In my ongoing experiment this month to observe when I am producing versus consuming, I’ve so far discovered that I’m not spending a whole lot of time actually producing despite being busy. Here’s a breakdown of the past two days:
The colors that I want to see are CYAN for PRODUCING (Tuesday’s 33%, at the bottom) and RED for GATHERING. Producing tasks are the ones that directly result in published words, working code, or a completed design. Gathering tasks are ones that contribute or support producing tasks: researching and learning new processes (like learning how to use pivot tables to create pie charts in Excel, a first for me), gathering the prerequisite materials so I can actually make something, and setting up tools.
The motive behind this month’s challenge, I must remind myself, is NOT to figure out how I can maximize my productivity. Initially it was to see how much time I spent “producing” versus “consuming”, but it since has expanded into something else. Instead, I want to see what patterns exist between WHAT I work on during the day, what the NATURE of that work is, and how they both CORRELATE with how I FEEL. The way I feel right now is that I’m not moving fast enough, and this is leading to a feeling of frustration and negativity, which only increases friction and reduces joy. In the past, I would have thought that maximizing productivity by becoming more focused, efficient, and disciplined would be the natural solution. Today, I am thinking that I can never be as fast, efficient, and disciplined as I want. I have to give myself a break and find out what I can actually do, and use that as the baseline that I can tweak.
Quantifying “feeling” is an interesting challenge in itself. If you’ve ever been responsible for charging for your work, you’re familiar with the idea of telling prospective clients “Fast, Good, Cheap: Pick any two”. We laugh about it because it’s SO TRUE: If you’re put under the gun to make something good, you are going to charge a lot because of the exceptional stress. Likewise, if you’re going to provide something fast and cheap, it’s not going to be really excellent…there’s no time and budget to ensure it. However, when it comes to OUR OWN work, I think there’s the tendency to believe we can do it: replace the word “CHEAP” with “DO IT MYSELF”, and you end up with the same conflict. It’s a recipe for frustration and resentment. Hence, this month’s challenge to establish a more realistic understanding of my time, and how I feel about the day’s work in terms of quality, speed, and cost.
Speed and Cost, in the context of this discussion, can be measured as TIME and ENERGY. My notion of Energy is also coupled to my emotional state; having high energy equates to having a positive attitude, which makes it easier to initiate action on my projects.
Here is the complete category list as it currently stands:
- chore – some task that I’ve committed to for someone else. These are energy drains, creating resentment.
- interact – social time spent either hanging out or meeting for work. These can be energizing, but have high energy cost due to recovery time needed afterwards.
- maintain – a mechanical labor related to maintaining car, health, home, etc. These are energy drains, but are necessary for maintaining one’s livelihood and are unavoidable.
- putter – time spent on Facebook, researching possibilities, napping, etc. These restore energy lost in the above, but cost time.
- produce – time creating the tangible results that move me forward on my goals and commitments, sucking energy but releasing a huge burst of positive energy on completion.
- gather – time spent collecting materials an supporting the production phase. Clerical support work, in a sense. Low energy cost, but can have high time requirements.
With all that out of the way…HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT THE PAST TWO DAYS?
Tuesday was actually a good day, since there were no chores and a few hours of actual production: new code was produced! I fixed an air purifier too, cleaning it out and lubricating the motor before reassembling the unit with new filters. The bummer was that at the end of the day, I discovered my car wouldn’t start. That set the tone for Wednesday.
Wednesday was a day of heavy interaction, more so than usual. My car would not jump start, so I called a tow truck (covered by my insurance) and had it towed to a reputable garage about 2.5 miles away. They weren’t able to get to it today, so I maybe carless for a few days. By the time all this was done, it was 3PM, with only a few hours left to schedule a conference call to discuss the code work and prepare a monthly report for a board meeting I was attending in the evening. I got a ride to the meeting, and it was an informative meeting during a moment of organizational transformation, so I found it rather interesting. However, the day was a complete wash when it came to actually producing anything of tangible worth. This bothers me a bit, but not as much as I would have thought.
Today, Thursday, I am feeling the desire to have a mostly productive day. It’s actually already 1130AM (I have been going to sleep around 3AM) and I don’t have anything scheduled until 630PM. I feel a little under the gun to get something done before then, and I may be interrupted by the need to collect my car from the mechanic in the middle of it. I like to have the feeling that there’s a large glorious block of time ahead of me, and today’s block seems fractured and time limited, which creates an unpleasant feeling in my stomach, a kind of jitteriness. It will be interesting to see how the day works out, now that I’ve called the feeling out into the open.