Instructions to myself on productivity

After my thoughts on Saturday, I gathered the ideas my mind had been quietly collecting about what my productivity problems were and what I thought I could do about them. I wrote them in my offline journal and present them to you here, revised a little for public presentation:

Okay, so I need to get more focused.

So how do I do it?

  1. Unsubscribe from all my RSS feeds except my friends, podcasts, and webcomics. Reading all those little things takes a lot of time that I could be spending working. Everything that is spent on one thing is time taken from something else! When I subscribe to feeds, my purpose is to keep up with what’s going on in those subject areas. The purpose of that is mostly to have things to talk about with people. I think the real purpose ends up being simply to fill my mind with more and more interesting things.

    Those are decent goals, but they’re really unnecessary. If I need to find out about a subject, I can just research it. I don’t need to keep up with it all the time through a regularly updating source. And the benefits aren’t worth the cost of not getting projects done that I care about more.

    So unsubscribing from everything feels somewhat uncomfortable, like I’m giving up too much, but I was living just fine without them before I subscribed.

  2. Multitask less. I think that when I’m doing more than one thing at once, it increases the time it takes to do the main task by three. This is not good. I need to toughen up my mind so that I can endure the boredom and difficulty of work. I need to turn off IM, close Google, and work. I need to say no to my whims and write them down to return to them later.

  3. Give myself permission to do half a task. Otherwise, I’ll wait till an unknown time in the future when I have enough time to do the whole task. So think of my work as happening in 5 or 15 minute chunks when I feel busy. This has been working well for blogging this week. Amazingly well.

  4. Do my work in large chunks when possible. I get bogged down looking at how much farther I have to go on a task, but I sometimes can make a lot of progress in a short amount of time. I need to observe how this happens. It happened tonight [Saturday] with An Ordinary Day with Jesus. I finished the last three lessons, one of which was rather long, plus some of the back matter. Maybe it was because it was the final stretch, or it might have been the time of day (specifically, night—sorry, people who think morning is the only time of day God declared good, night is just the best time for my mind; deal with it).

  5. Avoid delays. I often crave large chunks of time for my projects. This would happen if I would leave work on time, get home quickly, and get to work right when I finish dinner, or perhaps work during dinner. I should do this rather than having to work late because my schedule got thrown off earlier in the day, dawdling on the computer after work, doing errands after work that I could put off till the weekend, and leaping onto IM and the web after dinner. Everything I say yes to is a no to something else! Similarly, a no to what is immediate may be a yes to what is more important.

  6. Write before reading. My first impulse is usually to research, but often (a) I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, and sharpening my question would focus my research; or (b) I already know what I’m trying to find out, but I needlessly feel dependent on other people’s input or I feel too lazy to write. Before I wrote this I began looking for information on productivity, but I realized that I already had a lot of ideas in my mind for what my problems were and what I needed to do differently.

  7. Plan before implementing. This is especially important in programming, and I am already trying to put it into practice there. I still need more practice. Planning is also important for other tasks, though I tend to discount it for research. At some point I want to learn (or create first!) tools for planning.

  8. While researching or writing, eliminate excess. I would like to be able to work on autopilot, but really my mind has to always be working while I’m reading or writing. In order to take effective notes, for example, I have to know exactly what kind of information I’m looking for and actively ignore everything else, as in, acknowledge it and pass it over on purpose. And if the author is too wordy, I have to rewrite his points so my notes don’t sprawl and I don’t quote the whole work. I just have to make sure my rewriting is reworded enough so that it isn’t a quote, or I have to make it clear that it’s almost a quote so I can further rewrite it later. I need to come up with my semi-mechanical paraphrasing method.

    The same may go for writing. I tend to write somewhat stream of consciousness, but I think there’s something to be said for boiling my thoughts down to their unnuanced essence and just recording that for time’s sake. I’m not sure though. I might reserve that technique for only certain occasions, since I think recording the whole thought process and all the nuances is so valuable. What brought this paragraph on was mostly that I was thinking today about how reading takes so long because authors are often so wordy when it really isn’t necessary.

  9. Don’t research aimlessly. This is sort of the flip side of 6 and a corollary to 7, 8, and maybe 5. I research a topic looking for more information that will be useful. But I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, and in my present-immersed mind, anything that seems interesting feels important, so my searching could go on forever. I need ways to limit this, and maybe simply not searching is the best way to start. But also I need to cultivate the habit and skill of evaluating my searches as I go. I need to be present to what I’m doing and not simply do it.

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