Productivity Reboot: Prepping for Phase 2

Yesterday I outlined the observations I’d made over two weeks of a productivity reboot. The nebulous goal: merely to feel more productive, which I thought would come from getting more done. I knew I wasn’t being specific about the details, but I figured that just having a visible commitment of some kind might help. I was not in the mood to do a lot of detailed planning, so I tried to define a simple structure that would just point me in the right direction. I hoped that productivity would ensue, but it didn’t quite work out. I’ve refined the plan for the coming weeks.

Reconciling Different Mindsets

I did not end up feeling very productive, as I was beset by lack of motivation and small frustrations. I informally assessed my level of “felt productivity” relative to my recent Product A Day Challenge, which was characterized by enormous personal engagement boosted by daily deliverables. So why didn’t just repeat the challenge? It’s because I believe that growth isn’t possible unless I improve the way I present the huge pile of existing unused material. It is necessary to engage tasks I regard as boring: engineering websites, writing marketing material, and building business processes. Because I don’t particularly like doing these things in a vacuum, motivation has been low. Productivity, therefore, has been a slow uphill slough.

As I mentioned yesterday, resentment had built-up inside me regarding these boring tasks, a kind of inner voice that mainlined negative thoughts directly into my subconscious. This created a fog of low-level anger that I didn’t know was there; I just felt it without conscious awareness it was there. After identifying the fog, I was able to de-emotionalize my reaction—or rather, I think I have—which has removed unnecessary friction. While I’m still not more motivated, at least I’m not making the tasks more difficult for myself.

For productivity reboot week 3—if you’re wondering what week this is, it is “assessment week 1” following reboot week 2—I still want to feel more productive. The resentment I felt before is a good starting point for analysis:

Frustration by the stupidity of a lot of these tasks, which I would characterize as a distaste for poor system design and documentation that steals fun from my day.

From this, I can define what a good feeling might be:

Getting those boring tasks off my list, reaping the greater capabilities that completion of the boring tasks will make possible, and then getting back to the making of interesting content and products to share.

Yes, that’s what the feeling should be! However, there are no shortcuts available, for me anyway, that I think will reduce the burden of the boring tasks. The obvious solution is to outsource, but I don’t have the money to hire anyone even if I knew who could do the job. Money is the resource I am trying to generate by getting those boring tasks out of the way. A better website draws more traffic and measurable visitor engagement. Better marketing materials help visitors identify what they can take-away from the website and use. Better business processes will make products available to those who want them without enslaving me to the fulfillment center. Theoretically this should also generate an increase in revenue, which covers my living expenses and allows me to spend even more time learning and creating new stuff. That’s the middle-game I am building towards. The end-game is to have enough money coming in from all these improvements so I can afford to fund projects with other people. But first, I have to engineer, write, and build repeatedly over the next few years.

I wrote yesterday about the difference between a creator’s mindset and a manager’s mindset. It occurs to me that agile software development, from which I had borrowed the idea of the two-week sprint in the first place, is based on a clear distinction of the desires of the creator (who just wants to build good stuff that people will love) and the desires of the manager (who needs to pay salaries and wants to bank enough life-giving money as quickly as possible). I’m one person that has to embody both roles, and since I didn’t know better I squashed all these desires together internally. The result? Productivity-destroying internal conflict! For example, I can argue that it takes time to learn and create properly, and if I had just a creator’s mindset I would be fine with that; in fact, happy bubble time is the stratagem I use to create a space in my day free from such worries, having reasoned that it’s unlikely to be very dangerous. However, when I uncritically don my manager hat, I’m thinking that time is money and I’m running out of both. Anxiety ensues! Therefore, I want to get things done as quickly as possible and look for ways to do that. At the same time, I also know that not taking the time to do things right will always bite you in the ass later and take twice-as-much time in the long run. This creates anxiety and uncertainty that exists only in an imaginary future, and it doesn’t do anyone any good.

In other words, thanks to having both creator and management mindsets, I have a complete collection of conflicting desires. No matter what I choose, I can find a way to second-guess myself. Having a good time taking my time to learn and explore? I’m burning time and money that I can’t afford! Am I trying to rush through something, use sketchy shortcuts, or outsource critical processes that I don’t take the time to understand? I am then building a sucky product that I will hate. Such a product might actually sell well and establish a thriving business, but I don’t want any part of it. I want to make quality goods that sell based on their design excellence.

Statement of New Principles

Having started to let go of resentment and conflicting mindsets, I find that I can make the following statements:

  • All tasks, boring or not, need time for study and experiment. This time is not wasted. If it is an unfamiliar task, it requires a creator’s mindset. Give it some space, and allow for exploration. Energy will ebb and flow. It will grow in strength as tangible results and perfected know-how are produced.

  • Taking the time will not disadvantage you, if you have designed your business to survive without a timeliness requirement. Traditional project-based service businesses can not survive without practicing timeliness. Fortunately, my goal is to author and package original works based on my understanding of excellence. For this kind of business, I work to ensure exclusivity and availability, which are more flexible expectations to fulfill compared to timeliness. The actual delivery of goods is readily outsourced, too.

  • There’s nothing to be gained by feeling resentful or creating internal conflict. It just makes the work harder to do because you burn yourself up with gut-churning emotion. Replacing resentment with appreciation and gratitude, or at worst feeling nothing at all, is my preferred conscious mental stance.

The New Structure for Week 3-4

Starting next week, my external structure will be mostly the same: I will keep to the morning planning + three areas of directed endeavor a day + Happy Bubble Time. The morning planning will identify tasks that will benefit from bubbles of 15-minute effort. The three endeavors will be defined as:

  • Platform Improvements – the website organization, marketing, content generation. Anything that makes the website stronger as a platform for practicing creative independence. That means making it easier for visitors to find something interesting without having to do a lot of clicking.

  • External Projects – making progress with existing client work and business relationships.

  • Gym – maintaining the 3-times a week gym habit. I’m still building cardio at the moment, taking it slow. Ultimately, my goal is to build strength and slim down.

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p>Instead of being strict about doing all three every day, I’ll make it a stretch goal to do at least 15 minutes in each area. Some days, like when I’m working with code I’m not familiar with, are very mentally taxing. Forcing myself to do a second task with the same mental requirements but with a completely different context results in poor work due to poor concentration. When I’m that wiped, I can force myself to do clerical work like collecting resources into one place so I have everything I need to start, but that’s about it.

Lastly, Happy Bubble Time is my undirected exploration and learning time. Surfing the net, looking for ice cream places, scheming ways to generate treasure maps, setting up an outside wood staining area…anything is fair game. A lot of these HBT interests pay off in the generation of content like this post, and the personal connections that ensue from shared interest.

There is still the need for management, but these moments are now reserved for the morning planning and periodic blog post reviews. The rest of the time, I will not think of it, and hope that “productivity happens” as I allow myself the time to think and explore my way through boring-yet-challenging tasks.

I don’t want to fail and be labeled as a dreamer who never got anything done. However, this feeling tends to put me into the manager mindset. To smooth over the gap, I think that I can transmute “manager intentions” into something more like self-nurture and creative support. That is, to be an enlightened creative manager, delivering what the creative side needs without imposing a lot of oppressive judgement about how things should be. Success will feel like I got things done by being in the creator mindset most of the time, with light management suggesting instead of controlling the methods of production.

So long as there is movement, there will be productivity. That is my prediction. We’ll pick it up on Monday, June 3 and run through June 15.

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