One of my worries in blogging is that people will get the impression that I am always at 100%, ready to be my absolute best and live up to the principles I write about. I think I'm there a lot of the time, but I have my slow and unmotivated days just like everyone else.
Sometimes I wake up and read reddit for an hour before I even look at anything productive. Sometimes I take a look at my todo list and just can't muster the energy to do any of it. Sometimes I gut through it even though I really don't feel like it.
One big thing I've learned through this process is that you can't always start with your most important task of the day. On a good day it's easy and the optimal way to run, but on a bad day the mere presence of a big important task can be enough to make one want to take the day off.
A much better strategy I've found is to just work my way up the ladder.
When I recognize that I'm having a day like that I just ask myself honestly what the most productive useful thing is that I'm up for doing. Sometimes it's a medium level task, sometimes it's cleaning some papers from my desk.
No problem. I just do the easy thing. Then I ask myself again what the most productive useful thing I'm willing to do is. It's always something that's just a little bit more important. If I cleaned the papers off my desk, maybe I then feel like I could totally clean up my office. Or maybe I feel like I could organize my papers.
It's so easy to move up the scale, even if it's gradual. Usually once I get moving a little bit I get excited about big tasks and I'm suddenly at the top of the ladder. I've burnt an hour or two, but in the process I've gotten a few things done that I was going to have to do anyway.
In a way this is ideal, because it's a really bad idea to use time that could have been most-important-task-time for clearing papers. So if you get those sorts of things out of the way when they're the only things you really feel up for doing, you're now making it less likely that you'll waste time when you're at your most capable.
Some days you'll just stay at low rungs all day and never make it to the top. That's fine too, as long as it doesn't happen all the time. I used to track my days carefully and found that I'd feel that way for about 2-3 days maximum, usually more like one. When I was in them, however, they felt like they would extend past weeks.
The real enemy is doing things of zero productive value. We all fall into that trap sometimes, but if you can get yourself to do something even slightly better you can work your way up to doing some excellent work. I've found very few cases where people can totally waste time and then somehow feel inspired to do great work.
Work with yourself, not against yourself. Push yourself and make sure that you're working on the biggest most important things frequently enough to reach goals at a pace that works for you, but don't feel bad when you have days where you just can't get there.
Photo is the awesome climbing wall on the Independence of the Seas. Climbing walls are one of my favorite cruise features.
There are still some spots for Superhuman 3 in October. Come join me in Vegas in October!
Right now I'm waiting to start a video interview. I called in early, but my friend who is doing the interview wasn't ready, so I've got five or ten minutes to kill before we get started. My first inclination was to catch up on email. I only had a couple to write, so I finished them quickly. Still some time to kill. I took a look at a SETT bug that's high priority, but the solution wasn't the obvious one that I thought it might be. I'll have to take a deeper look when I have more time. Still have a few minutes before we start. May as well write a blog post.
I think that there are two basic modes that a productive person's mind can be in. There's that mode where you're going to get your work done, but you'll fight yourself every step of the way. When you're in that mode, your reticular activation system, the part of your brain that is constantly scanning, looks for non-work things to do. Ooh, five minutes before the call-- why don't you browse Facebook? I call this the distraction-first mode.
I've been in distraction-first mode plenty of times, probably spent most of my life there, but today I'm not, so when I have a few minutes of downtime, my default is to find something productive to do. Email, SETT, blog post. Productivity-first mode. It's not that I force myself to fill these minutes with something productive, it's that it's what I actually want to do. That's the magic of it.
Being in productivity-first mode is beautiful. It's like living your life in a flow state, executing task after task without the mental toll of having to cheerlead yourself into doing. Emails finished, open up my code editor with no hesistation and start poring through the source code. Determine that it needs more time than I have, and before I can even think, I'm two sentences into this blog post.
It's a chilly Nashville morning as I write this even as soft sunlight pours through my window. As I've mentioned in several of my recent posts, I've been doing a whole bit of de-cluttering in my life. This has mostly applied to various physical spaces like my closet, bedroom, car, and so forth; however, I've also been trying to do so in the way I carry out my day.
For most of my life, I've been the kind of person who has had a gargantuan to-do list. It would be an endless stream of tasks connected to multiple facets of my existence. After one item would be completed, another one would roll right on in. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks, and I've decided that, in spite of the productiveness, it is still not all that gratifying.
It feels no different than doing the same thing over and over again. The actual tasks might all be different from each other, but the intention is all the same--just to get something done. For me, this has become monotonous especially because, in my own life, there is no end to all of the things I could be doing.
So, I've decided that from now one, excluding (and occasionally including) time-sensitive tasks or ones that affect other people, I am only going to focus on getting two or three important things done each day. I've actually been doing this now over the last two weeks, and I really love it.