Category Archives: Productivity
Zen Habits has a very good list of things that will help you simplify your work day.
Most of these I’ve seen before, but here’s a new one (which is sort of similar to other things I’ve seen, but different enough I thought it was worth quoting):
# Practice a focus ritual. Every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. This only takes a minute or two. You might start it by closing down your browser and maybe other open applications, and maybe even take a walk for a couple of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back online, work on that important task for as long as you can. Repeat this refocus ritual throughout the day, to bring yourself back. It’s also nice to take some nice deep breaths to focus yourself back on the present.
I’ve been using RescueTime for a while now, and while it hasn’t really improved my productivity, that’s mostly because I’m actually really productive already. And I can prove it thanks to RescueTime.
RescueTime is an software application you install on your computer that tracks the active application and logs that information so you can view it in their web app. You then rate the applications on how productive you are when using them. For example, when I’m using my IDE, I’m clearly being productive. Same when I’m using putty. Not so much when I’m using iTunes.
RescueTime gives you nice little graphs (one of which you can see above) on a daily and weekly basis, and you can also view your productivity by category. They also let you compare to the average of everyone who uses RescueTime and give you a rank based on your percentile.
When I first installed it, I was kind of obsessed with checking and categorizing and scoring everything and trying to get my productivity score as high as possible. When I get busy, I can drop to just checking weekly when it sends me a report via email, and I don’t even really notice it running in the background. When I’m not as overwhelmed, it’s a fun little game to play, and a small little reminder in the system tray to check what application you’re using and how that’s going to affect your productivity score. It’s also a good way to effortlessly track and log your productivity/application usage, which is especially good for people like me who love tracking productivity/output but either spend too much time time tracking stuff in spreadsheets, or go to the other extreme and just give up on tracking completely.
During the live Mindsweeping event on Twitter (@GTDSpecialEvent) I was basically writing down all my “mindsweep material” in a plain text document because when I put Next Actions into Remember The Milk, I like to tag them, put them in a context list, and prioritize them right away.*
Of course, after reviewing the items in that text document, I realized that most of them were either Next Actions or Projects that I needed to then copy and paste into RTM.
So, I kind of “redid” the Mindsweep by putting everything into the Inbox list in RTM and didn’t really eliminate a lot of the things that I’d swept out of my mind because, as I said, they had already sprung from my forehead in the form of Next Actions and Projects.
After filling up my RTM Inbox in this way, I was able to essentially conduct the Mindsweep using RTM and eliminated the step of putting the contents of the sweep somewhere else in the mean time. In the future, this will save me the step of transferring items from the “Mindsweep Dustbin” to RTM, and allow me to Organize those items at my leisure. I think that’s an important part of the Mindsweep because it means that I can sweep away everything so that my mind can detach from those items and focus on things I should be doing, while at the same time, I don’t have to spend the time organizing them unless I want to do it at that time (and if I have the time to do it). As Kelly Forrister tweeted during the Mindsweep:
I don’t think I’ve ever looked back after a GTD mindsweep and said, “Damn, I wish I didn’t do that.” It’s always valuable to me.
When I did the first Mindsweep into the text file, I almost did say “Damn, I wish I didn’t do that” because I realized I’d have to copy and paste a whole bunch of stuff that should really have already been in RTM. Now that I have gone back through and realized how easy it is to let RTM be unstructured, I can do sweep my mind more frequently without worrying that it’s going to hurt my productivity (I don’t ever consider Organizing to be unproductive because it always makes me feel good to clarify things).
To finish things off, here is a post from Kelly Forrister about clearing your mind with a Mindsweep.
* This may sound like I’m trying to capture, process, and organize all in one step. Not the case, I say. If it’s going to one of my RTM lists, then it’s already essentially been captured and processed because it has to have passed through one of my inboxen, and I’ve already decided on a Next Action or I wouldn’t be putting it on the list. So, arriving at the point where it’s been captured and I’ve got a Next Action ready means that it is time for organization. Of course, the whole point of this post is that I want to start using RTM as a capture tool in addition to an organization and review tool.
There a few key settings in order to be able to record notes to yourself and have Google Voice transcribe them for you. You can get those from that Lifehacker link, but there’s an addition note I want to make now that I’ve actually tried this.
It works, but only sort of, and you have to speak really slowly and clearly. It’s hard and actually kind of takes some practice, because the first couple times I did it, I started off slow, and Google did well with the transcription, but then I focused more on what I wanted to say and not how I was saying it and the end of the transcriptions came out like a monkey was at the keyboard.
Nevertheless, you can usually get the gist of what you wanted to make a note of, and it’s usually easier to speed-dial your GV account than it is to try to pound out a text message (or even a “note” on your smartphone). It’s also more useful than a voice note (again, if your smartphone allows for that), because you get at least some of it transcribed correctly for you, and automatically emailed to you (instead of having to send it to yourself after recording and then transcribe it from there).
So, go ahead, all tens of you readers, give it a try (if you have Google Voice) and leave a comment with your experience, and if you don’t have GV, let me know if you use something else to record and/or transcribe notes to yourself on the go.
Near the end of this podcast on Organizing, Robert (David Allen’s tech guy) makes the point, basically, that you are the boss of your future self. By “boss” he means, in the traditional 9-5 working for the man way.
Why is that important (as a concept)?
Well, would you rather have your boss just dump a whole bunch of papers on your desk, and say “do these”, or would you prefer a boss who only hands you papers when you need them, or when you don’t have anything else that you’re working (or at least, not anything that’s a higher priority)?
Would you rather have a boss who says “Here’s an entire project, get it done” or a boss who says “Here’s the first task of a project that I need you to get done. Come back to me when you are finished with this small, completable task, and I’ll tell you what to do next”?
In both cases, I’m hoping you opted for the latter. Making that decision one of the essential parts of GTD. By defining specific Next Actions and creating appropriate calendar reminders, you are essentially “managing” your future self in a way that is a Best Practices way of managing someone who works for you.
Rhyme time, baby.
The subject line is in regard to a fault of mine when it comes to personal commitments (like cutting my hair, mowing the lawn, going to the grocery store).
I tend to overestimate the amount of time and effort that are required to do simple activities like those mentioned above, and as a result, I tend to put off doing them.
For example, cutting my hair (I do it myself) takes about 40 minutes including a shower to wash all the excess hair off. I just did it myself recently and it looks a lot better than when I let it grow out and get shaggy. It’s always taken me 40 minutes to do it. Even when I first started more than 10 years ago. And I only do it every 6-8 weeks, so it’s not like it’s a huge time sink, but I often tend to do it closer to 8 weeks when it should be done after 6 just because I “don’t want to take the time” to do it.
This especially applies in the summer time because there are not a lot of higher ROI activities that I can do to make myself feel better than cutting my hair, and still I don’t do it because, in my mind, it’s a chore that takes a lot of time and energy.
Takeaway: Be realistic about the length of time it takes to do tasks that you do on a regular basis. I’m even thinking about making a spreadsheet just so I can stop fooling myself by storing the numbers in my mind and manipulating them “telephone” style whenever it comes time to do them.
Okay, this is actually really easy, but is great for people like me who are really slow readers… on paper.
I’m a very fast reader under the right circumstances… So, what are the circumstances that allowed me to read a 320 page book in 250 minutes? (I realize that this 1.28 pages per minute probably doesn’t seem like it’s all that fast, but it’s probably twice my normal reading rate*)
- 2x Speed
- Forehand Knowledge
Yes, at first this seems like a cheap tactic – like exploiting a glitch in a video game. But, it is a cheap tactic that just saved me 4 hours and 10 minutes – more than enough time to write this blog post, and work on a fantasy basketball draft guide. And, I further believe that examining each of these factors will actually lead to further insights.
Yes, having someone read to me is much faster than reading myself. But the point I want to make here is that while I’ve been waiting for a hard copy of 4-Hour Work Week from the Chicago Public Library for nigh on a month, I was able to place the downloadable audio version on hold and get it onto my iPhone in less than a week. Bigger fish. Smaller pond.
2. 2x Speed
This is something that you get for free when you have an audio book on your iPhone (or iPod Touch, I would assume). Something that’s important to note, however, is that not all audio books are created equal. For example, the ones I download from ChiPubLib have a “type” of Audiobook, so the iPhone knows to treat them as such and will automatically remember my place as well as being able to play at 2x speed. Ones that are imported from Audio CDs (also available at your library), however, usually don’t get classified as audio books by default, so you have to do that yourself. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy, and definitely worth the few minutes it takes.
Playing the book twice as fast as normal would be nothing without focusing on listening and paying attention. As luck would have it, I listened to 4-Hour Work Week on a Sunday while my wife took a nap, then while I walked to the store to get groceries and do some other unplanned shopping that I’d planned to do (that’s a concept for a whole different post), and then for a bit while I just sat in my office chair. A key to note is that while I was doing my unplanned shopping, I paused the audio book because, while my unplanned shopping was fairly mindless, it did still require some of my attention, and as such I knew that I would miss parts of the book and have to go back to re-listen. (I know this from the experience of having tried to listen to other audio books while doing menial tasks)
4. Forehand Knowledge
I haven’t done enough split testing to know if this is a definite prerequisite for my plan to work, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. But what do I mean by Forehand Knowledge? I mean, you have some idea of what the book is about, and perhaps even know some of the content from other sources already. The 4-Hour Work Week was great for this because I’ve read books like Getting Things Done, Talent is Overrated, Making a Good Brain Great, and I Will Teach You To Be Rich, all of which contain pieces that are also present in The 4-Hour Work Week. This allowed me to avoid frying my brain with 4 hours of intense focus, lightening the load somewhat by lowering the amount of concentration required to absorb the information.
* Just to make myself feel better: I do have excellent reading comprehension. I always did really well on the SAT and GMAT reading comp. sections. I probably should have learned to read faster at that point to save myself more time so I could have done better on the other sections, but I didn’t want to sacrifice one of my stronger areas for what might or might not have actually helped me in other areas.
I call it the Jack Shephard method, i.e., you either keep it really short, or don’t cut it at all.
Either method will save you both time and money. I usually go with short in the summer and let it grow more in the winter. I had a friend in high school who would shave his head for the city swimming finals in the winter and then let it grow until the next year’s finals. Yeah, he was in high school so he could get away with looking like a ragamuffin for 4-5 months, and he had a good skull for the totally bald look. But, if you can pull it off, think of how much extra time you’ll have if you only cut your hair once a year!