There Aren't Predefined Categories - What We Need is Individual Evaluation

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Travis Bradberry is the Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart who writes for a lot of various publications, including LinkedIn and He's not a behavior analyst, but talks about a lot of things that Behavior Analysts work - here's a snapshot of an article he wrote on April 4th, 2017 called "How Smart People Work Less and Get More Done."

"Some people have an uncanny ability to get things done. They keep their nights and weekends sacred and still get more done than people who work 10 or 20 hours more per week than they do." - Travis Bradberry

Taking this at face value, I'm sure there's truth in it depending on the individual person. However, from a behavioral view that focuses on the individual level of analysis, we know there are likely outliers and people all between. The use of a single-subject (N of 1) design can start explaining a little more and allow some insight to the validity of this statement for a particular individual. Now, this isn't to knock the article - there's actually a pretty detailed list of activities that I think are worthwhile exploring. I was actually shocked to see that each of them were relatable and areas that I had personally explored, and continue to embed into my day-to-day life, but behavioral science has taught me to add in a few other things with lists like this. But first, his 10 points: 

  1. Disconnect.
  2. Minimize Chores. 
  3. Exercise. 
  4. Reflect. 
  5. Pursue a passion.
  6. Spend quality time with family. 
  7. Schedule micro-adventures
  8. Wake up at the same time.
  9. Designate mornings as me time
  10. Prepare for the upcoming week. 

I don't think that there are predefined numbers or categories for the world, but I have embedded each of these into my routine and anecdotally they have helped in various ways. Over the past 7 years, I have measured my attempts and the conditions under which I can make changes in each of these areas. At a glance, I think that all of these are great suggestions for the typical person. Most likely you can pick one (or most) and figure out a way to incorporate and benefit from them being in your life. But that brings me to three points that I'd like to make, and then offer options to further explore when consuming articles like this:

  1. They have to be evaluated on an individual level.
  2. It's not as easy as it looks to incorporate them into your daily life as it sounds.
  3. There are some unstated assumptions here 

Let's get into a little of what I mean. 

Evaluation at the Individual Level

First, you have to determine what's important to you (i.e., clarify your values), next is goal-setting (including goal hierarchies and stretch goals), and then you're ready to start recording progress towards any one of these areas. Sounds simple, but that's a lot of work, and something that usually takes a lot more than a short blog post to accomplish and master (this is covered in our Revolution Summit event).

Once you have determined how to record your progress, there are three simple ways that you can begin visually evaluating progress.  This is just a start, as a way to sort of introducing how would one go about looking at evaluating progress on an individual level. Check out what I mean below:

Incorporating Anything Into Your Daily Life

The second point I'd like to add to any of these "X things that you need," type articles is that although they are easy to consume and understand, they are typically much harder to pick up and incorporate into your life. Let's look at a sample set of data that I started collecting prior to starting graduate school for a couple years. Below is the number of pages that I was reading per month in the area of my master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis.  I began reading inconsistently about 1.5 years prior to beginning this project, and I estimate that the data varied in the same way that it does in the first 4-5 months (first 4-5 data points) of this graph however it was at a lower level (closer to 10-100 pages per month total). I didn't like reading, hadn't really done more of it than I had to, but was presented with two options. Read behavior analysis and chase a passion, or wait for it to be hosted in another format (e.g., audio book).  The latter didn't sound like a good option, so I started working on increasing my reading rates. There were a number of interventions to note, including matching my reading to my current needs in the classroom. An example would be reading material that could help me be a better behavior analyst the next day when I was working with a student. After a bunch of these changes and evaluating data on a daily basis (this is a "roll-up" of the data to a monthly level, so it doesn't highlight all of those changes), I began reading materials that I was interested after I read content that I was told would be valuable, but didn't appear to pose an immediately return. The point is, it takes work. Usually a LOT. 

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Unstated Assumptions

The last area that I think is sometimes not fully understood is that when we are presented with pre-defined lists or categories we sometimes miss the unstated assumptions. That is, we need to understand the conditions under which the writer is writing this work... What are the benefits of writing content like this? What are the prerequisite skills that they learned before they were able to start working on the content that they are providing? What are the tools that they used to determine that this is the "best" list that they could provide at the time?

If we had a little insight into these types of questions than it would be a little easier to understand if, when, and how any item on the list is actually relevant to the situation the reader is in. A relatable example for most people is that they simply don't have the opportunity or resources to fully pursue complete lists like this in a meaningful way. There are life events that come up and get in the way, or you don't quite have the resources that you need to be able to spend the time working towards each area (e.g., working 60-80 hours a week + other life situations). 

One Last Clarification

So what do we do? Well, I don't want to blame the writer, or any writer, for content like this. Shoot, I've written similar things before, and I'll probably continue to (I did it in this post!). However, we also need to point people to the conditions under which these lists are created and valuable. Behavior Analysts are in a unique situation to help the world in understanding and capitalizing on articles like this if we can more adequately "package" and "communicate" just what it is that we do and how we do what we do. Which is where I'll be picking up in one of the next pieces ;) 

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