Tag Archives: time management

My 2012 Resolution is Myopium

The dictionary defines myopia as narrow mindedness, the inability to see things that aren’t right in front of you. However, the positive spin on myopia is that you can choose to hold only those things in your vision that support what you want to achieve, and where you want to go in life.

As a result, I propose my 2012 resolution: the choice to be blissfully afflicted by myopium: that is, becoming singularly focused on those things that provide me with ecstasy, beatitude, buoyancy, euphoria, joy and accomplishment – and turning away from grief, disappointment, and sorrow. This does not mean that grief and its cousins might not pay me visits occasionally, as is their nature – it just means that I’m going to minimize the time I spend with them this year.

Fortunately, there are many constructive things that I do (many related to my job teaching science and technology to college students) that provide me with feelings of joy. My goal is to do MORE of the things that make me feel good while I’m doing them, and LESS of the things that make me feel bad or make me feel nothing. Feeling good can only contribute to increased productivity… so that’s where I’m headed.

Happy 2012!

The Hidden Value of Weakness

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

What if your weaknesses were actually your strengths – but you just haven’t figured out what those weaknesses have been trying to tell you, or how to transform them intro strengths yet?

(Wouldn’t you feel better about feeling weak?)

 “I believe in shaking up the way things are done.” 

–Leo Babauta, zenhabits.com, in “When Being Who You Are Challenges the Norms

Embracing your weaknesses can help you shake things up to challenge the norms. Thanks to @ChrisSpagnuolo for tweeting that this was the best thing he read a few days ago, which made me click the link and read it too. I appreciated it as well – because I also believe in shaking up the way things are done. However, my approach is a little different: whereas Leo reflects on the impact he’s had on others by being vegan, minimalist, self-employed, carless, and so on – I believe you can shake up the way things are done by aspiring to be the best you that you can be – especially when you being your best means embracing aspects of yourself that you, or others (or society) typically view as weaknesses.

Here’s what I mean. A few months ago I was having a deep talk with my friend  @jack122112, lamenting my lack of ability to focus. (At least that’s how I interpret it… and how it feels.) I’m all over the place, and always have been. I have three degrees in three different fields, and a fourth Master’s that I almost completed. I’ve had jobs as a software engineer, a manager of software engineers, a data analyst, a post office contractor, a physics and calculus tutor, a psychiatric office manager, a medical biller, a business analyst, a scientific analyst, a secretary, a management consultant, an engagement manager, and a professor. The books I can see from where I’m sitting right now cover topics from quality to eclipses to brewing beer (which I don’t do, I just think about) to statistics to ergonomics to dream interpretation. I’ve explored topics and done research in a hodgepodge of areas to the point where it probably looks, from the outside, that there’s no cohesive theme among my interests.

But there is a common element – a point of cohesion – and that’s ME.

Jack wasn’t bothered at all by my dilemma. “Well,” he said, “perhaps your ability to connect with so many ideas in so many different areas IS your strength. Why are you so bothered that you can’t seem to focus in one area? Maybe that’s just not what you were meant to do. Maybe you should accept it.”

Women for a long time were kept out of the workplace because they were thought to be too weak or emotional for many jobs. People used to throw away very little, and nothing was ‘disposable’ because that was thought to be wasteful … wait, maybe that wasn’t so bad. What if you could shake things up … just by being who you are? Without having to do anything but tell someone who or what you are? –Leo

I’ve spent the past few months just accepting my dilemma, and not worrying about it too much. Maybe I’m just not meant to focus in one area, I’ve told myself, and I will discover the hidden strength in this. And paradoxically, since making this decision I’ve been more focused and content – and much more productive.

So here’s an exercise for you. What’s your weakness? What bothers you the most about your personal habits? And why do you think it’s such a problem?

For example, let’s say you just can’t get things done. You totally lack productivity… you’re a slacker. There’s a hundred things you know you have to do, but if no one is pushing you to do them, you’re just going to go off and play video games. And feel like a total loser. And apologize to the people you’ve let down when parts of your world come crashing down around you. (If I were you, the first thing I’d ask myself is, why do I need to be so productive anyway? Challenge the foundations upon which the assumption lies.)

What if your weaknesses are trying to tell you something? A few years ago, after bemoaning my struggles with time management, I discovered that I have MORE THAN enough time (and enough focus) for everything I truly WANT to do!! And for those things I don’t get done, or just don’t have the energy to focus on, I’ve got to be real with myself — and figure out which one (or more) of these five obstacles are getting in my way! Then, after unveiling the root causes of my weakness… I can move on with a grounded, practical solution to transform it into a strength.

Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time

(This is a repost of an article I originally wrote on July 7, 2008 at espressomind.com and edited again in January and June 2011. I was thinking about it again yesterday, when I recognized that if you’re having a hard time getting things done on your to-do list, that might be a sign that your activities don’t authentically line up with what you value. If there’s alignment, it’s usually easier to get things done.)

I have enough time for everything that I need to do! Sound like an unachievable nirvana? It’s not. Through relentless soul-searching (trying to figure out why I didn’t have any time to exercise over a three-year period) I discovered that if you don’t have enough time to do something, then one of the following is probably true:

  • You haven’t prioritized the activity high enough.
  • You are imputing higher importance to activities that are really less important.
  • You’re trying to complete too many activities in too short a time.
  • You expect more of yourself, in general, than you are reasonably able to accomplish.
  • You just don’t value the activity you’re avoiding, or its results.

Sometimes, you may be struggling with more than one of these challenges. When I tried to figure out why I had no time to exercise, I was faced with all five.

First, if something is important to you, it will become a priority. When I was complaining that I never had enough time to exercise, what I was really doing was prioritizing exercise right out of my daily routine. Other things were just more important to me, whether I wanted to admit it or not: putting in face time at the office, doing more and more tasks from my office to-do list, spending time with family, reading books, surfing the Internet, and writing research papers (yes, I really like that!)

My second challenge was that I placed too much importance on face time at the office. For my job, I can accomplish almost as much from home (sitting on my computer) as I can do when I’m physically located in the office. My old morning schedule was to wake up at 7, get online for 45 minutes to check email and handle a few of the day’s tasks, get into work by 9, crunch on the to-do list until 5, then spend a couple of hours at night finishing up the tasks I couldn’t complete before leaving. And then I would feel guilty when I didn’t get absolutely everything off the to-do list for the day, even when I had accomplished what others might consider exemplary. I finally asked myself: what’s more important, showing up on site or getting things done? I had to acknowledge that the latter was indeed more important, and accept that taking a walk in the middle of the day (especially if I thought about important problems along the way, or brought a colleague to have a needed discussion) was OK!

My third challenge was taking on too much. Before I reorganized myself, my daily to-do list had between 10 and 12 items on it. Now it only has the 3 or 4 most important tasks that would have been on the longer list. I typically get all of the tasks done during the day, and as a result I feel less guilty when I get home. There is more time for playing trains with my son, or watching a movie, or doing laundry. (Is laundry really important to me? I found out that on most days, it’s not. On the days that I’m running out of clean clothes, it becomes much more important.)

I still expect more of myself that I’m reasonably able to accomplish, but I’m not sure this is a problem – it stimulates me to learn new things every day and to keep pursuing new challenges. I just have to remind myself that I’m running a marathon, and resist the urge to evaluate whether I’m making progress on a day to day basis. Sometimes, you just have take a step back, and let progress take shape over a slightly longer period of time.

So how did I solve my exercise challenge? I set my expectations for myself a little lower, I stopped feeling guilty about less face time at the office (meaning I chose to impute less importance to it), and I made sure that my daily agenda included taking a 2 or 3 mile walk a couple times a week. On those days, that walk ranks #1 or #2 on my short to-do list, alongside the report writing or meetings I might otherwise be obligated to do.

I’m doing less, I’m getting more done, I’m feeling less guilty, and I’ve lost 10 lbs. already as a bonus. I think it’s a good deal, and I’m willing to make the process of self-evaluation that got me here important so me so I can reap some more benefits.

The Undergrad Jungle Book

I’m releasing a new eBook tonight – January 1, 2011 at 1:30am Eastern Standard Time – in honor of the very Happy New Year to come! You can download a FREE TWO-CHAPTER PREVIEW here or view the DIGITAL FLIPBOOK of the preview from http://flipdocs.com until January 5th!

What’s the book about? I wanted to call this book COLLEGE SUCKS: AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. But college doesn’t suck! It’s an exciting place full of opportunities and excitement and invigoration. I know, I know, sometimes that’s hard to see and hard to feel because of all the deadlines, tough assignments, obtuse quizzes, impossible exams, and professors who act like heartless drill sergeants. In this book, I want to introduce you to some unique approaches for managing your work and bringing joy to your academic life as a college student. To do this, I have to divulge some secrets about what some professors (including me) really think about their classes and about you. Are you ready?

If you’re a freshman, sophomore or junior in college who’s desperate to do better in school, have more free time, and feel better about college life, this book will help you accomplish just that. This is not your ordinary “how to do better in college” book. It’s a secret guidebook that will help you unlock your true potential by having more fun!

The eBook is delivered by e-junkie which I’ve found to be a great platform for delivering digital products so far – it ties into PayPal.

Help Spread the Word!

If you’re a professor and you’d like to use this in your class, I can arrange for bulk discounts.

If you’re a student (or professor) who’d like to spread this message across your campus and share in the proceeds, please join the 50% affiliate program. I plan on approving up to 5 resellers per campus.

You can also email me for an discount code you can use and/or give your students to buy the book for $12 instead of $25 until January 31, or a $5 off digital coupon that’s valid anytime.

Disciplined Creative Time

I think every blog has at least one post that says “sorry I haven’t posted in a while.”

Today is that day for me. I started professor-ing in August and have been on the Manager’s Schedule (huh? what does that mean? — see http://atomic-temporary-5081318.wpcomstaging.com/2009/08/14/makers-meeting-managers-meeting) ever since. By the time I get to Maker’s time, which is where I think about the things I see in journals and newspapers, I’ve been pretty worn out. I realized that effectively managing your Manager’s time is the key to getting Maker’s time. If there’s too much physical time or physical energy wrapped up in the Manager’s Schedule, just stop right there – don’t even plan to get any creative work done. When you sit down for your “planned Maker’s time”, if your body is weary, your soul is just going to want to sip on coffee and surf the net.

I will need to take a much more disciplined approach to my creative time if I’m going to produce any useful output. (Valdis, that means MoC!)

Quality and Productivity Through Reflection

mirrorOn April 9, 2009, Computerworld published a highly “Digg-ed” post entitled “Why Goofing Off Boosts Productivity”. This article highlighted some recent research results from the University of Melbourne that demonstrated the utility of occasional Twittering and Facebook-ing from work, and suggested some additional anecdotal reasons why “Internet slacking” might be productive.

Productivity has been described in many ways, for example as the ratio of output to input , task completion through David Allen’s Getting Things Done, or focus on business results using the concept of the Results-Only Work Environment.

But it is easy to forget that quality and sustainability also play a role in productivity as well. Jorgenson & Griliches (1967), for example, explicitly define productivity as the ratio of total input quality and quantity to total output quality and quantity. Hawken, Lovins & Lovins (1999) consider total-resource productivity in Natural Capitalism, a measure that emphasizes the efficiency with which a production process uses its energy, natural resources and other inputs. That is, you can’t be productive if you are creating a lot of waste – and you are optimally productive if the outputs of your process are useful inputs to someone else’s process!

Problem-solving capacity, in my opinion, represents one of the key elements in total resource productivity – and one that we routinely overlook. As a result of the process of working, can you simultaneously accomplish results and emerge feeling refreshed and renewed? The human psyche and capability to achieve is the ultimate renewable resource, and “burnout” is the indicator that you may be sacrificing total-resource productivity for higher levels of “more traditional” productivity.

The same theme was touched on in an April 8, 2009 post by Dan Markovitz called Why Isn’t Thinking Time Part of Your Standard Work? Although it is acknowledged that thought without action may not be productive, he notes that action without thought can be wasteful as well:

Action without thought leads inevitably to one of the seven forms of muda. It’s very hard to actually stop doing and start thinking, but that’s the real way to eliminate waste and create value. There’s a recent story about a computer room at Toyota’s Torrance headquarters that was getting too warm. Most people would get that email and immediately turn up the air conditioner. You know, respond immediately to the email. But these guys did a root cause analysis and found that the real problem was a blocked air duct. The symptoms didn’t go away immediately, but the real problem was actually solved. It just required some time to think.

The lessons here are interconnected: a) quality and “people-sustainability” are factors in total resource productivity, and b) time to think and reflect contributes to quality in the problem-solving process. Not building “reflective time” into a project schedule or a GTD/ROWE process can negatively impact results when the whole system is considered.

Hawken, P., Lovins, A. & Lovins, L. H. (1999). Natural Capitalism. Little, Brown, & Co.: New York.
Jorgenson, D.W. & Griliches, Z. (1967). “The Explanation of Productivity Change”. Review of Economic Studies 34(99): 249–283.

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