Two-Week Followup: Productivity Reboot Notes

Two-Week Followup: Productivity Reboot Notes

On May 13th I optimistically started a “productivity reboot”, choosing a two-week period to try out a simplified daily structure. I had been feeling particularly unmotivated after my dad’s three-week visit, possibly because the house seemed so empty after he left. I hypothesized that a new structure + experiment would help fill the vacuum:

  • A promise to maintain a 15-minute planning session first-thing in the morning.
  • Limit work to just 3 main areas of endeavor each day: website navigation improvements, client work, and going to the gym.
  • The rest of the day allocated to Happy Bubble Time.

At the time, it seemed like a hugely self-indulgent way of structuring the day, and I wasn’t sure if it would work. Here’s what I found.

Observations

  • I tried to eat a small chunk of protein (usually an egg) as soon as I woke up, as suggested by Tim Ferriss in one of his books as a weight loss measure. My cousin Leng is the one who actually got me thinking about eating more protein in the morning, and I’ve found that it’s been helpful in maintaining energy. When I used to go to SXSW, my routine would be to eat a huge protein-filled breakfast and avoid carbohydrates until dinner.

  • The first 15 minutes of planning does help focus the day by setting its tone. The first few days took more than 15 minutes, actually, as I was working out my priorities and writing blog posts based on my thinking. After that, the planning session took about five minutes, and I would launch into the first task of the day.

  • The first task of the day immediately followed my morning planning, before I checked email or allowed other distractions to derail my focus. Fully-rested and clear on my priorities with the entire day ahead of me, spending 15 minutes getting started was relatively easy. The work session would typically last 1-3 hours before I would break and read email.

  • The second task of the day was considerably harder to start, especially after eating. Maintaining momentum on the task was also difficult, unless I happened to fall into a groove. I was much more likely to engage in Internet surfing behavior, looking up tools or researching topics of interest not directly related to the work at hand. If I took a nap, it was easier to re-engage but I was not always successful. In practice, my 3 tasks a day really were more like 2.25 tasks a day.

  • Conference calls, social gatherings, and other events that required leaving the house tended to suck the energy out of me. I try to schedule calls all on the same day, but they are still tremendous drains. Not only do they lock me down in the home office, but they also create future tasks that I have to schedule.

  • I did manage to get to the gym 3 times a week for light cardio and some diagnostic strength training later in the day. If I got to the gym, then workout ensued. I actually do kind of like it, though these first two weeks I’ve been holding myself back to avoid injuring or bursting important bits of my body.

So was the two-week productivity reboot successful? On first look, not really. I came away feeling like managing even 3 tasks a day was beyond me. I wasn’t able to consistently be in a productive state, and I found myself low on energy and motivation. In fact, I felt tremendous resistance to starting certain projects that I knew to be essential. However, after reflecting on this, I have come to some surprising conclusions:

  • I know that a lot of my starting resistance comes from a dislike of uncertainty and deferred reward. I can get over that: uncertainty is part of the artistic process that one must embrace, and I can cope with deferred reward if I am journaling the process of getting there (“the journal is the reward” :-) The 15-minute momentum trick helps launch most tasks.

  • Despite my stratagems for coping with uncertainty and deferred reward, I still could not easily initiate certain tasks. Eventually it dawned on me that I deeply resented these tasks, and that I had allowed this subconscious reaction to generate tremendous friction. The eureka moment was when I realized my usual trick of “de-emotionalizing my reaction” to tedious/boring tasks didn’t work.

  • Additionally, I had expectations that did not match the creator mindset. There is a tension between “management mindset” and “creator mindset” that rages in my head. When wearing my manager hat, I’m thinking about production efficiency and hitting targets as rapidly as possible. That’s the job. When I’m not seeing those deliverables produced quickly, I get antsy. As a creator, though, I need to be scratching-out new processes and approaches and be in the moment of discovery. Production come afterwards.

I tend to have a manager’s brain when it comes to projects, probably because that’s the way I’ve experienced creativity for most of my early career. The emphasis was on RESULTS NOW OR THE COMPANY DIES. I was not good at dealing with creativity AND productivity simultaneously, and having my first few company experiences flop badly makes me more sensitive to the possibility of failure than the excitement of creation.

Concluding Thoughts

I wouldn’t call the two-week reboot a roaring success. I didn’t get a whole lot done, though if I take the time to list them it actually might seem like a lot. The major accomplishments are psychological:
  • A lot of Resistance comes from Resentment. So, I am dropping that attitude. There’s no reason to resent anything. It just raises my blood pressure and helps nothing. So screw that!

  • When I am learning to do something new, as is the case most of the time, I need to push away the manager mindset and adopt the creator mindset in its place. This is another aspect of the explore-learn-build-share “creative cycle” that I had identified in 2012. I knew that this was the mindset and the engine that seemed to work best for me. The manager mindset doesn’t need to go away; it just needs to know its place and support the creative cycle instead of making it conform for the sake of predictability.

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p>These insights are useful in that they remove friction from my desire to produce. They do not, however, provide additional motivating energy. I am still feeling pretty unexcited about doing the chore-like tasks, and that’s something I want to address in the next two-week spurt that will begin in June.

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5 Comments

  1. Nancy 6 years ago

    Another thought-provoking post, thank you! P.S. I laughed at your reason for easing into exercise! Smart approach, too. So many people set themselves up for big failures instead of small successes when it comes to exercise. Keep it up!

  2. Author
    Dave Seah 6 years ago

    Nancy: Hah, glad it made you laugh! Today was a good day at the gym, btw…first day where I didn’t feel winded or woozy as I approached 80% cardio intensity, which is about 140bpm. I didn’t want to black out or burst anything by trying to get there too fast. I wanted my body to slowly adapt, with plenty of rest between sessions. For the record, it took 8 15-30 minute sessions over three calendar weeks of time to get to this point.

  3. Nancy 6 years ago

    That’s awesome, Dave!

  4. Steve 6 years ago

    Hey Dave,

    I’m an indie software developer, so I completely understand when you talk about wearing different hats. I have to design, develop, test, support, manage, and more. I’ve found each role is best executed in it’s own physical context, which helps to get into a mindset and reduce cognitive interference. For example, I always do support at a specific Starbucks. I order the same drink, sit at the same table, play the same music. After doing this for a month, the routine becomes very strong. Even on days when I don’t want to do support, I can start playing the music and my mind will settle into the mindset, ready to work. It’s quite powerful. For you, this might mean only doing creative work at your home office, and only doing planning/management at another location, perhaps an ice-cream shop. This also has a built in reward (ice-cream) just for going and doing the planning you need to do, even on days you don’t want to do it.

  5. Author
    Dave Seah 6 years ago

    Steve: I LOVE that idea of using physical contexts to establish mindset! I’ll have to give that a try. It reminds me a bit of the idea of a “memory palace” turned on its side; instead using familiar physical locations to trigger particular states of minds. I wonder, though, if I have the mental discipline to begin with to even stick with this approach for a month. For me, I think the key insight (so far, anyway) is that it is OK to separate the mindsets. The manager mindset wants me to hurry up, and I have to turn it off so I can carve out the time to be purely exploratory in the beginning of a project. Since it’s so early in the independent creative business for me, I don’t yet have the need for support routines, nor have I established key lines of business. But these are things I should think about soon…thanks for the tips, dude!