Design = Action

“We have scores about how much willpower some people have,” says Wendy Wood author of Good Habits Bad Habits, “and some people score really high on those scales. Those people are not denying themselves things, but instead they form habits that meet their goals. For example, my students study in the library or a place in their dorm and when they are there they put their phone away. There’s no distractions. They just work.”

There’s a lot in there!

Willpower might be a bad metric. Often we count, compute, and consider the things which are easy to count, compute and consider. But easy may not be the best way to judge a metric. Calories are easy to count, but how often does calorie counting lead to weight loss? So maybe ‘willpower’ – quantified or not – is the wrong thing to look at as well.

Instead Wood suggests habits which are helped by ease and ease is designed. Wood notes that her students go to a place that is designed for reduced distraction. They also take the advice of James Clear and put their phone just out of reach.

Design is part of writing Cal Newport told Tim Ferriss. We know this, Neil Gaiman’s writing cottage has been featured here, twice! What’s nice about it, Gaiman said, is that it’s just out of WiFi range. A separate place has been an ongoing study on Cal Newport’s blog.

Okay. We get it. But, here’s the twist. The design of “quiet space free from distraction” is only best for certain outcomes.

The starkest 2022 contrast is Twitter. Investing Twitter, for instance, is full of smart people trading ideas, giving commentary, and sharing thoughts. If the desired action is to be a better thinker in the markets the design must include Twitter. It just won’t work to sequester oneself just out of Wifi range. Even Charlie Munger joked about his kids thinking of him as a book with legs: but the book now is the timeline. Similar if the goal is public policy the design must include advocation. If the goal is sales the design must include talking to customers (and finding the JTBD).

The heart of design is intentionality. Here’s to all of us being a bit more intentional today.

‘WiFi’ BTW is just branding. Here is Wood’s full interview.