Adam Alter: Irresistible Technology

Meet Adam Alter. Alter is a psychology and marketing professor at the University of New York and a New York Time’s best-selling. His academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making, as well as social psychology – with a focus on how subtle cues in our environment shape our behaviors and thinking. His most recent work, Irresistible (2017), examines the troubling modern phenomena of behavioral addictions, especially in regard to many of our digital technologies, such as Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, Fitbit, and email.

 

Adam Alter Irresistible Technology.jpgMeet Adam Alter. Alter is a psychology and marketing professor at the University of New York and a New York Times best-selling author. His academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making, as well as social psychology – with a focus on how subtle cues in our environment shape our behaviors and thinking. His most recent work, Irresistible (2017), examines the troubling modern phenomena of behavioral addictions, especially in regard to many of our digital technologies, such as Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, Fitbit, and email.

Alter not only examines the trends of our digital behaviors, but also shines a light on programmers and developers use of practices and methods that intentionally keep us hooked.

With this in mind, we sat down with him this week to find out more about our behavioral addictions to our devices, as well as what we can do to fight back.


First off, what is behavioral addiction and how does it relate to our digital devices?

Behavioral addiction arises when you do something over and over again–compulsively–that feels good in the short-term but has negative effects on at least one aspect of your well-being in the long-term (e.g., your social life, relationships, physical and psychological health, financial well-being). It’s a lot like drug use or smoking or alcoholism–except that it involves experiences and behaviors that don’t involve the ingestion of a substance. Digital devices are responsible for a massive and sudden rise in behavioral addiction rates–by some estimates, half of us now suffer from at least one behavioral addiction.

 

What are some examples of digital features or experiences that create or drive behavioral addiction?

The major driver is unpredictable feedback–will my post attract likes, shares, comments, and so on? Will I have an email the next time I check my account? This uncertainty–as we see with gambling and lotteries–is very appealing to humans. We return to an experience over and over again if it promises the possibility of positive feedback even as it threatens to deliver negative feedback (having a post ignored or finding that your email inbox is empty or filled with unwanted mail, for example).

 

Is it as simple as staying away from Facebook, Twitter, games?  How do we participate in their potential benefits yet avoid addiction?

You can try to escape addictive tech, but that isn’t a long-term solution.

It’s too great a part of our lives, and you need tech to function at work, to travel, to communicate, and so on. The best thing to do is to draw a bright line between the tech-connected part of your day, and the rest of the day when you’ll engage with other people, face to face, spend time in natural environments, and so on.

 

Who is really in control here?  If we have to exert a ton of willpower to not become addicted to our devices, are we in control anymore?

We are in control, to some extent, but our willpower is limited, and eventually, as humans, we’ll all fail in the face of temptation. We have the choice to opt out, but it’s difficult to do that in the modern world. As a result, the designers of these forms of tech are in control, because they produce the experiences that we find so hard to resist.

 

What are some signs that we need to put our devices down?  And do you have any tips for managing device time for students or professionals, who struggle with needing to be online – but not waste time?

The best thing we can do is to spend some part of every day as far away from tech as possible. Decide that you won’t use screens from, say, 5-8pm every day. Remove all push notifications from devices so that you, rather than the device, decide when to engage. You’ll know if you need to put down your device by asking whether it’s coming between you and other people; whether it’s pushing you to spend too much money on apps and in-game purchases; whether it’s getting in the way of your health, your ability to work efficiently, and your psychological health.

 

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To learn more about Adam Alter, his research, or books – click here.

 

Cal Newport: On Value and Digital Minimalism

The Complexities of Simple

The core idea of digital minimalism is to be more intentional about technology in your life. Digital minimalists carefully curate these technologies to best support things they value.

The idea sounds simple when presented at the high-level, but in practice it dissolves into complexities.

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The Complexities of Simple

The core idea of digital minimalism is to be more intentional about technology in your life. Digital minimalists carefully curate these technologies to best support things they value.

The idea sounds simple when presented at the high-level, but in practice it dissolves into complexities. One such complexity, which I want to explore here, is the notion of “value.”

Revaluing Value

Measuring whether a given digital tool provides “value” to your life can be a fruitless exercise — the term is simply too vague, and applies to too many things, for it to support hard decisions about what can lay claim to your time and attention. (Everything you use probably offers you some value; why else would you use it?)

With this issue in mind, I’ve sometimes found it helpful to introduce more variation into what I mean by “value” when assessing tools. Consider, for example, the following three different types of benefits a digital technology can provide:

  • Core Value. A technology offers you core value if it significantly impacts a part of your life that you couldn’t do without — a strand of activity twined around your definition of a life well-lived. For example, a soldier deployed overseas using FaceTime to chat with her family is deriving core value from this tool.
  • Minor Value. A technology offers you minor value if it provides some moderate positive benefits in the moment. For example, browsing a comedian’s Twitter feed for a laugh, or playing a round of Candy Crush for the distraction.
  • Invented Value. A technology offers you invented value if it solves a problem that you didn’t know existed before the tool came along. A Snapchat user, for example, might note that it’s the most convenient app for keeping friends posted on what you’re up to throughout the day (it doesn’t even require typing!). But this same user, in an age before SnapChat, probably didn’t even know he wanted constant updates from his friends — the app created the behavior that it optimizes.

The rationale for injecting nuance into your definitions of value is that it allows you to inject nuance into your strategies for curating your digital life: you can treat tools differently depending on the value they provide.

Here, for example, is a sample curation strategy built around the above categories:

Actively seek out and enthusiastically embrace technologies that provide core value. Be selective about technologies that provide you minor value and place boundaries around how and when you use them. Avoid technologies that can only provide you invented value (your life is too important to be a gadget in some random start-up’s growth plan).

The above strategy is not definitive — it’s just an example. But it underscores the larger observation that figuring out which digital technologies brings value to your life is an effort aided by reflection on what exactly you mean by “value.”


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This week’s guest post was brought to you by productivity expert Cal Newport. Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to studying the theoretical foundations of our digital age, Newport also writes about the impact of these technologies on the world of work.

We recently sat down with Cal to ask him everything from career advice to his productivity routine. You can check out our interview with him here.

For more information on Cal, his books, or popular blog ‘Study Hacks,’ head over to his website CalNewport.com

2017: Getting Rid of Distraction

January is the month of resolutions. We pledge to exercise more, eat better, save more, be more productive, be less stressed, wake up earlier, stop procrastinating, and just generally do more. We pledge to be happier.

Unfortunately, life is complicated and come February or March, our new routines are often abandoned and forgotten – which is normal! All of us are susceptible to losing our determination and motivation.

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January is the month of resolutions. We pledge to exercise more, eat better, save more, be more productive, be less stressed, wake up earlier, stop procrastinating, and just generally do more. We pledge to be happier.

Unfortunately, life is complicated and come February or March, our new routines are often abandoned and forgotten – which is normal! All of us are susceptible to losing our determination and motivation.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, Part 3 on improving your habits by improving your sleep,  or Part 4 on making a schedule that helps you help yourself – click on the links above.

Although the pings, buzzes, alerts, and notifications help us feel connected and busy, it’s often not at the right times with the right information. We scan emails while watching TV, answer texts while finishing a report, and lose hundreds of hours and minutes scanning the seemingly endless flow of information from our timelines and newsfeeds. Each time with a cost to our focus, productivity, and mental clarity.

So why can’t we just ignore digital distraction?

As many of us know, this is really difficult and that’s because of two main factors: our self-control is a finite resource, and much distracting tech has been designed to make your brain crave more.

When it comes to combatting distractions, self-control can certainly help, but unfortunately only for a while. It’s possible to ignore your phone’s buzzes and the lure of your inbox, however it get’s harder throughout the day. Exercise over sleep, a deep breath over anger, and choosing to work over answering your phone, all tap the same reserve of self-control that gets depleted as the day goes on. This helps explain why New Year’s resolutions are lost and forgotten come May.

To add to the problem of diminishing self-control, the digital distractions that most of us spend fighting are actually designed to keep us coming back for more. Social media and push-notifications release two main chemical rewards in our brain that keep us coming back for more – dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine rewards us for seeking out novelty, while oxytocin helps create feelings of compassion and trust – helping us feel more connected to those around us.

Although there are many benefits and conveniences that come with our digital technologies, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy habits without the right tools and techniques.

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

Fighting off digital distraction from your work, family, hobbies, and thoughts can seem impossible at times and it’s easy to feel out of control.  Luckily there’s a solution – fight fire with fire. At Freedom, we believe that technology should always work for you, not against you, so we created a simple digital solution for a tricky digital problem.

Freedom is a productivity platform that blocks distracting sites and apps across all your devices for a set period of time. With Freedom, you can take back control of your tech and make sure it’s not distracting you from the things that matter most.

All you have to do is login. Select which sites and apps you wish to block. Choose for how long and on what devices, and voila – you’re free to do what matters!

With Freedom you can even schedule blocks in advance, and create recurring blocks to help make productivity a habit.

Life can be distracting, but your tech doesn’t have to. Try Freedom today and free yourself from digital distractions.

 

2017: Making a Schedule that Helps You Help Yourself

When you hear about the routines of the most productive people, they often include tasks like 5 a.m. wakeups, 6-mile jogs, and guilt-free smoothies. Tasks that should all be simple enough to incorporate if you are a well-oiled productivity machine – but unfortunately, chances are you’re not a robot.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, Part 3 on improving your habits by improving your sleep, click the links above!

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When you hear about the routines of the most productive people, they often include tasks like 5 a.m. wakeups, 6-mile jogs, and guilt-free smoothies. Tasks that should all be simple enough to incorporate if you are a well-oiled productivity machine – but unfortunately, chances are you’re not a robot.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, Part 3 on improving your habits by improving your sleep, click the links above!

WHAT HELPS PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE BE PRODUCTIVE

When it comes to creating a more productive and fulfilled life – most of us go about it the wrong way. We think that in order to be successful, happy, and healthy, we need to do more, add more, or be more.

The problem with this way of thinking is that, unfortunately, our resources are limited – our time, energy, motivation, and self-control are all finite resources that eventually run out or get depleted.

So this year, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at what should be removed before you try to add more. It’s time to acknowledge that less is just as important as more.

UNDERSTANDING WHERE YOUR TIME GOES:

Understanding what your daily life looks like can be the first step to creating more efficient and productive habits. Being able to identify what drains your time and energy is essential in helping you to create a schedule that works with you rather than against you.

In order to be more focused and fulfilled in 2017, you first have to examine who you were and what you did in 2016.

Start by writing a schedule for your average week. Write down approximate wake-up times, bedtimes, and everything in between. Make sure you include the little things like your commute to work, showers, meetings with friends, and all the other little things that add up to form your days. But remember, this is just your estimate of how you spend your time.
Now it’s time to find out how you actually spend your time.

  1. Pick a week and carry a little notebook, or use your phone to record your day. Write down the start time of each activity, and when you switch to a new task, write down the end time. Obviously, certain tasks like brushing your teeth, hair, and getting dressed can be grouped into a more general task such as “getting ready,” however it’s important to not generalize too much and risk missing insight into sneaky time-eaters. For example, quick 10-minute sessions of email, social media, or Candy Crush can quickly add up to huge chunks of time in your day.
  2. After a week or two, it’s now time to see what your daily life actually looks like. It should be easy to see patterns. You’ll probably be surprised at how checks to Facebook and email become hours of squandered time, or how small distractions from coworkers and friends quickly consume an afternoon.

MAKING A SCHEDULE THAT HELPS YOU HELP YOURSELF

When it comes to achieving your goals, for most of us it’s the little things that get in the way. Whether it’s finding a pair of the right socks before running, grabbing a burger because you ran out of time to make yourself lunch in the morning, or finding the motivation to force yourself not to give into the temptation of binge-watching Netflix each night – it’s the little things that build up and wear you down.
Now that you know what your days look like, it’s time to optimize your schedule.

  • Remove as many decisions as possible from your daily life so that your effort and need for self-control are minimal during the times when you know you’ll be tired and when your motivation will be depleted. If you want to make lasting changes to your routine, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for you to continue to make the right decision. For example, plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list on Sunday nights, or choose which days you want to workout and which will be reserved for friends and family.
  • Find natural pairings of activities that help your day move more smoothly. For example, catch up on your Netflix shows while you work out, or call friends while cooking dinner.
  • Group chunks of digital check-ins like email and social media into designated blocks so that you aren’t losing time and focus throughout the day.
    Remove the bad options so you’re forced to take the good ones. For example, buy a water bottle instead of soda, fruit instead of chips. Get rid of your cable TV, or block the internet with Freedom.

Here’s a list of other potential productivity pairings and shortcuts to help you help yourself:

  • Find a friend to workout with to increase your commitment to exercise while also having time to socialize.
  • If you’re not a morning person, pick out your outfit the night before and set the table for breakfast. Pack your lunch for the next day while making dinner. Check the news on the metro, or listen to it while you drive.
  • Walk to lunch, (even if you pack your lunch,) to get those extra steps of exercise, or take the stairs.
  • On days where you want to work out, set out all the things you need – running band, headphones, socks, sports bra, etc. – the night before.
  • Buy healthy snacks so that when you’re hungry you only have good options to choose from.
  • Make your bed before leaving in the morning to help your environment feel tidy and relaxing when you return.
  • Keep a water bottle on you at all times, and set out a bowl healthy snacks near your door to grab on your way out

You’ll be surprised by the changes you can make to your habits when you create a routine that makes it convenient for you to succeed. How have you designed your environment for success? We’d love to hear your tips, tricks, and methods in the comments below!

2017: Boost Your Productivity and Health with Better Sleep

When it comes to your mental and physical health, there is no doubt that quality sleep is essential.

Most of us know the dreaded sluggish feeling the next day after a poor night’s sleep, however not all of us are aware of the more subtle, yet severe effects sleeping problems can have on our brain’s ability to function.

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January is the month of resolutions. Each year, we take time to review our lives and decide which habits we hope to create or get rid of in order to live a more fulfilling life.We pledge to exercise more, eat better, save more, be more productive, be less stressed, wake up earlier, stop procrastinating, and just generally do more. We pledge to be happier.

Unfortunately, life is complicated and come February or March, our new routines are often abandoned and forgotten – which is normal! All of us are susceptible to losing our determination and motivation.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, click on the links above.

IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP TO IMPROVE YOUR HABITS

When it comes to your mental and physical health, there is no doubt that quality sleep is essential.

Most of us know the dreaded sluggish feeling the next day after a poor night’s sleep, however not all of us are aware of the more subtle, yet severe effects sleeping problems can have on our brain’s ability to function.

Along with a general decrease in productivity, lack of sleep has also been shown to inhibit our ability to concentrate, be alert, assess new information correctly, and recall previously learned information – essentially hindering our ability to learn and create new memories.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to poor decision-making, as a result of our brain’s impaired ability to assess a situation correctly and select the best solution. Not only, does poor sleep impair your judgment, but has also been shown to weaken your self-control throughout the day, as a good night’s rest can help restore your self-control reserves. This helps explain why it’s more difficult to make yourself exercise, eat healthily, and avoid distractions when you’re feeling tired.

Getting a good night’s sleep has also been linked with other health benefits such as improved immune system functioning, a lower risk of obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

So by getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, you’re increasing your potential to live a healthier, happier life.

 

BETTER SLEEP HYGIENE = BETTER SLEEP

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 Americans is not getting enough sleep. Poor sleep quality can be caused by a variety of factors, however for most of us, major improvements can be made with small changes to your sleep hygiene.

So what is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is a variety of practices that you can do to ensure that you will most likely to get the rest you need.

 

Here are 8 practices you can use to help you get the sleep you need:

  1. Make sure you create a sleep-inducing environment
    • Make sure your bed, comforter, and pillows help to create a calm, comfortable, cool environment
  2. Try to create a consistent sleeping schedule based on your natural circadian rhythm
    • This means going to waking up and going to bed at roughly the same time every day – yes, even on weekends
  3. Only go to bed when you’re tired, and when you do, don’t watch your alarm clock
    • Too often we try to go to bed when we’re not tired, causing a vicious cycle of not falling asleep because you’re too busy stressing about falling asleep
  4. Get rid of distractions – use Freedom to set a schedule for when you will no longer allow yourself to be online
    • This will help to calm your thoughts, as well as your intake of blue light, which like sunlight can wake you up when you’re trying to drift off
  5. Be active during the day
    • Getting a dose of exercise each day can help to tire you for bed. But remember not to exercise too close to your bedtime!
  6. Try to avoid drinking caffeine or eating too late
  7. If your mind is racing, try meditating or various relaxation exercises to help find peace and calm. For more on getting started on meditation, check out our post here.
  8. An hour before bed, create a to-do list or schedule for tomorrow
    • By writing down all the things you know you will have to do, you help your mind relax knowing that you have everything under control

 

2017: Be Present for Those Who Matter Most

January is the month of resolutions. Each year, we take time to review our lives and decide which habits we hope to create or get rid of in order to live a more fulfilling life.

We pledge to exercise more, eat better, save more, be more productive, be less stressed, wake up earlier, stop procrastinating, and just generally do more. We pledge to be happier. Unfortunately, life is complicated and come February or March, our new routines are often abandoned and forgotten – which is normal! All of us are susceptible to losing our determination and motivation.

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January is the month of resolutions. Each year, we take time to review our lives and decide which habits we hope to create or get rid of in order to live a more fulfilling life.

We pledge to exercise more, eat better, save more, be more productive, be less stressed, wake up earlier, stop procrastinating, and just generally do more. We pledge to be happier. Unfortunately, life is complicated and come February or March, our new routines are often abandoned and forgotten – which is normal! All of us are susceptible to losing our determination and motivation.

This year, instead of always trying to do more, add more, and be more – try to focus on being present, accepting, and mindful of what you already have. Don’t wake up earlier to have more hours – rather change the way you’re using the hours you already have.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on how mindful meditation can help you be present – you can check it out here.

 

BEING PRESENT WITH THOSE WHO MATTER MOST

Although many of us know and understand the importance of family and friends, we don’t always give them the attention they deserve. In fact, studies have revealed that the biggest predictor of your happiness is actually the extent of your social relationships. Not only that, but family and friends have been shown to help reduce your stress levels, improve your ability to fight disease, reduce your risk of dementia, and help you live longer.

However despite many of us knowing how important our loved ones are to us, too often we let life get in the way – dinners are eaten around the TV, conversations are interrupted by texts, calls, and notifications, and game nights turn into everyone checking their device in the same room.

Our modern, multifaceted, digital world has forced us into a habit of multitasking while at work or on-the-go, which unfortunately has now leaked into our personal lives as well.

It’s an easy habit to fall into, but unfortunately at a high cost to things that matter most to us – our beloved family and friends.

Although many of us already make time for family and friends, too often we aren’t actually present with them. We respond to texts and calls while getting drinks, check email while playing with our kids, or scroll through timelines while watching a family movie.

These subtle interruptions may seem insignificant by themselves, but can take a toll on your quality of relationships, and therefore your quality of life.

So this year, instead of trying to fit in more dinner parties, more coffee dates, or more play time with your kids – try to be present during the times you already have.

It’s time to log out, shut down, turn off all the noise, and pay attention to what’s already in front of you.

 

 

Here’s a list of ideas you can try to help you be present with those that matter most:

  • Create a device basket for all phones, tablets, and laptops to go into during dinner.
  • Make eye contact with your friends over drinks
  • Spend a night just listening to your friends or family
  • At dinner, refuse to talk about events that have already passed or in the future – spend the evening talking about the now – how everyone is currently feeling
  • Play “Would You Rather” – for example, “Would you rather meet your favorite artist at a concert, or have their phone number?”
  • Give someone a hug
  • Have everyone in your family pick a Youtube video to show everyone after dinner
  • Instead of texting, give someone a call
  • Find out what your kids’ or friends’ favorite movie is
  • Enjoy silence with someone
  • Meditate
  • Sit back and watch your kids play
  • Build a fire

 

What helps you be present for those who matter most? We’d love to hear how you help your relationships thrive in the comments below!

How to Succeed in a World of Distraction

At Freedom we are lucky to have many of our users write about their experience. From tweets to published articles – the Freedom community is buzzing with productivity strategy, advice, and experiments for a more focused, fulfilled life.

Life is filled with all kinds of distractions – whether from family, friends, work, school, or devices, it’s easy to lose focus or squander time while trying to complete a task, goal, objective, or dream. So this week’s article focus on how to create routines for consistent productivity and achieve results by avoiding tempting distractions.

d_kow7ihnnw-saulo-mohana.jpgAt Freedom we are lucky to have many of our users write about their experience. From tweets to published articles – the Freedom community is buzzing with productivity strategy, advice, and experiments for a more focused, fulfilled life.

Life is filled with all kinds of distractions – whether from family, friends, work, school, or devices, it’s easy to lose focus or squander time while trying to complete a task, goal, objective, or dream.  So this week’s article focus on how to create routines for consistent productivity and achieve results by avoiding tempting distractions.

 

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THE SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE THING ALL PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE DO | Kelly Exeter

When you hear about the routines of the most productive people, they often include tasks like 5 a.m. wakeups, 6-mile jogs, and guilt-free smoothies. Tasks that should all be simple enough to incorporate if you are a well-oiled productivity machine – but unfortunately, chances are that you are not a robot. Luckily, author Kelly Exeter has found the solution for creating and maintaining a productive lifestyle! Read more to find out how you too can make productivity a habit.
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YOUNG WOMEN ARE THE MOST BORED AT WORK, HERE’S WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT | Jillian Kramer

The research is in and it shows that 48 percent of young women are bored at work. Women reported that a lack of workplace challenges, opportunities to develop new skills, and digital distractions were all contributing factors to feeling bored and unmotivated in the workplace. Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it. Check out these six tips to find out how you can rejuvenate and revive your motivation and creativity at work.

 

 

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MOTIVATION IS OVERRATED | Neil Strauss

Too often when we set a goal, we consider our motivation as the key to our success. Interestingly, author Neil Strauss says we have it all wrong. Motivation, he says, is a fleeting emotion that can not be relied on for consistent success – it’s too easily overwhelmed by distractions. Read his post above to learn more about how you can create a system of working to protect yourself from drops in motivation. 

 

 

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FREEDOM REVIEW: GET BACK 40+ YEARS OF YOUR LIFE | Imran Esmail

Do you find it difficult to maintain consistent productivity? You’re not alone. Author Imran Esmail tells all about how he managed to find his productivity groove with Freedom – a change that led him to gain an astonishing 40 years of life back. Continue reading for his story and a breakdown of the numbers.  

 

 

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TOOLS OF THE WRITING TRADE | J.T. Ellison

Our Freedom community is filled with talented best-selling authors. J.T. Ellison happens to be one of them. Read her article above discover her trade secrets, productivity tools, and healthy habits that help her do her best writing every day.