Productivity Reboot

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!

10 Comments

  1. Michael Mueller 7 years ago

    David, I have very similar stages as your self, I find them to be very cyclic.  One thing that I have found that does help give me some purpose is to help other people.  I’m interested in the environment so I have started to do things to promote the cause.  Having something to do that I believe is truly worth while seems to give me a sense of purpose that I otherwise lack.

  2. Sany 7 years ago

    Hang in there David :)

    Good things come to those that wait….@ least I think that’s how it goes.

    I am also feeling overwhelmed atm but unlike you I can’t articulate it so well….the thoughts are jumping all over my head but I just can’t express my despair.

    I thrive on structure and have a passion for being organised & productive and when these are missing in my life I too feel the same way.

    My thoughts lately have been on the same path as yours. Coincidentally, I too was thinking of writing on my whiteboard & using my camera because I know I will soon run out of space. LOL

    Let’s realign & get over this :)

    xox

  3. Bruce Keener 7 years ago

    Good luck, David. You’ve described my situation pretty well, too. Indeed, I think you have described the situation of many people. Best wishes.

  4. Mark 7 years ago

    Hey Dave,

    Best of luck with all this. Some recent downtime with client work gave me the opportunity to focus significant effort on marketing Slim Kiwi. That was a personally rewarding mission, immensely educational, and has paid off for us with new reach, awareness of our brand, and new prospects knocking on our door.

    At the same time I moved my office from the Cummings Center in Beverly to a shared space downtown in Salem. I’ve made a list of office furniture I need to make this the right environment and recently hit Staples to get organized a bit.

    It all sounds parallel to what you’re tackling, and it’s been a great recharging process. Client work is ramping up again and being balanced out with exploring and committing new prospects.

    Widespread wisdom says that you need to always be marketing yourself, not just when business is slow, so that new opportunities are always poised to kick off. Be sure you’re carving out time to keep buzz around your brand up and be able to entertain new opportunities.

    Mark

  5. Peter 7 years ago

    David, once again you’ve inspired me to write my own little post. I swear, I’d write 50% less if you didn’t inspire me to say something.

    Feeling productive: http://peterflaschner.com/archives/528

  6. Cricket 7 years ago

    Sounds like where I’ve been for a bit, and your steps to get out are much like mine. Don’t wait for the perfect project (it doesn’t exist) just pick a good one and do it.

    As you said, a messy home will make you off-centre. Since you’ve stated you’re Christian, I’ll phrase it like this:

    God wants you to have a comfortable home, but is limited in His resources, so you need to help Him.

    I found http://www.flylady.net invaluable in keeping my home (and therefore work environment) comfortable.

    In her mailing list, she explores reasons why we avoid making our homes comfortable, and ways to establish better habits. It’s about baby steps, small chunks, starting where you are, and constant encouragement. It’s about finally loving yourself. Yes, her site is confusing, but she teaches that doing something good enough is better perfectionism keeping us from doing it at all. Yes, she sells products, but they’re a sideline.

    Start with the Beginner Baby Steps. Join and read bits of the email list, but don’t actually do the missions until you’re done the Baby Steps (unless they tell you to). The system is designed to be adaptable, but don’t change it unless you have a reason. You don’t hire an expert just to ignore her advice. There’s just something about 500,000 members blessing their homes that makes you want to do it too.

    Even if getting your home in order doesn’t solve all your problems, at least you won’t have a messy home getting in your way.

  7. Carl 7 years ago

    David,

    Really appreciate your site and sharing your path with all of us.  This is inspirational to all us designers and techs.  Keep up the great work.  There is so much passion and honor in articulating this, it benefits everyone.  It’s what life is all about.

    I use The Emergent Task Timer religiously.  Its the most effective and efficient tool I’ve found to track multiple simultaneous creative projects.

    Thanks again bro,
    Carl

  8. Jessica 7 years ago

    Dave,

    You have so many talents and your genius and warmth shines in all of your writing.

    I wonder if you’d be interested in finding a spiritual retreat to participate in?  I think there must be a reason that spiritually minded/hearted people “retreat” for various lengths of time.

  9. Dave Seah 7 years ago

    Michael: That is an excellent suggestion regarding helping other people. I think I have a hangup about that as well, so I’ll have to explore this idea further!

    Sany: Good luck with your realignment! I wonder if I thrive on structure…it has been a long time since I’ve had to follow a rigid structure.

    Mark: I’ll have to come by and see your new shared space. Sounds awesome! I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I guess what I’m doing now is a kind of internal brand realignment…there’s a story I want to be able to tell about myself, and there’s a core identity that I’m exploring. This is the internal branding work!

    Peter: That’s fantastic! I’m glad to have given back a bit of what you gave me when I first stumbled upon your blog so many years ago, before I got started myself. Rock on!

    Cricket: The FlyLady rocks, though I don’t follow her newsletter. Most of the time I actually am not that concerned about the way my house is overall, and I’m choosing a small subsection to start with. I just am carving out a small domain amongst the larger clutter for now. Incidentally, I am not Christian because I have not made an affirmation of faith. I am still questioning.

    Bruce, Carl: Thank you for the supporting statements…I’m glad you feel that way!

    Jessica: Thanks for your lovely affirming statement. I haven’t been to a spiritual retreat in ages, though I think I get the same thing from hanging out with my best friends and talking. It occurs to me that while I don’t seem to have a problem sharing what I’m going through, I find it difficult to open up to people to receive help. And to some extent, thinking about what Michael said above, I’m wary of helping people directly. I’m not sure why this is, but I definitely feel resistance. Maybe I think that the help I need has to be based on some kind of deeper understanding of me, which is a kind of arrogance on my part. And when it comes to helping other people, I tend to want them to want to help themselves first. That’s not very generous in spirit, is it. Hm.

  10. Pat 7 years ago

    What an insightful man you are, David. And you have a knack for communicating what you observe about yourself. I like how you identify the principles underlying what happens – you get to the root of the phenomenon, generating a re-usable lesson.

    As you grow your understanding of yourself, you are helping me to understand myself (and those around me) more deeply.

A message from Dave:

I really believe we all benefit when we share our own perspectives on common experiences. It would be great if you added your own anecdotes and comments, even if you don't necessarily agree with the premise of the post; that's just good conversation in my book. The house rules are "treat each other with kindness and respect" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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