Tag 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:

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getting unstuck: the cat formerly known as a blogger

I’m feeling a little like a former blogger these days. I know blogging is good for me and I want to blog, but it seems that I let everything else come before blogging. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I weren’t writing my dissertation on blogging. Well, it’s on trauma and blogging but close enough. So, I’ve been asking myself the question: what’s got you stuck? You have the ideas. You (kinda sorta) have the time. You have the access to computers and internet pretty much 24/7.  And yet.

It turns out this insomnia thing is working well for me tonight because I’m making myself ask that question and, perhaps more importantly, answer it. Guilt. If I’m on the computer and typing, then I should be writing my dissertation, right? Yes and no. First of all, in spite of how I feel and often behave, my dissertation isn’t the only thing in my life, but I usually feel that way. I tend to connect everything that I do to my research, whether it be reading, writing, internet surfing, or even watching tv. The obvious solution would be to blog about my dissertation. Works in theory but in practice I’ve been in a research study holding pattern until this past Friday. My school’s IRB determined that my study was not exempt and after months of back and forth finally gave official approval on Friday. I’ve been afraid to blog about my dissertation before getting that approval. It’s not that I’m going to publish anything that I don’t have permission to post, but the delay put me in this weirdly fearful holding pattern as though someone might read something that I post and not like it. All in all, I’ve been really stressed and when I get really stressed, I often freeze up. I get stuck. Well, here’s to getting unstuck and once more attempting to take my own advice.

Slight digression {{ Last night I went to a local restaurant/bar/coffee house where I go sometimes to work and get out of the house. I was sitting at the bar, having a bloody mary, and reading How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (for my dissertation of course). An acquaintance of mine sat next to me and remarked on my book and how he usually wrote stories but hadn’t lately. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to or didn’t have ideas but he just wasn’t writing. So, I suggested he use a strategy that I use in writing my dissertation: set a word count goal (I use 500), sit down, and make yourself write until you meet the goal. (This is in no way an original idea, btw.) The idea is just to get started. Maybe it will work and you’ll keep going and it will be wonderful writing. On the other hand, it might be crap, but at least you met you tried and you can get the satisfaction of meeting your goal. }}

So, my advice to myself is to employ that same practice with blogging. My blogging resolution is to try to write a blog post each day; don’t obsess over it being perfect (as this one obviously is not); and publish the damn thing. (I have way too many blog posts sitting in the never-ever land of “Draft”) I’m putting this out there for anyone (still) reading this blog: my blog posts will probably not be very polished but on the plus side, maybe they’ll actually exist.

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.

Writers’ Bootcamp: Organizing Intrusive Thoughts

Writers’ Bootcamp: Organizing Intrusive Thoughts

Friday Link Roundup

Well, technically it’s already Saturday, but I forgot my new resolution to post interesting links that I’ve happened upon during the week but didn’t have a chance to post. I didn’t originally choose a specific theme, but the world of academia seems to be a constant.

Hope everyone finds these edifying!