Archive for the 'Productivity' Category

Problems with Someday/Maybe Lists in GTD – And How To Fix Them

Andre has a compelling post up about Someday/Maybe lists and in my opinion gets at the heart of a lot of the unconscious resistance to creating, reviewing, or updating the S/M during your weekly review.

My own bugaboo?  My list fills up with unresearched projects (#7).  Yes, I tend to use S/M as a place to put items I don’t want to make a decision about.  More accurately, I use it as a place to put things I don’t even want to think about in the first place.

What’s your experience with Someday/Maybe?  Could you implement any of Andre’s fixes?

Observe Your Habits

Habits are funny creatures.  Often times you don’t even know you have them until something happens to give you a little perspective.

Twice in the last week I’ve parked, and rather than jumping out as I normally do, I have actually stayed in the car for a few minutes – because I was so engrossed in an NPR report that I was listening to at the time.  I can’t remember the last time I actually stayed in a parked car for any length of time whatsoever.

This is of course a trivial example of a habit that I became aware of.  But speak to any person who found out they had cancer, or adopted a child, or went through a divorce, and you can quickly see that there are times when we have no choice but to abruptly and consciously assess our habits – and (perhaps) change them.

What do I take away from this?  Given the right circumstances, habits can change.  Maybe you have some bad habits – let’s call them suboptimal instead – and you might have been stuck in that rut forever.  You can change.  It just may take a good bit of observation and awareness first.

End with a Jedi prescription: Be mindful!

Work Rhythms

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my “ideal day” in terms of the ebb and flow of work. I’m at a new contract location which has required me to change my rhythms, and the initial lack of “flow” was definitely noticeable.

My ideal workday would go something like this:

6:00 AM – 6:30 AM Check e-mail, put out fires, RSS
6:30 – 7:00 Get ready for work
7:30 – 9:30 First burst of programming
9:30 – 10:00 Coffee / diversion away from keyboard
10:00 – 12:00 Second burst of programming
12:00 – 2:00 Lunch, relax, errands
2:00 – 4:30 Third burst of programming
4:30 – 8:00 Home, personal and family time
8:00 – 9:30 Catch up on e-mail, light R&D, bugfix

Total work time: 8.5 hours
Total programming time: 6.5 hours

The longest heads-down session in this scenario is 2.5 hours, which is about as long as I can concentrate in one sitting. I find the frequent changes pleasant and refreshing.

How about you? What’s your ideal work day?

Creatures of Habit

If any of my close family or friends were to point out the one person they know who is most comfortable in their rut, it would be me. I am the type of person that clings to routine. Or maybe I should say clung (past tense), as I’m starting to become a believer in that old phrase “variety is the spice of life”.

Let me give you a little background. In fourth grade, I dropped out of the local gifted program. In junior high school, I dropped the chance to go to the Early Entrance Program at the UW. I went to the University of Washington when I could have gone to Stanford. I avoided taking advantage of a junior year study abroad opportunity in Jerusalem. I drank the same goddamned iced-grande-nonfat-nowhip-mocha for like 10 years. I stayed in a terrible, soul-sucking job for seven years.

Now? Well, past opportunities aside, I’m in a new phase of my career; working on a startup company; working on a patent; and have done things I never thought I would, such as attend a three-day conference full of strangers, or give a presentation in front of a large group of (mostly) strangers.

Admittedly, old habits die hard. A new article from the New York Times claims that you can never fully get rid of old habits – they are “worn into” the brain by repeated use, sort of like a trained neural network. But, good news: you can write new paths around them. And, for those of you (like me) clinging to habit because it’s the “safe, comfortable” path, you are actually avoiding some good things:

In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

There’s a quote that I read recently from William Wordsworth that I think applies:

Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd.

So I aim to continue to ask myself this question: what other habits – personal, professional, or other – do I un- or sub-consciously hold on to because I’m not fully reflecting on the alternatives? I’m guessing that there are a lot.

What habits do you hang onto? How do you move past them?

Getting Unstuck

Great post by Merlin Mann about getting unstuck. We all need this advice from time to time.

Short excerpt:

Per cringe item, think honestly about why you’re freaked out about it. Seriously. What’s the hang-up? (Fear of failure? Dreading bad news? Angry you’re already way overdue?

Read it all here.

The Key To High Performance

Talent? Nope. Experience? Nope. From human-performance expert Anders Ericsson, in TIME Magazine:

Ericsson’s primary finding is that rather than mere experience or even raw talent, it is dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion — repeatedly practicing the most difficult physical tasks for an athlete, repeatedly performing new and highly intricate computations for a mathematician — that leads to first-rate performance. And it should never get easier; if it does, you are coasting, not improving. Ericsson calls this exertion “deliberate practice,” by which he means the kind of practice we hate, the kind that leads to failure and hair-pulling and fist-pounding. You like the Tuesday New York Times crossword? You have to tackle the Saturday one to be really good.

I remember back in my golfing days that short-game expert Dave Pelz advocated practice sessions set up such that you were supposed to fail 50% of the time.  If you weren’t failing that much, you weren’t getting optimal feedback.

Nathan’s recent threads on entrepreneurship and failure strike a similar note.

How much are you failing lately?  Is it enough?

(h/t sarahatlee)

The Price of GTD Mastery Has Gone Up

I’ve gone to two of David Allen’s GTD Roadmap seminars in Seattle – once in 2006 and again last year. The first time I paid around $550 or so; the second time, since I was an alumnus, I got a 50% discount and only paid $275.

David’s returning to Seattle next week, but the price has gone up considerably:

We are offering an exclusive discount to our friends in Seattle, a 25% savings from the usual registration cost (regularly $995).

I’m not surprised the price has gone up, and as they used to say, the Roadmap is a bargain at twice the price. If you’re on the fence, you should definitely consider going (if they still have room). Very inspirational, yet very hands on and nuts-and-bolts.  If you’re new to GTD, attending the Roadmap will get your GTD efforts jump-started; if you’ve been doing it a while, it will help you understand the nuance and subtlety of the system.

Decision-making: Can people voluntarily limit their choices?

Following up on yesterday’s post “Making Difficult Product Development Choices”, I ran across this article in the New York Times that reviews experiments done by Dr. Dan Ariely. Dan is a professor of behavioral economics at MIT. He has found, unsurprisingly, that people can’t bear to limit their options.

The Times article talks about some funny experiments to get subjects to give up options and in return get actual cash, hard dollars — but it’s SOOO hard for them, even when they should be able to predict the output and thus get more money. You can play the (non-cash) simulation yourself here.

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities.

David Allen, the creator of GTD, has a favorite phrase: “Know what you’re NOT doing.” The idea is that the more conscious and intentional you are about not exploring every option for the use of your time, the less psychic stress you’ll feel. Makes sense, and it works!

Twitter Hash Tags

Want Twitter to index your #tagname hashes? Do you even know what this is? In Twitter, when you tweet

Come see the news about #xidey on my blog!

Hashtags will only index the “#xidey” tag and let you see what the buzz is at

You have to type:

follow @hashtags

In order for your hash tags to start getting indexed.

Duff Actions

I discovered a great term, coined by Terry Madeley in describing parts of his GTD system. A “duff action” is a Next Action in the GTD system that really isn’t actionable. Terry uses this example:

I’ve got into the habit of going out for a coffee, and sitting at one of the tables there scriblng all over my notes with any new actions I can think of, re-wording duff actions (“Investigate such-and-such”? — how exactly? what’s the next physical thing to do?) [...]

I like this term a lot, combining the feel of the words “lazy” and “daffy”. Nice job Terry! I’m going to steal this one.

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