Documenting my life

Month: November 2021

10 reasons to start improv

I have been doing improv for over two years now and I have definitely learnt a lot along the way, while having so much fun and laughing until my stomach hurts.

Here is a list of things that will give you a hint of why I like it so much 🙂 I wish I’d stumbled upon something similar before signing up for my first class, so hopefully, this can encourage someone to start improvising!

1. Meeting new people

I have met so many new people, with many different backgrounds, ages, interests, that I would not have had a chance to meet in my usual routine. During the pandemic this became even more true: thanks to everything being online, I got to know improvisers from all over the world and we will be organizing an IRL event when possible 🙂 I can’t wait!

2. “Laugh, play, and have fun

What I like the most is that improv is FUN. It’s very common for people in the audience to laugh a lot and you are lucky to be “the audience” when your classmates are performing. I have genuinely laughed out loud countless times. It’s all a game and even if it can be challenging it’s also, always fun! “It was amazing to laugh, play and have fun for two hours” was basically what all of us said after the first lesson was over

3. Doing something scary

Public speaking is one of the activities that mostly scares Americans, according to this survey. It’s scarier than being mugged or not being able to repay student loans, the results showed.

Public speaking is essentially speaking in front of an audience.

Now, improv is like public speaking, but with no script, slides or preparation. Way scarier!

And even if you are acting, exactly because it’s not scripted, anything you say was clearly thought by you, which is a vulnerable position to be in and it is scary to have to say something with zero planning.

The very nice thing about improv is that, although it can be scary at first, everyone is so welcoming and you learn pretty soon that mistakes don’t really exist, so the atmosphere is always fun and amazing.

4. Learning to deal with uncertainty

Improv is, by definition, unscripted. You get an inspiration word (sometimes a location, a relationship, or even a random word like pineapple) and you have to come up with something on the spot. Let me tell you, it is NOT always easy. And you are not alone, which is a blessing, but it also means you can be heading in one direction and your scene partner was thinking of something completely different so you have to pivot and instantly go on a very different path. This brings me to the next point

5. Learning to listen

It’s crucial to listen, at all times and very carefully. You should try and remember as much as possible and pick up on any cues or peculiar things that can be used to better explain the environment you are setting up, for instance, or which can enhance the scene

6. Being in the present and letting go

Related to the previous point is this: you can’t be thinking of what you’re going to say next, or you might miss the last four words your scene partner says and then respond in a way that would not be realistic. Or you might miss an opportunity for a pun or simply a better line if you are focused on where you thought the scene was going versus where it has actually gone. You will learn to let go of your plans and go with the flow

7. Reducing stress

You need to be so focused and concentrated on what is going on in the moment, so there is no brain space left for pending to-dos, unread emails, or an issue you have been worrying about

8. Becoming confident talking in front of people

Connected to the point of doing something scary, getting in the habit of talking to an audience means it will be way easier to give a talk or a presentation in the future – there you have the luxury to prepare a speech!

9. Embracing failure

You are going to make mistakes. You just have to move on. You are going to say something a bit out of place maybe because you weren’t fully listening or you might misremember the name you had given your scene partner and end up calling them with a different one a few moments later. Although of course, we all try to avoid mistakes, sometimes they make everything better because it is usually inherently funny and if it gets picked up it can become a joke

10. Noticing details

This is linked to the previous point. You need to be careful and pay attention to the details of what is being said and done in the scene. There will be small things you can pick up on that will take you in a totally unforeseen scenario. There will be mistakes or inconsistencies that you can turn into a joke. There will be some confusion in your partner and you can openly observe it and treat it as if it were confusion in the character they are portraying

All in all, it’s clear I am a huge fan of doing and watching improv. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend you give it a go! If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

If you are an improviser, what is your favourite thing about improv? Leave it in the comments below, please

Learn how to focus more – from Deep Work

This is the second post on Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. The first one, about flow state and deep work sessions, is here. I share the main takeaways and how I apply them in my personal life.

Can the ability to focus and concentrate intensely be trained?

Newport states that the ability to focus and concentrate intensely can be trained and that in doing so we must also focus on our capacity to resist distraction.

Once you’re wired for distraction, you crave it”

Probably the most common distraction is our phone or the internet, in some way.

We often take out our phones as soon as we are bored or if we are facing something that is just slightly challenging, since we look for a distraction to the discomfort.


Why are distractions when you are working on something challenging bad?

Having a “free for all card” might feel good in the moment, but you are teaching your brain that you cannot tackle these tough situations. Overcoming challenges through hard work and grit is, instead, what makes us feel accomplished, satisfied, and, overall, happy.

What can you do?

Cal Newport suggests a series of things:

  1. Scheduling your internet time in advance. He insists that you should not use it outside these designated slots. Of course, most of us use the internet at work, so disconnecting for a full day would be impossible.

    You can probably carve out some time in which you are not online if you let people know in advance and explain that you need uninterrupted focused time to complete a task efficiently. For example, you can check your emails and messages every hour, reply to anything urgent and then log off for another hour

  1. Be mindful of this distraction pitfall in our free time, i.e. outside of work. If we train our ability to focus and resist distraction while doing our job but then are constantly on our smartphones in the evenings, we are likely wasting a lot of the effort we put in hours before.

    This is because we are attempting to rewire our brains, and this will be extremely more difficult if we regularly end up following old patterns.

    He suggests applying the same internet-scheduling strategy doing our leisure time, too. We can be a bit more flexible, but the idea is to not use social media as a quick distraction as soon as we feel bored. “It weakens your mind’s general ability to resist distraction, making deep work difficult later when you really want to concentrate.”

  1. The easiest and most rewarding solution is to think ahead and plan some quality and fun activities in your free time. You will be happier for having done something you really enjoy, rather than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. If you pick up a new hobby, for example, you will be excited to learn something new and you will see quick improvements.

But my situation is different!

In the book, the author also addresses the main objections to the approach he proposes:

  1. “Social media makes me happy, I use it to connect with friends”.

The main thing to ask yourself is if spending your time on social media is the best way to connect with friends. Why not call a friend, or go out for coffee or for a walk at the park? Of course, this might not apply to everyone: if you are abroad, for example, or you just moved to a new city, social media can have an overall positive impact.

What we must be careful about is to not fall into the “any benefit” trap, when we justify using a tool because it has any small benefit.

We should instead use what he calls The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts”

I deleted my Instagram account months ago and I have never looked back. I remember sending a message to a few friends of mine, telling them about my decision and asking them to keep me updated on side projects they were working on since I would no longer see posts and stories on the progress made. Apart from that, I don’t really care about what my friends ate for lunch or dinner, and if a close friend has an important update to share they would simply tell me directly, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out.


  1. “In the evenings and weekends I am too tired to do anything”.

Generally, what we need is change, rather than passive scrolling. Or sleep, if we are completely exhausted. Usually, a change in activity will make us not feel more tired, but refreshed and overall more fulfilled with our day.

I fully agree with this idea that we need change more than passive and mindless activities.

Something that has really worked for me is to have a hobby that I do with other people. This means I have to schedule it in and know I will be dedicating an evening or two to that specific activity. If your hobbies are not something you do in a pair or group, you will still benefit from the structure they can offer.

In the evenings or weekends, I sometimes don’t feel like working on side projects or engaging in activities that require a certain level of concentration. However, if I can get myself to start, I am always happy I did and the satisfaction is really high.

Of course, this doesn’t apply in every circumstance. I am aware I am in a privileged position since I don’t have many barriers that others might have. Sometimes mindless activities are exactly what we need.

Overall, reframing “rest” as a change in activity that will re-energize me has really worked for me and I want to remember this more often.

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Flow state – from Deep Work by Cal Newport

I recommend Deep Work by Cal Newport to anyone who is finding it hard to make progress towards a goal, gets distracted, and finds themselves feeling scattered. It’s a great read if you are interested in improving focus and working in a more meaningful way.

This post highlights a few ideas that resonated with me in the first part of the book and how I apply them in my personal life. In a separate post will share more about the second half of the book, focused on how to minimize distractions.

The key formula of high quality outputs

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

We all have the same amount of time in a day and overworking yourself is not sustainable. The other lever we have, then, is how much we can focus and concentrate deeply on the task at hand.

If we can train ourselves to be highly focused, we will produce a lot of high-quality work. The results will (hopefully) bring recognition and satisfaction. But even if this is not the case, you will not regret it.

What is a state of flow?

One of the best quotes in the book is from Csikszentmihalyi: “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” This particular mental state is called flow: it happens when you are engrossed in something challenging, that requires your attention

What does flow state feel like?

You are focused and you don’t feel time passing, you are completely absorbed by the activity you are doing. It is described as an energized focus, and you enjoy the task and usually this is related to a sense of accomplishment.

I find myself “in flow” when working on a difficult problem, trying to solve an issue or learning about complex topics. It requires concentration and a lot of effort, but it is intrinsically satisfying.

“The more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subject’s life satisfaction. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging”

How long can you stay in flow?

This will depend on different factors. Generally, up to 4 hours a day can be achieved with some practice. In the beginning it will be difficult to be laser-focused for long stretches of time at once. Let’s see why.

Why is deep work challenging?

However, it is not common to find ourselves in this state. Cal Newport explains that it is partly because doing deep work requires having a clear long-term goal in mind, while it is sometimes easier to be busy with a multitude of more shallow activities.

The frequency of the distractions is another obstacle for focus

He introduces the concept of attention residue: when you switch from one task to another, you are not immediately focused on the new one, but a residue of attention is still lingering on the previous action. This is even more noticeable when you didn’t complete the first task and therefore you didn’t “close the loop”. The open topic will consume some brain power or try to resurface.

So, once you get distracted, it will take some time to regain the level of focus and concentration you had earlier, and you will not be in a continuous state of flow.

Top tips for deep work and getting in a flow state

Newport explains that it is critical to get in the habit of

  • batching activities that are similar. You should group things by task and focus on them once in one session, rather than dealing with every single item on a separate occasion.
    This is similar to when a production company works “in parallel”: instead of working on one car from start to finish, it’s best to create 1000 doors at the same time before moving on to the next component, only assembling all the cars together at the end
  • reserving uninterrupted focus time when working on something which is a high priority.

I have been batching admin tasks for months and it really works for me. Rather than doing a few things here and there, scattered throughout the week, I will write down what I need to do and not worry about it anymore. I usually do them all in one morning on the weekend (not every week!). When I do sit down to do all these tasks, it takes less time because I am grouping similar things.

I have also started scheduling some uninterrupted time to work on high-importance tasks. It has been really amazing to notice how much deeper I am able to focus if there are no notifications.

What does a deep work session look like? How to prepare?

Cal Newport recommends doing the following things to have a productive session of deep work:

  • Establish where you’ll work and for how long. He emphasizes that giving yourself a specific time frame is useful to frame the task as a challenge. Simply the act of setting a timer to do some chores makes it feel more like a game. You can try and break your record! By knowing you will only work on the task for a set amount of time, you allow yourself to fully focus, knowing you’ll have time to do other things later.

    For example, I sometimes wake up one hour earlier and work on a personal project. Or dedicate one hour before dinner to making progress on a course you are interested in.
  • Decide how you’ll work once you start to work.

    In my case, I will not look at emails or messages on my laptop or my phone.
  • Clarify how you’ll support your work. This could be something related to any books or notebooks you might need or a glass of water or making sure you have some snacks on your desk. In Deep Work, Cal Newport mentions coffee.

    In my experience, making a cup of coffee before starting is very useful because it gives me a routine. This means it makes it easier for me to “know” to switch into “deep work” mode.
    I also keep a notebook handy and make it a point to re-write the more challenging concepts in my own words, to memorize and understand them better. It‘s also useful to write down anything that comes to mind that I want to look into. I know I won’t forget and I’ll be able to do it later, rather than diving into it in that moment and losing focus
  • Identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.

    This was very straightforward since I am following a course on a specific topic I want to learn more about. It is already split into different sessions, so I will just select the topics to cover in the session.
    For an example related to this blog, an outcome could be writing a first draft or going through my notes for the last book I read

Lastly, it is important to be able to work on the behaviors you can directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.


Writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of deep work and I hope it has been useful for you too!

I want to do more deep work moving forward! Just after editing this post, I bought myself a weekly planner, so I can easily schedule my deep work sessions for the week beforehand and see at a glance where/how I’m spending my time.

In next week’s post, I’ll dive into the effect distractions can have and how to improve our focusing abilities.

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Why I think the most common advice for beginners makes sense

The most common advice for beginners is “quantity over quality”. The important thing to do at the beginning is to focus on sharing many new articles, rather than working on a draft for a month, trying to make it perfect.

Not because of laziness or lack of willingness to put a lot of effort into each post. On the contrary, publishing more posts arguably requires more hard work, given that you have to come up with more ideas, go through the manual process of finding a title, adding a nice image, and other things that go along with hitting “publish”.

Why focus on quantity?

The best way to improve is through practice. You can spend hours researching different topics and how to guides, but it’s only when you actually do the thing that you are confronted with problems to solve, things that need to be improved and questions you didn’t know you had.

So, we want to focus on practicing as much as possible.

white space

Publishing imperfect posts can feel really scary.

But hear me out!

Especially if you are a perfectionist, here are my thoughts on the topic and what made me decide to hit “publish” sooner rather than later.

white space

What does not liking something mean?

The good thing about recognizing that something you made is not as good as you wished, means you have an idea of what you would like. You can see that there is a difference between where you want to be and where you are. That is normal and it’s a good sign! It means you can appreciate the nuances and recognize what your ideal is.

Now, knowing something isn’t perfect does definitely not mean being able to also know exactly what needs to be done to get there and have the technical ability to do so in a brief amount of time.

POV: give yourself many chances and document the progress you make

The less spoken power of creating often is that doing “the thing” every day or every week means you will have another chance tomorrow or next week. So there is less pressure for each one to be a masterpiece (or any, really).

If one post has a typo or is unclear? I get to post another one next week, where I can show my progress! If I were to post every four months, it would make sense to expect a top-notch, extremely well-produced and polished post with tens of academic articles as references. If I post every week? Everyone will see the progress and I will know I have made improvements over time, simply by looking back at the history of published posts.

Nobody instantly knows how to do everything, and I think there is value in doing things, analysing where they could be improved and working on that. By posting often you get to showcase your progress.


On top of getting in the reps necessary to improve, another advantage is that it allows you to build a larger “bank” of posts, forcing you to come up with different ideas, topics and you will become more creative and experiment in many different ways.

This will give you a larger sample to be able to know in which direction to move forward: what did you like the most? What drove the more interesting comments? With which post did you learn more new things? Which topic was more fun to write about? It’s only by having tested out different things that you can collect enough data to make a decision.

Not everything is set in stone

Also, an important thing to remember: in most cases, there is the possibility to go back to something and correct it or edit it. In a blog, of course. But in many other life situations. Even in professional environments, sometimes more than one “final” version is shared if there is an update or correction needed. In this case, I think that by documenting the process and sharing the imperfect results you will learn faster and improve even more.


This is why “quantity over quality” makes sense to me as the top advice for beginners, especially because it gives you the chance to learn by practicing hands-on.

In my case, I am aware that I am a beginner and that my knowledge/skills are limited. So, I will try my best to make all my posts as good as I can, but I will draw the line and aim for one post per week. This means that I will “have” to publish even if I am not 100% satisfied with the results. As I mentioned in my previous post, this blog is a challenge for me and a way to learn more, so constructive feedback is welcome!

Why am I starting this blog?

Since this is my first post, I want to share my goals and what I hope I will achieve, learn and discover through this project. I’ll keep it short, so here goes:

  • document my life, to have a catalog for my future self to look back on, keep track of my thoughts, books I’ve read etc
  • share my thoughts and learnings, as it might be helpful for someone else or it might prompt a discussion or a suggestion of something I might like. The topics I will write about are broadly related to trying new things, exploring and improving my life. In the About section you can find out more about me
  • connect with like minded people, who are interested in a mix of things I like
  • become comfortable with being uncomfortable: sharing things publicly and putting myself out there does sound like a challenge
  • learn how to do things better, be it by being self-critical or because someone points something I could have done better or differently
  • have a different/new topic to chat about with my friends and family; not only about the content, but about the project itself
  • challenge myself to find something to write about, to try and observe things through this lens
  • be consistent, by posting regularly (although there will probably be exceptions)

As you can see, a big part of this project is related to connecting with others, so please leave a comment sharing what you are interested in and if there are any blogs/podcasts you think I should look into.


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