2014 Resolutions Review 06: Unusually Productive!

I’m reviewing my year’s goals once again, as I do every month as part of Groundhog Day Resolutions. This month has been a DOOZY, packed with new processes and data-driven insights, which has culminated in a feeling of…balance? It’s probably too good to be true, but something seems to be working.

Last Month’s Goal Setting

Let’s take a step back to the last review, when I was coming off the realization that I wasn’t spending time on the difficult work, which I defined as work requiring a “deep dive” mentality. I came to believe that I was being sabotaged by my own resentment toward the piles and piles of project work that had accrued over the years. Too weary to come up with a plan, I closed off the review by listing four areas that I knew I should work on, though I wasn’t sure where the energy was going to come from. Those four areas were:

  • Software Development – Learn to work in 1 hour chunks, if possible.
  • Work on my website – continue to push it along
  • Work on a new magazine project – This is something I’m doing in the background
  • Add a new product / SKU, or replenish the existing Shipwire warehouse supply that’s stored in Pennsylvania.

What Went Down

For the first week, I accomplished relatively little work. I spent quite a bit of time playing the PC game WildStar, which I found an interesting way to explore my role in a virtual society, which put me in the mood to be more social with bystanders. My spirits were lifted, and three insights followed after that:

  • A chance suggestion by my cousin triggered the thought that perhaps devoting an entire week to a single project, as mad as that seemed, might produce an increase in productive work. Thus was born the notion of themed work weeks, an experiment designed to test whether juggling just three projects a day was still too much. In my 21-day conclusion, I found that this seemed to be the case because my projects are quite different from each other, and the mental whiplash was driving me to distraction, which meant I never got to do the “deep dive”, which created resentment because the cycle never seemed to end.

  • As I started to get comfortable with the idea of single-focus work weeks, I soon noticed that my major problem is, as I have known for a long time, not starting due to the resentment I felt toward a project queue that never emptied. When I’m facing that many projects, starting ANY of them feels like a waste of energy because nothing ever will be done. Intellectually I realize, of course, that this is not a great mindset to have for someone who wants to do cool stuff. I chanced upon an article linking impulsivity and procrastination, which after much consideration that my non-starter nature might be genetic, I was oddly liberated: If I have a busted starter circuit, there’s no sense in fixing it. It’s much more practical to find a workaround and not carry it as emotional baggage. Done!

  • With a simplified weekly focus and the new-found abilities to talk with people and start my work, I got to thinking about what I really wanted to do. I had been talking with several friends about their business activities, and a long-time pattern I noticed was my continuing need to understand the meaning behind people’s desires. Without this, I find it very difficult to work, and it’s the major reason that I no longer offer design services very often. At the same time, this desire to collect meaning is kind of a strength, the core of my so-called “investigative design” process. It struck me that practically everything I do is driven by this desire to know the meaning behind every interaction, and it seemed like this may be a way I can FINALLY explain to people what I do in a manner that isn’t overly distant but still smart.

What ties all these insights together? It’s the acceptance my natural proclivities not as shortcomings, but as neutral properties. By accepting them, and by extension accepting myself, I am able to empower myself to action.

What Got Done

I am happy and somewhat mystified to report that for the first time I can remember, I feel like I’ve made meaningful progress on everything I’ve set my mind to. It appears that giving myself the time to settle into a complex project does result in improved focus without the pressure. I was able to do the “deep dive” and get into the nuts and bolts of each project, which helped me work more effectively. A nice side effect of having just one major project per week is that non-work tasks feel more like “breaks” than “extra work”. Before, I tried to finish projects quickly so I could produce the next key deliverable. Non-work chores and commitments were stuffed in whatever time I could find between my major project work for the day, and this made me feel like crap ALL THE TIME. I didn’t even know that was the case until the past few weeks.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let me draw focus back onto the weeks themselves. There were three major projects, each of which took a week (or two):

  • Blogging (Week 1 and 4)
  • Client (Week 2)
  • Inquirium (Week 3)

Week 1 was a warm-up week, since I know that novelty tends make any behavioral experiment more interesting the couple of runs through. Still, I got quite a few processes re-established or streamlined. For example, I’m writing in Scrivener again (in fact, I’m writing this blog post in it), which helps keep everything I’m thinking about in one place that’s easy to pull notes from. On the technical side, I wrote down my web development processes and fixed a bunch of problems.

Weeks 2 and 3 were all about client work, which made use of these new processes. When interruptions did occur, I was able to return to what I was working on without a lot of trouble. If I wasn’t actualy sleepy, that is. It’s nice to look back at a week that produced tangible results over simpler metrics that merely count “time accrued”. I was getting stuff done, tangibly and demonstrably so! That made the following tasks feel like BONUS achievements:

  • Set-up and recorded video “Scary UX Story” for my friend Kelley’s upcoming presentation at “That Conference”. I now have the ability to record video podcasts, which I’m thinking would be nice to mix-it-up on the blog.

  • Recorded podcasts and had “business summit dinners” with my friends. It’s nice to cook for people again.

  • Finally got my car looked at, cleaned up the deck, dumped a bunch of recyclables and took stuff to Goodwill.

  • Finished watching Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and read some graphic novels, notably Neil Gaiman’s Death Deluxe Collection and Becky Cloonan’s By Chance or Providence, which got me thinking about stories, writing, and illustration.

  • Established a new personal goal to learn about songs and singing as a new experimental project focus. There’s a “piano karaoke” every month conducted by my friend Elise, so I have a place to learn.

The big big accomplishment, of course, is the launch of the new website. I haven’t yet documented everything that’s gone into it, but it is a MAJOR accomplishment. And it’s entirely due, I think, to the themed work week approach. I am onto something here, I think!

Goals for Next Month

Launching the new web site was a major undertaking, and with another work week coming up (another Inquirium one), I’m finding it difficult to think that far ahead. But there are a few specific tasks that come to mind:

  1. New products for the store!
  2. Updated digital products for the school year!
  3. More pictures for the website!

That’s about it for now. In summary, I am feeling pretty good at having found a new way to approach my work by balancing a sense of urgency with having enough uninterrupted time to do the hard work.

Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2014

Here are other posts about Groundhog Day Resolutions for the 2014 season.

  • The original post about Groundhog Day Resolutions
  • 02/02 Kickoff - Setting Goals!
  • 03/03 Review - So Far, So Good!
  • 04/04 Review - Setting Realistic Expectations
  • 05/05 Review - ADD and Incremental Progress
  • 06/06 Review - Trudging through the Blahs
  • 07/07 Review - Limited Progress
  • 08/08 Review - Unusually Productive
  • 09/09 Review - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
  • 10/10 Review - Shifting Goals
  • 11/11 Review - Chugging Away
  • 12/12 Review - End of Year