Stumbling Toward Productivity

I’m rather sad to report that my post-SXSW attempts to get back to the early schedule have fallen flat. Or rather, I’ve fallen flat on my face. It’s classic purge-and-binge behavior: for two weeks, I could do it, but without the followup two weeks to hammer it in, I was perhaps doomed to bounce back.

However, the time hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to wake up early in the morning, and know what it can be like. The question is how badly I want it. That is, what are the benefits? And are my goals still in alignment with them?

After SXSW

I was in Austin for about a week, doing my best to capture my thoughts and experiences. I ended up with about 24 pages of blog posts, and 32 pages of notes which I am just now starting to look into in-depth. Inside those notes are the keys to something important to me; I know that there’s a path worth following in there somewhere.

I was looking forward to getting back on The Early Schedule once I got back, rarin’ to get going on all these new plans, and have instead found myself facing the same issues:

1. There is so much to do, I feel like I need to stay up

I think the cause of this is that I keep thinking I’m not as productive as I should be. And one reason for this is that I’m too willing to believe what people are “telling” me based on their impressions. An impression is not the same as side-by-side daily shared continuity. Since I work by myself, this is an important distinction to realize, and it’s me who has to be firm about what is moving me forward and what is not. So it’s up to me to feel good about that. I would say the same rule applies to the workplace: oftentimes, our assessment of a situation is done through sporadic sampling and chance observations; it’s extrapolating 100% of the reality from 1% of the observed behavior. It is time to break the cycle.

2. Unfortunately, there are only about 10 productive hours in a day.

I was at the coffee shop and made a list of everything I thought I needed to be doing. I broke this down first into a general list of “streams”, and whether they are “energy generators” or “energy consumers”.

  • Blogging Stream – Generating this stream of thoughts and ideas is critical to me. If I don’t write, I lose clarity and focus. Also, creating original content through the blog continues to bring me in contact with other people with similar interests, which creates energy for everyone involved. This is a long-term energy generator; what I put out now tends to build my cache of ideas and principles, and it feels good to put them out there.

  • Business Development Stream – After SXSW I have a clearer idea of the kind of design agency / business / whatever I want to create, and getting to the point where I can “launch” is very much on my mind. Because the business side is still largely a freelance / services model, getting to that next step is going to be an energy consumer because I need to create new process and new content. And I don’t find business process (like, registering an LLC or finding a good accountant) particularly exciting.

  • Product Stream – I’d like to shift from services to products, and to do that I actually have to make some things and get them out there. Blogging is a first step, because it is the source of many concepts. Building something up takes time; projects like the Online Emergent Task Timer, writing a neat book, and creating a new information section on the blog have taken a back seat to client work. I need to put in the time every day to make this happen. So right now, it’s an energy investment and therefore a drain on available sources.

  • Social Stream – Face to face contact is something that I’ve recognized is very important, particularly day-to-day shared context. This is something I’m lacking very much at the moment, and therefore I’m putting more effort into finding more friends outside of work to yammer with on a daily basis. In the meantime, Twitter is filling in the gap. I find that day-to-day social interaction is an energy generator, but one-time social events tends to be an energy drain.

  • Veggie Stream – I need some downtime everyday, because I spend too much time in my head. Watching TV has been my most accessible venue for vegging out, though I tend to watch shows that get more more excited than calm. Doh! This isn’t really an energy generator or consumer; I’d say it’s more like “brain maintenance downtime”.

  • Chore Stream – I’ve got to keep my house clean. I’m not that good at it. If I spend an hour a day, I should be able to keep up, but hours seem so precious. Energy drain, though afterwards a clean house makes me feel good. Maybe I need to focus on that.

  • Health Stream – The mindful practice of personal hygiene, eating right, exercising, scheduling regular appointments with the doctor. These feel like chores. This is also where having a buddy helps.

After figuring out this was where my time tended to go, I outlined a bunch of activities that I needed to do. First, I calculated my daily overhead:

  • sleep: 8 hours
  • personal/eating/vegging: 4 hours
  • social: 2 hours (includes emailing)
  • biz dev: 1 hour (mostly talking to people)
That’s 14 hours, which leaves me with 10 hours to allocate:
  • exercise: 1 hour
  • blogging: 2 hours
  • project work: 6-8 hours, ideally, includes administration
  • products: 2 hours? 4 hours?
That’s already over the limit, so I have to start paring things back. Add to this special events that involve driving to some place (losing 2 hours of drive time), meetings that run long, surprise calls from people, and so on, and the day goes poof. Having written this down, I can see that realistically I have to accept that I’m just not going to be able to get everything done at the same time on a daily basis, and that I shouldn’t feel bad about it. Weekly productivity measurements, as I actually have in the Concrete Goals Tracker, probably are the way to go.

3. Maybe it comes down to external metrics afterall…

This is ironic, but I think I need to start hitting the Concrete Goals Tracker again. I haven’t used it in quite some time, instead using an older day-to-day Excel tool and a regular text-file todo list:
  • The Excel time tracking tool is more job-focused, and as I have been focused on client work these days it just seemed more suitable; I can cut-and-paste the rows into a spreadsheet just for a particular client, which I then use for invoicing.

  • The text-file todo list allows me to keep my stream-of-consciousness intact, as I will often write out my next steps before doing them; it helps augment my memory and clarify sequencing.

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p>These are both detail-view tools, but lack the “big picture” that the Printable CEO™ Concrete Goals Tracker provides. It has been good to just put my head down and work—this needs to happen if anything is to get done—but I have not been providing myself the necessary oversight. And I think I’ve been seeking more social contact with people because it helps get me thinking outside of myself and about other people, which gives me perspective on what I’m doing and where I need to go.

Maybe what I need is a PostSecret / Twitter mashup, where I can share my goals in a twittery social context.

The Takeaway

Having written this out, here’s what I think I need to do:

  • Accept the weekly timeframe as the default unit for assessing growth in the larger business-dev/social/product sense. Days are too short and unpredictable, so focusing on maintaining momentum during the day may be the more useful mindset to have.

  • Bring back the CGT, create weighted goals based on my “stream list” that are more difficult to do. For example, I wouldn’t put eating and sleeping on my goal list…that already happens. Creating content, building tangible product, and establishing day-to-day social contact, though, should be worth something.

  • Continue to use the Excel timesheet for time tracking, until I can get some of those tools built to take it over. The ToDo text file is working fine for me right now.