Productivity Reboot

From the 2008 Archives Productivity #HABITS 10 Comments

Productivity Reboot
Over the past few months I’ve been playing hooky from personal productivity, for no other reason than I didn’t feel like doing it. On the surface I figured that with my current work project, I actually didn’t need to manage multiple tasks because it was a single all-consuming focus. I also suspended my blogging, using the extra time to participate more in local events.

As the weeks have gone by, however, I’ve felt increasingly uneasy. I’m not doing more to advance my own dreams and desires, and this has long-term disadvantages. More telling is my new awareness of that there is something missing from my life. Call it faith, mission, or love; I don’t know exactly what it is, but I can taste it in the back of my mouth. Friday’s post about love and the gut was my latest attempt to articulate it. As much as I hate to admit it, I am pretty bummed out about this. This makes me feel weak, lacking in self-sufficiency and independence, but I also know that people can’t live without human connections and intimacy. There isn’t anything I can immediately do about that, but I can at least acknowledge and accept it. Grumble.

I’ve said before that “personal productivity” is a state of mind; when we feel productive, we are productive. A lot of my productivity-related tools and insights were designed to help create that feeling by providing feedback over time. I also believe that real, useful artifacts should be created as part of the process, because this gives you tangible proof that you actually are being productive. My summer of free-wheeling workplay has left me feeling empty and unsettled because I violated these very rules, so, it’s time to get back to work. I am rebooting my productivity habits this month. Also, I am admitting that I don’t know where I am going, and it’s time to stop being reactive. It’s time for me to get serious about dreaming with purpose.

Identifying the unease

I am basically feeling lost and uninspired despite having dozens of potential opportunities and projects I could pursue. I also am not feeling that my day-to-day project work is as efficient as it could be, because I spend a lot of time “getting back into the groove”. I attribute this to a lack of effective continuity and context management. And underlying it all is a sense that I am off-center, due to my house being a mess, friends leaving, and the resulting realization that I have to rebuild my sense of well-being by myself. It’s a daunting, depressing mountain of tasks.

I’m going to follow some mantras I wrote down in 2005 that were important. I’ve amended them slightly for 2008:

  • Focus on doing one thing at a time and do it
  • Start anywhere
  • Take small steps
  • Maintain momentum
  • Talk it out
  • Just ask

My first step is to define what’s bothering me. By putting a shape to my discontent, I’ll be able to face it with an appropriate mental stance. It is tempting to make a comprehensive battle plan, as I like doing that kind of thing. However, this time I’m going to take this one day at a time. Otherwise, I will make my discontent appear disproportionately large to its actual challenge. You don’t attack something like this all at once, after all. It makes more sense to divide and conquer.

The shape of discontent

My favorite “let’s start thinking” tool is a portable whiteboard. I have two 8.5×14 inch whiteboards that I can scribble on as I think. There’s something about the ease of erasing that Iike, and the fluid feel of the markers seems to help the words come out. When I need to keep a hardcopy, I just take a digital photo or use my scanner.

Anyway, it just took a few seconds to outline what was topmost on my mind: feeling more centered. When I am feeling off-balance, my energy is all messed up and I can’t focus on anything. I need to get my footing again so I can think. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • I have no sense of “sanctuary in the home”, because of the clutter and disorganization.
  • I have no controlled planning space for maintaining continuity and momentum from day to day, which makes context switches expensive.
  • I am without faith in anything, and I lack a sense of mission. I’m depressed about this.
  • The amount of work and effort that fixing the above will take is unpredictably large, and therefore demotivating.

As I said, I’m aware that there are lot of things I could do. I have no lack for ideas. None of them, however, fill the void in my creative soul. Nothing I can think of seems like it will be lasting. For example, while I could be making very cool software applications, designing new forms, meeting new people, and through these activities I can be happy in the moment. However, I know the happiness will be fleeting without a larger mission, and I’ll need another hit. I don’t know where it is all going, and I wish I knew. This is what is bothering me, trying to know the unknowable.

So how do I address this?

I suspect I need to rediscover and/or realign my sense of values, and find enough energy and motivation to keep moving until I get out of the doldrums. I know from experience that when I’m feeling low, it’s just temporary so long as I keep making things. One of my basic beliefs is that making things show them to people creates new synergies and possibilities. However, when you’ve been surfing life like this for so long, you start to wonder if you are just deluding yourself because you’ve done it so many times before. Where does it go? It hasn’t gone anywhere yet.

Making the space to think

Rather than try to solve this conundrum all at once, I’m going to work on creating sanctuary at home. That will give me the space to think and reflect.

First, I just spent a few hours reorganizing my workspace so there are ONLY work-related things within my line of sight. I am making sure I have a place to store my essential planning notebooks right next to my desk, so I get in the habit of using them consistently. I am establishing a place to keep my laptop and camera bags, so I don’t have to hunt around for them. I’m going to buy one of those cheap white room-dividing screens from Christmas Tree Shops or Target to make my office area feel smaller and less cluttered. Ironically, I appear to be creating my own home cubicle to help contain all my work in a small area. I guess this reflects my desire to hole-up for a while and marshal my forces.

Next, I want to make is a meditation area. My living room and bedrooms are very cluttered, and the number of distractions (TV, books) makes these areas unsuitable for quiet reflection. I think I just need a corner of a room somewhere that is absolutely pristine and quiet, devoid of stuff of any kind, with a comfortable chair to reflect. I’m making an adult version of standing in the corner to reflect upon my years of non-productivity. Enlightenment, perhaps, will follow.

Creating momentum again

I’ve not been doing my morning coffee/gym routine for since June, and it’s time to get back to it. The critical part of the routine was taking the 15 minutes to ease into the day, and scripting out the major tasks for the day gives me focus. When I do this early in the morning, I have the time to get things done. For a while I was coding late at night, but because of my expanded social commitments the evening has become unavailable. I don’t want to give these up, because it is through making human connections that I believe I will find my sense of mission again.

I am a little concerned that I will not be able to maintain the momentum over time, as I am drawing on reserve energy, so I am calling on some personal beliefs to help keep me in (or rather, self-guilt myself into) the right state of mind:

  • I have to keep the faith that there is a mission for me to find. I just need to keep moving.
  • To believe that there isn’t a mission is to admit defeat, and that it not the way I want my story to end.

So that’s where I am at the moment. More news as events warrant!