A History of Mental Pulls

It's Matt again. If you asked a friend to describe me, they might say something like “he’s always excited about some new interest.” That’s what people see. But what I feel are strong, irresistible mental Pulls to Action – pulls to explore different topics, skills, and hobbies.

These mental pulls have made my life, studies, and work so much more exciting and enjoyable. And as an organizational psychologist, I now realize that they were a critical source of my ability to stay productive in school and afterwards, despite the challenges of ADHD.

Photo by <a href="">Sara Tro</a>
Photo by Sara Tro

One of the strongest mental pulls for me is creating frameworks that help me to understand and more effectively navigate the world around me. Seriously, I can’t resist distilling complex phenomena into their simplest parts and mapping out how those parts relate to one another.

The different phases of my life can actually be described in terms of the frameworks I felt pulled to build at the time as well as the other interests I was pulled to explore. If you're curious, click on any of the + signs below to read about my mental pulls at different times.

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My dissertation research under the guidance of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow) focused on the importance of mental pulls for problem solving, but I hadn’t thought much about this research in a while. I recently realized that mental pulls are a critical psychological process for productivity in general and ADHD in particular.

It also helped me to understand that the different mental pulls that have driven my interests over the years were actually critical to my performance and success – not distractions as some people might think of them.

My point for sharing all of this is that these different mental pulls really defined and shaped my different experiences over the years in my school and work. These are the experiences and interests that have led to my current conviction – based both on research and my personal experiences – that the excitement of these mental pulls is critical to performing well and enjoying school and your career afterwards.

A New Productivity Framework


The key ingredients for productivity aren’t intuitive and managing your mental Pulls to Action rarely enters into the discussions. I haven’t seen any frameworks that capture the core psychological processes driving productivity, so I developed one.

After years of work, I eventually realized that everything you read and hear about productivity can be distilled down to 4 overarching drivers of productivity: how you manage your mind (e.g., stress, concentration), tasks (what to do), time (when to do it), and – at its center – how you manage your mental pulls (what's pulling at your attention).

Thinking about productivity in terms of these 4 areas makes it easy to quickly figure out which area(s) you need to focus on for your own productivity. But there’s more…

A New Instructional Approach

I recently had the realization that we approach productivity instruction all wrong. We try to teach students (with books, videos, online courses) when what they need is a guide.

When you’re tired and stressed, are you really going to have the energy to remember and then actually do that productivity thing you learned about weeks or months ago? No, you need a guide/trainer to tell you in that moment what you need to do.

Unfortunately I can’t be there with you at all times to give you the guidance you need. But that’s why I created the Academic Trainer. It reminds you exactly what to do at the start of your work for the day, every day. When you run into some obstacle (e.g., stress, distractions), it walks you through customized exercises right then when you need them.

It’s an easier approach that’s more effective and just makes sense. It’s this approach to productivity that our tools are built around and that we will continue developing into the future.

Want to learn more about how our unique productivity framework and instructional approach can help you? Here are three ways.

Three Ways We Can Help You:

FREE Learning Hacks

Free access to a growing collection of learning hack guides to doing well in school and enjoying it.

Academic Trainer

Personalized guidance on feeling pulled to do your work and managing your time, right when you need it.

1-on-1 Coaching

Weekly 30-min virtual coaching sessions with me to help you troubleshoot and improve your process.