Riding the struggle bus


The other day, my afternoon didn’t quite go according to plan.

I’d spent the morning at my favorite coworking space here in Bali, drafting the outline for my next productivity course. I’d made good progress and thought I could definitely finish the outline by the end of the day, setting me up well to start writing up the course lessons the next morning, so that I could record the course videos later in the week.

In other words, I was right on track.

I did want a change of scenery, though. It was a bit too busy at the coworking space and having so many people milling about was distracting me.

So I drove my scooter back to my villa, which is about a ten-minute ride. It was midday, the tropical sun burning, and halfway home I realized I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen while going out in a UV-index of 10.

Facepalm.

Dumb, but it happens.

Arriving at the villa, I was glad to be out of the sun, and I was also pretty sweaty so I decided to sit down for a few minutes to cool off. I thought I would reply to some messages, take a shower, and then get back to work.

So I grabbed my laptop, opened WhatsApp and—hey, the Internet was out.

I restarted the router and waited a few minutes. Nope, still out. Annoying, but I had a backup plan.

When I travel, I always bring a LAN cable and an ethernet-to-USB dongle so I can connect to my accommodation’s router with a wire, in case the Internet is fine but the wifi isn’t. I grabbed the cable, moved my laptop near the router, turned off my wifi and—nope, still no Internet.

Time to message the villa manager to ask her to call the Internet provider’s service team. I grabbed my phone and just then I received a message from the telecom provider that my mobile data had run out. And with the wifi down, I couldn’t top up my data. Groan.

An annoying voice in my mind was saying things like, “we were supposed to be working on that course outline!” and “there go some of the most productive hours of the day!”

My frustration mounting, I figured I’d shower and head back to the coworking space (where surely, by now, the nice desk I’d managed to nab in the morning would be occupied).

But first, I opened a drawer, absentmindedly grabbed a new pack of breath mints and put that in my backpack, because I’d run out of mints earlier in the day. Zipping my backpack back up, I noticed some ants walking across my hand. Where did they come from?

I opened the backpack back up and there were ants everywhere. I’ll confess that I wasn’t as calm as I should have been at this point, so I somewhat aggressively shook all the ants out of the backpack. Having done my best with that—though surely a few ants are still living in my bag now—I went back to the bathroom to close that drawer with my toiletries supplies and I noticed… a busy ant highway running from one end of the bathroom to the other, with a detour through my packs of mints.

Upon closer inspection, there was also gecko poop in there. Argh!

Pretty annoyed by now, I picked up my phone to contact the villa manager and ask her to send over pest control, but then I realized I couldn’t because I had no Internet and…

at that point I realized I was riding the struggle bus.

I was riding the struggle bus because reality didn’t follow my plan.

I wanted things to go one way, but they went another way.

I wanted reality to be different, but it wasn’t different.

I was supposed to be finishing up that course outline (deep work!) but in reality I was dealing with things-that-shouldn’t-be-happening like an Internet outage, ants in my bag, and gecko poop everywhere.

Stepping back, my “struggles” this day were pretty innocuous. I’m living a really nice life here in Bali and there are much, much worse problems I could have. But sometimes minor problems can majorly annoy us.

Thinking about why I felt so frustrated, I realized it was because I’d put pressure on myself with a fake and arbitrary deadline. I defined having a productive and successful day as finishing my course outline. Anything else was a failure. And the Internet, ants, and geckos seemed to be conspiring to make my day a “failure”, according to this standard.

Of course, sometimes we have real deadlines. Taxes have to be filed, invoices need to be paid, and important meetings need to be prepared for. But this was not such a situation. If I didn’t finish the course outline by the end of the day… I’d just continue working on it the next day.

I just got frustrated because things didn’t go as planned.

Does this feel recognizable?

We put arbitrary pressure on ourselves in lots of ways. How many times have people told me that they make daily to-do lists that seem reasonable, only to find they can’t even complete half the items—and feel like a failure.

The truth is, things usually take longer than we think they do. Not always, but most of the time. And that’s fine. This isn’t a race. This is the time to enjoy ourselves because, well, we’re not getting a second life, are we? There are no do-overs.

It’s not that we shouldn’t make plans for the day. It’s just that we shouldn’t take them too seriously. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, “plans are worthless but planning is indispensable”.

Make that to-do list and set those intentions, but realize you might be taking a few detours.

I did, of course, finish that course outline the next day. By now, I’m writing up the lesson text, getting ready to record the course videos, and developing the course workbook. The course is called Productivity 101 and it’ll be ready… whenever it’s ready. I’m not promising anything. I have plans but I’ve learned my lesson. 😉

(I am excited, though, because I think this course will resonate with a lot of you.)

Anyway.

As we start a new week, I hope it will be a smooth one for you. Or, at the very least, that you will have only the briefest of rides on the struggle bus.

Watch: I was skeptical about AI until now…

I’ve been skeptical about generative AIs like ChatGPT. They seemed like a solution looking for problems to solve. But after recent ChatGPT updates, I’ve changed my mind.

ChatGPT and similar tools are getting seriously powerful and can now make a real impact on your productivity. In this weekend’s video, I’m diving into how ChatGPT, with its latest updates, can do just that.

When I first tried out ChatGPT, I gave it some instructions and it would come up with very generic responses that weren’t helpful. And I thought, well, if I wanted to write a generic blog post or make a generic YouTube video, I can easily do so myself.

But then I realized that ChatGPT can produce remarkably good things, as long as you give it enough context. This is why so many people in the AI world have been hammering on the importance of prompt engineering. Put more simply, you should ask ChatGPT the right questions—and give it context.

Prompt engineering is a skill. You need to practice it to get better. But don’t worry, I’ll give you some tips!

And there’s a new ChatGPT feature now that makes prompt engineering much easier. Previously, you needed to give ChatGPT context every time you asked it something new. Without that context, it would produce only generic answers, but giving lots of context every time was exhausting and time-consuming.

Now, ChatGPT has a new feature called memories—and this changes everything.

Peter Akkies

Hi, I’m Peter from Amsterdam. I’ll help you get organized and be more productive. Every Sunday, I send a productivity-themed newsletter to 10,000 people. Join us!

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