A couple of people at work asked me to give a talk on personal productivity.
At first, I felt a crushing weight of dread. I do not feel at all productive personally. I feel massively behind in all of my obligations, and on the days when I have the opportunity to do self-directed work, I am very conscious that no matter what I choose I am letting someone down. Instead of spending my time doing things that need to be done, I spend my time doing other things that need to be done.
Then, on reflection, I have read and thought and experimented with personal productivity a lot. Probably too much. I would have no problems finding enough content to fill a thirty minute talk. The challenge would be one of picking exactly which things to say, and how to structure them for the audience at hand.
What follows is a brain dump of topics I might want to include in such a talk.
Almost none of the ideas are my own, but because I’m not a scholar I’m going to be sloppy in citing sources. Please use your search engine of choice to find the original authors.
- Personally, a lot of the motivation comes trying to follow “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’“.
- Organizations are built on promises of value that are either kept or renegotiated.
- I am an intrinsically unreliable component, so I try to build a reliable system around me.
- Core principles
- Capture everything
- Small number of input channels
- “What is the next physical action?”
- Regular review
- Calendar is a ‘hard landscape’
- Don’t have overlapping appointments – what does that even mean?
- Don’t have things on your calendar that you don’t need to go to
- Distinguish between informational calendar events
- Don’t use a thing as a reminder to do something about the thing
- Tabs are the worst!
- Emails are the second-worst
- Deciding “what is the next physical action” is hard and avoiding that hard
decision is a lot of the reason we keep emails around and tabs open.
- See Siderea’s “What are programs made out of”
- Inbox Zero essentially GTD applied to email
- Not actually doing everything required by every email every day
- Instead, making a decision about each email and then writing that decision down
- “Inbox” means “Stuff that I haven’t processed yet”
- Not doing this means O(N**2) inbox processing: each email gets re-assessed each time you look at your inbox
- Next actions: things you can actually do
- Projects: multi-action outcomes that you should review periodically
- Areas of responsibility: project & next-action generators
- Insight: to do a thing you need:
- Things specific to the task (e.g. phone & signal to make a phone call)
- build systems that let you filter for these
- GTD fails at helping you focus on a small number of things at a time
- Excels at managing a breadth of tasks
- GTD is complementary to Seven Habits
- After doing a good GTD “session” I am very unclear on what it is I’ve done and don’t feel very satisfied.
- You can only do one thing at a time
- When you’re multitasking, you’re not really multitasking, you’re time-slicing
- There’s an overhead to task switching
- Deep Work
- You’re not going to get anything valuable done while being constantly
- Caveat: this is literally parenting, which is actually pretty valuable.
- Block out chunks of time
- Super-linear relationship between contiguous minutes and output, probably sub-linear after 4h?
- Remove every app that you check, or has a thumb-pull action from your phone:
- Social media: Twitter; Instagram; Facebook
- You know you’re done when you start taking your phone out of your pocket because you’re bored, and then realise that the only thing to do is learn a language.
- Set up two-factor auth, then log out of every social media site
- You can always log in when you need to
- Manage Your Energy
- Four types
- Physical: eat well, exercise, take breaks, get sleep, get sunshine
- Emotional: quadrant (high & low energy; negative or positive)
- Mental: distractions; attention
- Spiritual: alignment of what you’re doing with what you value
- If you don’t have energy to do stuff, then it doesn’t matter how good your todo list is
- Productive procrastination
- There will always be things that you need to do that you don’t want to do
- It’s probably worth practicing some kind of mindfulness to work through this, but I’m terrible at that.
- Instead, I do something else that really ought to be done. It’s way better than Facebook.
- My firm belief is that the real secret to productivity is having a small number of things “on the go”
- Most of the stuff we do isn’t valuable until it’s actually finished
- What matters isn’t business, or how much we do in a given day. What matters is how much finish.
- However I am colossally bad at this.
- Seven Habits
- Circle of influence vs circle of concern
- Begin with the end in mind
- Sharpen the saw
- Very useful to do this as productive procrastination
- Writing down why something is important actually helps
- I’m also bad at this
- Writing down what you’ve done in terms that are meaningful to you (or your boss or a loved one) helps build a sense of achievement (which I sorely need) and stimulates useful thinking about the future
- If you don’t get some kind of distance / perspective, you are going to be very productive at the wrong thing. You’ll also burn out.
- You are not a machine
- Go for a walk
- Unplug from computer, phone, keyboard and just take pen & paper
- Talk to someone!
That’s enough for a first pass. I think there’s probably two or three talks in that.