Category Archives: Productivity

On Chasing the Right “Zero”

As usual Merlin Mann is spot on. Rather than trying to attain the arbitrary goals espoused by productivity “gurus” (bit of irony here, as many would consider Mann to be one, but I am referring to folks like Ferris and Allen), we should focus on actions that enable us to do the work that we love. Productivity should focus on being productive in the generative sense—creating. Too often productivity turns into being good at being busy, doing many necessary but meaningless tasks and never producing, generating, creating. I’ve found that the key to gaining anything useful from time management tools or philosophies or systems like Inbox Zero is to keep in mind two important things. First, they are tools and thus should be used towards creating or repairing. In this case, their purpose is to assist me in managing all of the competing interests making demands on my time and energy thus opening up more time and resources for doing work that matters. They are not an end but a means to an end. I say this because it is all too easy to get caught up in the pleasures of accomplishing tasks and (if you’re a geek like me) playing with the toys ehrr, uhm tools of productivity and GTD. This brings me to my second point: don’t let productivity become a substitute for being unproductive. In other words, sometimes engaging in the work you truly love and care about is terrifying and when you finally break down the barriers between yourself and that work, giving you unfettered access, the freedom turns to fear. It’s easy to obsess over perfecting your productivity techniques or getting every single thing done to the extent that you avoid actually doing the work that you love. Sure it sounds counterintuitive, but love makes us do the whacky. And, as it turns out, that bit of Buffy philosophy holds true for platonic as well as romantic love. So, there you have it. I have a pretty intense digital workflow these days and I’m definitely using some fancy toy/tools but at least these days I’m pretty sure I’m chasing the right zero.


Not to be all “Merlin Mann” or anything, but, maybe somebody will find this useful.

I was recently asked to talk about how I think about the infamous Inbox Zero these days, and here’s what I said:

Read More

rules for the work day, or how to work productively from home

Since I work from home, it’s hard to stay focused some days. There are a multitude of distractions that come into play when your office is attached to your home, even when you live alone. As an academic I’ve spent a lot of time working from home before, but I’ve always had days when I had to go to my office on campus. Now that I have no campus office to go to (and sadly not even a coffee shop to use as my office given that I am frequently unable to drive), it’s more and more difficult to work the way that I would if I had a separation between work and home. So, from previous experience, a multitude of blogs and books written by people who work from home, and the little bit of common sense that I can muster, I’ve come up with a set of rules for myself to follow on weekdays. I’m posting them here as a method of holding myself accountable:

  1. By 9 am pajamas are off and “you might be seen in public” clothes are on. No pajama-like clothing allowed between 9 am and 6 pm. (Exception to the rule: lamb skin lined bedroom slippers. Comfy and warm shoes always trump common sense.)
  2. Work will be done in office at desktop computer and not in living room comfy chair with laptop. (Must resist the lure of comfy fireplace.)
  3. No tv as “background noise.” Pandora is acceptable as is other music and NPR, since I did this in my office on campus.
  4. Checking out what’s new on Uncommon Goods and ThinkGeek does not constitute working. Don’t visit these or other sites.
  5. Use David Seah‘s Printable CEO forms to track work time and projects. [Note: these are particularly good for freelance work as they make billing simpler. I’ve also found that they’re useful in keeping track of how much time you spend on academic projects and teaching tasks (e.g., grading, answering student emails, lesson planning, etc.).]

I’m sure that there will be more parts to this post as I come up with new rules and guidelines. Oh, and BTW– blogging is part of my work, so this counts. Sort of.