Liveblogging The Productivity Doldrums, Part II

SUMMARY: Continuing yesterday’s post, I note what I’m getting done where and when. I’m paying particular notice to what seems to trigger energy levels, unplanned naps, and moments of sheer laziness. I’m also noticing some patterns to the routine; instead of a consistent productive push, I appear to be using an “ebb and flow” style approach to energy management. Having identified tasks yesterday that either drain or replenish my mental energy, I’m starting to be able to pick next actions that are appropriate for my mental state.

[post]:http://davidseah.com/blog/comments/liveblogging-the-productivity-doldrums-part-i/

Picking up from where [yesterday’s post stopped][post] around noon:

resetting the brain

I took a nap that was supposed to last for just 10 minutes, but went all the way to 30. However, I must say that my brain had relaxed and was not feeling so tense. The tension might be related to eating lunch (carbs make me sleepy, I should really avoid them) and having sat still for too long. Perhaps I should make a point of running around. I’ve thought that a lunchtime gym session would work well around now. I’ll have to try that.

handling the tedious errand

I spent an hour handling the bank errand, which I found very tedious. However, I did put the materials I needed into a folder so I can find them quicker next time, which was rather optimal of me to do so. My brain was again craving some kind of reward randomness; I found myself clicking around Facebook, Twitter, and my blog stats to see what I was missing. My mind apparently just needs to decompress after any task that requires thought. Is this strictly necessary? Maybe it is just laziness.

handling the creative task

It was 3PM, and time for the big test, which is was to tackle a large creative task. First up: Angela’s business cards, because they’re relatively finished. I had allocated about an hour for this, and went over by 15 minutes because I kept fussing with it. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I am shipping the mockup off to Angela’s feedback, which will drive the next round of tweaks…score one for satisficing. I actually felt pretty good at having delivered something and sent it off, and was looking forward to the feedback.

queuing up a usefully mindless task

By now, it was 4:30PM. After handling some random email traffic, my store of energy was considerably diminished and mentally I had lost the focus. I found myself sitting in the chair, staring at the screen, my thoughts moving slow as molasses. I figured it was a good time to run a few errands by going to Target for some shampoo and cat litter. This is more exciting than it sounds, because Target is the source for a cheap brand of litter that is said to work well with the “Forever Tray” I’d ordered online for my ScoopAway. In essence, I am furthering an experiment.

I experienced a brief surge of panic: what was I forgetting to do this week? There must be something! Things on my mind: taxes, bills, accounting, and other terrors regarding the counting of dollars and sense. Also, the sense that I am not prioritizing optimally…when am I going to make the time for ETP-related commerce tasks? What is the next creative task I should tackle now? These thoughts were very draining, and I can feel myself losing energy again. Decision: I got up to run those errands before I fell asleep.

re-energized by the mall

The run to Target took about an hour and fifteen minutes. I spent some time browsing the motorized toothbrushes, furniture, and automotive repair sections to see if any home improvement projects could be moved forward. Returning home, I had the desire to work outside of the house; it was around 6:00PM. I decided to kill two birds with one stone by going to the farther Manchester, NH Starbucks; one of my barrista friends had transferred to this location some time ago, and I was hoping that I could catch up and say hi. Plus, the Manchester location is under the direct management of Diane, the uber-manager who trained much of the staff originally at my personal Starbucks closer to home. I was very curious to see how she worked her magic at the larger store.

handling the second creative task

After settling in at Starbucks (my friend wasn’t working, unfortunately), I got online and surfed the net for a few minutes until I realized I was procrastinating. I grabbed my notebook and refamiliarized myself with the tasks of the day; the next immediate piece is laying out a pamphlet for some medical students. The source material is provided as a Word document, which is always kind of a pain in the butt, so the first hour of work is just extracting/copying/pasting the material into InDesign CS4. This was the first time I’d used InDesign since upgrading, so it took a while to get it set up again to my preferences. Overall, I must say that the new window manager for the CS4 products isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The first-pass layout, with all the information in the Word document, is finished around 9:00PM. I was then faced with a choice: push forward and produce a more “final” layout, or call it quits. I decide that the time spent away from the design will help reset my brain, so I vote to drive home.

A fairly productive day, though only about 3.5 hours of that was actual creative work.

winding down

The end of day ritual went pretty smoothly: I had started up some rice in my Zojirushi Fuzzy Logic rice cooker before leaving for Manchester, so on the way back I grabbed some cheap Chinese buffet takeout to go with it. I watched an episode of the current show I’m watching, “How Many Kropogs to Cape Cod”, and then wrapped up the day with some random net surfing until 11PM or so. I also order a Gator GTK-88 semi-rigid wheeled case from Sweetwater Sound for my Kurzweil SP88X (it’s being used by someone for a gig, from which I will receive compensation in the form of freshly-baked croissants).

the next day: starting it up again

I was awakened by a call from Angela at 7:30AM; she’s checking in to make sure that I’m on task. As I had mentioned before, we’re co-managing each other’s projects this month so we get them done. We arrange to do a synchronization meeting at 8:30AM at Starbucks. I snooze for a few more minutes, after having set the “quick alarm” on my cell phone, and then launch through The Morning Ritual: drink water, eat something, shower, contact lenses, pack the bag, hop on the scooter, and get the heck away from the house. I did cheat and look briefly at the computer before leaving, but I had an index card that I wrote down things to remember during planning; I didn’t linger or check Facebook. There’s also some feedback on the business card, so I print out a copy to bring so we can go over the details in person.

We sit outside baking in the sun from about 90 minutes, while going over the various initiatives underway, which is a good feeling. I hadn’t had a good sun-baking in some time, but I pay for this after the meeting when I get back home with what I might call sun-induced sleepiness. Spending significant time in the hot sun tends to wipe me out. Perhaps I was already dehydrated to begin with. I had also eaten a tomato sandwich on oatmeal bread (again, sleep inducing carbs) which surely didn’t help. But anyway, the net result of the meeting is having the next few days of project Emergent Task Planner print run two plotted out. I feel a little constrained by having the whole week planned, but Angela points out something that strikes me as truth: work is constraining but you gotta do it. A good reminder. The Emergent Task Planner printed pad project is a key element in my future fiscal strategy; I shouldn’t be dragging my heels on it. It’s a somewhat exhausting project because every step of the way has a certain level of uncertainty associated with the decisions, and the ramifications of those decisions won’t be clear until after the product is out there. So it’s also deferred payoff and a little scary. No wonder I’m not inclined to spend a lot of time on it. It’s good to have someone around to remind you what the point of your dreams were; it’s easy to forget, sometimes, when faced with the mountains of details that go into executing the strategy behind your desires. Dreaming is fun and effortless. Engineering them is hard work. I know this, but it certainly helps to have someone else remind you.

lost time

I’ve spent about an hour catching up on this blog post (which is on my to-do list for today), and before that I had actually fallen asleep after a quick lunch (the aforementioned tomato sandwich) and ordering a replacement battery for my old iPod (thanks, Twitter, for recommending a source). I finish up the final layout for Angela’s business card (now single-sided) and place the order online. I also send away for samples from another online print place to compare quality. It’s now 2:30PM, and I have yet to schedule a real creative task…it feels like I’ve been slacking all day. Time to check the notebook to see what’s next.

I’m somewhat surprised to see that I had already gotten some of the things done…Angela’s cards are already in the queue for printing. I do a few quick checkin emails for status updates, and chat with my cousin Ben out in California about the status of some upcoming museum work; nothing actionable yet, but it’s always good to catch up with Ben. He needs Flash developers, BTW, so if you’re out in the Bay Area and are a hot interactive designer / ActionScript ace, visit the Inquirium website and say hello.

resetting and preparing for work

I also peek ahead to the plan for August 19 through August 21, the very same plan that Angela dragged out of me while I was getting sunstroke outside Starbucks. What’s interesting is that they are all technical creative tasks; so far during this liveblogging experiment, I’ve been doing 2D layout tasks. It’ll be interesting to see how my mind handles it differently. Already, though, I’m seeing a pattern in the ebb-and-flow of my day:

First:

  • Get moving somehow, outside.
  • Do some planning, or check the plan.
  • Choose a task that will generate creative energy / reduce mental fatigue, around 30 min to an hour.

Then either:

  • Choose a creative task and execute for 90 minutes to 2 hours, or
  • Choose tasks that can use remaining creative energy / mental fortitude in small chunks (email, Facebook, surfing, eating). Reset the cycle by going to the beginning.

Then:

  • Repeat previous steps until 8 or 9PM, then crash

The place where I am now, at 2:45PM, is the beginning of the next “move outside” phase. I already have the task queued right up: Visiting Sid in his studio so we can hash out the details of working in his space without driving him crazy. I could ride the scooter, but the scooter also tends to be a draining activity because I try to be highly alert on the road. It is also very hot and humid today, which doesn’t make wearing the armored jacket, gloves, and helmet very pleasant. This will be a fun, but energy reducing activity. My second creativity chunk will have to wait for the evening, which is probably not a bad time to do it. Then there are a number of little things I can do related to tomorrow’s creative tasks.