What Mr. Rogers Knows About Productivity
Hey folks! In the interest of getting you fresh information more frequently, I’m experimenting with shorter posts. As always, my goal is to create useful, actionable content that makes it easier for you to achieve your goals: be they financial, career, health, or anything else.
And with that out of the way…
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Today let’s take a trip down memory lane and celebrate Mr. Fred Rogers by exploring three things the man knew about productivity and one thing he didn’t get quite right. Each lesson has a brief action step so you can put his insights into practice right away.
Change Clothes and Go
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” – Fred Rogers
Mr. Rogers began every episode with a ritual: changing into sneakers and his trademark sweater. While he apparently started doing this to cut down the noise his shoes made on the set, it has more than just symbolic significance. Research on habit formation shows that an extrinsic environmental trigger can be a significant help or hindrance when trying to make or break a habit.
As discussed at length in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, our time, place, or even emotional state, when paired with a reward, can trigger a cascade of automatic action. Recognizing and manipulating this habit formation loop makes it much easier to build or replace habits. By engineering your triggers you can engineer your habits and by extension engineer your life.
So take after Mr. Rogers and use your environment as a trigger to make your habits serve you better.
- Choose one habit that you’d like to create or change and try tying it to a new environmental trigger. It doesn’t have to be changing your shoes…
Be a Neighbor
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers
While most media tends to focus on lone geniuses, Mr. Rogers realized that we can do much more together than alone. Mentors, partners, and even just a network of people that are pulling for you can make the difference between overcoming your problems and simply giving up.
But being a neighbor is more than just being in a neighborhood. The effort you put in upstream to reach out, provide value, and cultivate relationships will pay off in the end.
- Brainstorm 3 people who could help you with something you’ve been struggling with. Reach out to one of them today.
Let’s Go to the Land of Make Believe
“Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence… And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives” – Fred Rogers
Great ideas don’t just happen. They arise when you make the space to explore. Every episode, Mr. Rogers would take the trolley to the land of Make-Believe and create (with puppets) explicit time and place to explore, wonder, and dream.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to use hand-puppets, but experts like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggest that “it is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively.” Or as explored in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird that being creative is a process. Committing the time and space to being creative is the first step to being creative.
- Make some space today to just think, without censoring yourself. Brainstorm ways that you could spend some time each day thinking quietly.
You Are Special?
“You are special, special, everyone is special” – Barney the Dinosaur
Okay, so I cheated a bit with the song here—the Barney “you’re special” song is the one that sticks in my mind. However, Mr. Rogers has a “you’re special” song, too and at least a few people blame him for a generation of entitled millennials. That’s probably not a fair assessment, but it is true that many of us are guilty of getting stuck in the uniqueness of our problems.
It’s a tautology that we’re all unique and by some definitions that means we’re all special. However, we shouldn’t forget that we all also have a lot in common, especially in the abstract. While your particular situation may be unique in its details, if you’re feeling stuck, pop up a level and look for patterns and commonalities.
For example, are you trying to start a side business? While the thing you’re selling might be a unique invention that the world has never seen, that doesn’t mean that standard marketing practices, like channel testing, positioning, and upselling don’t apply.
Don’t get bogged down in the details of how you’re special. Just be happy that you are.
- Reconsider the problem that you feel the most stuck on. How unique is it really? Who has overcome something similar? Make a list of 3 people or best practices to look into and get yourself unstuck.
There you have it. Four life lessons to get unstuck, from a man who was able to convert his passion for teaching children into a lasting legacy. Each step on the journey seems insignificant, but builds us into the people we become. Let’s wrap with one final quote from Mr. Rogers that you can apply your habits, support system, and especially your creativity to:
“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” – Fred Rogers
If you can consciously build a sense of who you are from these tiny tactical pieces, you will be special. And that’s worth striving for.