Kicking off a New Personal Approach to Productivity

I’m facing, for the first time in many months, the need to be entirely self-directed AND self-contained at the same time. That’s because no huge deadlines are looming, and my online conversation portals have closed down. I need a new routine, and here’s the first step in how I’m trying to build it.

For the past 5 months, I had been using a combination of online collaboration and big external commitments to prioritize the use of my time. They’re all gone now: Taxes are filed, Dad has come and gone, and the private chatspaces I’ve maintained have closed as mutual interests have lost their alignment with each other.

I took yesterday off to decompress after the 17-day visit from family, though this hadn’t been the plan. At first I struggled to be productive, but eventually I gave into it and used the time to sit in silence and let thoughts come unchallenged. I eventually started writing again in the stream of consciousness blog and came up with a small set of operating principles for myself:

  • I write, therefore I am – Writing is the way I unstick myself, but it may also be the foundation of my existence. It seems whenever I don’t write, I feel lost. So I’m going to write more. I had been holding back from writing in the various blogs out of a desire not to flood RSS feeds with miles and miles of text that people didn’t find interesting, but I think I have the blogs separated enough that it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, this is a good incentive to write a little more sharply.

  • Small doses of daily practice + reflection builds momentum – If I’m getting something done, it’s because I’m at least looking at it everyday. Picking one small thing to do is like buying a ticket from a really generous lottery, where every play gives you at least enough reward to pay for your time.

  • A little bit of epic effort goes a long way, so don’t overdo it – The 715A ritual, which required from me extreme effort to maintain, lasted for a good 4 months. I would say that the first month was really good, and after that it became more of a shared workspace. I liked the daily contact, as it served as a good substitute for a social workplace, but the early time created imbalance in my natural rhythms. I think from now on, I will engage in epic efforts more mindfully by limiting their time and duration.

  • My preferred productivity style has changed – I used to have more of a production planning mindset due to my prior work experience. There is another way, I believe; the “explore learn build share” mantra I adopted last year was, in hindsight, an early manifestation of my mindset changeover.

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p>That last item, the “change in productivity style”, is really important. A little background here: my educational roots are deep into writing and computer engineering. Feeling I could already write whenever I wanted, I went to college for engineering and then onto the path of software, graphic design and then video game development. After that, I went freelance as a designer, where my expectations of myself where shaped by the production mindset that developed from working at game companies and web agencies. What I missed along the way was learning how to play with design.

My first pass at productivity tools, the “Printable CEO”, grew from my understanding of video game interaction principles. They also incorporated feelings and uncertainty, which I handled as I might have if I were an enlightened manager. For the record, I wasn’t a particularly good manager at the time I was managing people, but hindsight has been a strong teacher. However, this production mindset bias doesn’t help me be productive in the creative sense. That requires a different set of expectations and productivity tools. It’s perhaps related to the tension between art and business that has always existed. Without art (or the means to produce), business becomes impossible because there is nothing to sell. Without business, art has no means to support itself. Business is a fairly arbitrary set of expectations where entitlements are negotiated between self-interested parties. The trick of personal success, as far as I’m concerned, is to avoid being part of someone else’s sense of entitlement.

To have true independence, I need to practice my art so it is free of those external expectations that trap me in other people’s expectations. There are alternative ways to do business other than meeting expectations: instead, you can meet a need. There’s a subtle emotional difference. The former is patriarchal and judging, while the latter is about shared desires.

Anyway, I’m embarking on some significant process changes, and this week is the one where I’ll be testing some new approaches to my daily work. Less production-minded, more creative and free. Still ambitious.

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