Resolution Review #3: Releasing Expectations for Better Productivity?

"2015 Groundhog Day Resolutions" My third Groundhog Day Resolutions report for 2015 is that I’ve been awfully unproductive. In fact, I think I’m in a productivity slump that is characterized not by the ability to focus, but by a lack of DESIRE to focus. It’s been quite puzzling and annoying, but I have a few new insights that might pay off this time. Such is the nature of doing something new: you gotta keep trying different approaches until something clicks. The short version is that I’m going to try something I’m calling emergent productivity, which might be what I’ve been doing all along with my creative work. Read the full report for the gruesome details.

A Sluggish Month

My work hiatus comes to a close today, with a new project starting up that will last through the end of the summer. I have tried to use my downtime to work on “responsible” projects related to my goals, but damn has it been difficult.

My only memory of the past month has been that I have been a slug. Looking through my email, blog, Twitter feed, and status updates, I can reconstruct what I got done. You can skip the two summaries and get right to the assessment if you like.

SUMMARY: RESPONSIBLE STUFF

  • Worked for about two days on my video game project, stalling on implementing the “artificial intelligence” part of the game engine. After playing around with an existing library, I decided it didn’t fit in with my coding style, and decided to write my own implementation. I’m finding that working at this level on a game by myself isn’t particularly fun.
  • Followed up with my primary care physician, and went to the eye doctor. I’ve got to lose a lot of weight / drop my blood pressure, whichever comes first. At least I am not immediately dying, and I’ll soon have contact lenses again. Gonna give “monovision” a try, where one eye is for close reading and the other is for distance viewing.
  • I increased blogging frequency, documenting projects like Microtasks and trying some new blogging approaches. I also asked for feedback on the blog, soliciting suggestions for improvement, which is a big deal for me as I really find asking for help hard. I moved the RSS feeds from long-broken Feedburner to the new hotness that is FeedPress.
  • I Looked through paper samples from my commercial printer, got thinking about fulfilling from home, but otherwise stalled on notebook-related matters other than re-ordering some stickypads.
  • Worked with new accountant to get my books set up, and paid my taxes.

SUMMARY: FUN STUFF

Random Things

  • I got a new camera and a cute new 24mm pancake lens. With that comes a lot of fiddling around with gear, buying new camera straps, and so one. I’m very happy with the new camera, and have been shooting more pictures.
  • I cooked some nice meals for some friends, introducing Japanese-style curry and Chinese red-cooked pork shank to them. I bought some raw Szechuan Peppercorns and made salt-pepper spice in a pan.
  • Got re-acquainted with the Apple II community on Facebook, which got me digging out some old computers.
  • I got some interesting packages and gear: a temperature-controlled soldiering iron and some of those “gift crates” to evaluate their packaging approaches.
  • I “Fixed” my doorbell by labeling it “please knock”.
  • I recorded some podcasts with Sid and answered some interview questions with a couple of websites.
  • I attended my first fancy arts award dinner, experiencing a new aspect of charitable arts giving.
  • I built a virtual fairgrounds in Wildstar, an online game with an extensive creative house-building sandbox.
  • I started picking out floor samples for my “living room cafe” project.
  • I got rid of shelves and other junk, and started to clean up the basement.

The Assessment

While it looks like I got stuff done, I know there were many long days where I just didn’t do anything goal-oriented. I’ve been restless. My sleeping schedule was completely messed up and unpredictable. Interestingly these feelings arose when I was focusing on forcing myself to do the work. It tended to go away when I did something that I wasn’t really “supposed” to do. I would say that my procrastinatory projects were performed with a pretty decent level of engagement and quality; even the food failures were instructive. That said, there’s one unavoidable truth: I haven’t made progress on my tangible goals, which makes me question how serious I am about them.

I have theorized that since no one is MAKING me do the work, I probably need to find some external source of motivation. It’s disappointing that I apparently lack the will to do my own projects, but rather than think of this as an unfixable character flaw I’m going to float a new hypothesis: I’m just not as good at being a creative person as I thought. Ideation is no problem, but I lack creative methodology.

As I write that, though, something rings false. I actually have a lot of creative methodology, but my attitude toward selecting what to do without expectation sucks. The very moment I think about expectations, I am distracted and lost. I can’t afford to worry about such irrelevancies as speed and expectation when I am doing something new. Creating a video game from scratch is, despite my accumulated years of knowledge about the subject, is actually new; it’s the first game I’m making all by myself. Likewise, creating a paper business from scratch is also new to me, even though I’ve figured out a lot of the creative and production aspects.

So there’s two things to do.

  1. I printed out my goals and stuck them to the wall, and hopefully that will help anchor my resolve.
  2. I’m going to go with an emergent approach to productivity.

You know, “emergent” is just another way of “seeing what happens”, which is something that I like to do. Now that I think about it, it’s not the “doing” of projects that I like as much as the “seeing what happens” part. I find doing projects boring, the necessary reduction of a cool idea to practice. I’ve been focusing on the “forcing myself to do projects” part, firmly believing that an idea is ultimately worth nothing if it isn’t acted on and brought to life. I’m not content to let someone else do the work either, because I’m also very particular about how an idea is expressed. And yet, it’s this work that I find so tedious.

So instead of focusing on doing the work, is there a way to use the emergent aspects of productivity to drive me forward? I think I might be on to something.

The Month Ahead

Yes, the AI project is still active, but now I get to do it for money instead of love this month. I’d also like to make progress on the Living Room Cafe (I have the on-site estimate scheduled for mid-May) and make progress on my notebook project.

Also, I shall try to mindfully practice this “break from time-based thinking” in the context of whatever “emergent productivity” might be. I sense strongly that it’s an approach that I’ve always ultimately followed when I’m being productive. The last time I felt it was when I was building that virtual fairgrounds, which took days. Every item placed spawned a creative decision or assessment, repeated thousands of times. It was actually similar to the feeling when I’m in the groove writing code.

I just remembered something called structured procrastination that I read about a few years ago; check out these words from philosopher John Perry (emphasis mine):

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this goes contrary to the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be by definition the most important, and the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is a way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being.

Holy crap! That’s me! We’ll have to see what this and other insights bring in the month ahead.