself from that impossible bind and liberate yourself to make great things with what you’ve got.

5. My Most Popular of 2021!

I checked the data from the past year, and the people have spoken:

My most-read story on Entrepreneur.com: It was this cover profile of world-renowned brain coach Jim Kwik, and how he teaches people how to learn. Three quotes I especially loved from him:

  • “Burnout isn’t doing too much. It’s doing too little of the things you really value.”

  • “If you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them.”

  • "The number one skill set is to learn how to learn.”

My most-listened-to podcast: It was this episode about how you are not “addicted” to technology. Truly, you’re not. You’re likely overusing technology — and there are ways to fix that! I dig deep into the science with addiction researchers. This episode should empower you to take control of any habits you feel are harmful. You are in control.

My most-read newsletter: It was one I published last week, about a professor who hid the clue to a cash prize in his syllabus (or at least, the part of it that nobody reads), and how the whole thing turned into a nonsense lesson in “kids these days” biases.

All right, that’s it for the year! Thanks for sharing 2021 with me. See you in January — that is, next week.


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Cover credit: Getty Images / Jason Dean