Week 102

Some observations on what interferes with good planning and how to keep things moving along.

Thoughts on time management

We’ve been talking a bit lately about how we could optimize our timetables to make ourselves more productive. (Igor will have more on this soon.) Personally, over the last few weeks, with all the changes and the holidays and the seemingly inevitable mental lull that tends to accompany the last warm days of the year, I’ve been battling some really insidious bouts of mind-wandering. XKCD depicted this quite well:

“ADD” by XKCD

As far as I can tell, weather and mood aside, productivity comes down to three factors: focus, planning and motivation.

Focus

I had a schoolteacher who used to tell us, when doing essay tests, that our foremost goal should be to write continuously for the hour and a half or so that we had. To never put down the pencil, whether or not we had a plan. This, she said, would help us to maintain focus, and not to be engulfed by the panic or confusion that might result from taking a thinking break. Her advice still springs to mind whenever I have to write or do something quickly.

Now, this strategy, clearly, cannot be extrapolated to cover work in terms of days, weeks or months, since it would be the perfect formula for burnout. However, it works very well for tasks that take a couple of hours. This is what I’m finding myself doing now: shutting out the world for a couple hours at a time with a small, achievable goal in mind, and picking away at it until there’s enough material to refine. Time pressure really helps with this.

Planning

The most troublesome things are the little tasks that are quick and easy to accomplish, because they worm their way into the time you’ve set for your bigger tasks. These need to be isolated so that they don’t gobble time and sneakily put the brakes on longer-term projects.

I try to keep the task at hand covering my full screen, and minimize and close any windows that might remind me of other things I need to be doing at some point. Out of sight, out of mind. I also kind of wish I could put a big title at the top of my desktop that reminds me what I should be working on, should I deviate from the plan. Will have to look into this.

Motivation

Motivation can be broken down into hundreds of factors on its own, but here are some key things I’m finding/have been taught:

  • Having the foundation of a project done is motivation in itself, so it helps to get the basics done as quickly as possible.
  • Confusion or convoluted overthinking is probably my main cause of distraction. Addressing these as soon as possible, using available colleagues or friends as sounding boards, help me to see the goal more clearly again. Should nobody be available, starting afresh can often be more efficient than wading through the confusing mess of thoughts you’ve made for yourself.
  • Identify the goal in completely unquestionable detail before starting. Otherwise things get hairy. And if the goal is the wrong one, going about it this way will make that clear much sooner.

Other news

Igor is at PICNIC in Amsterdam today and tomorrow. Give him a shout if you’d like to meet up for a coffee.

Finally, we recently announced that we’re in the market for a new office. Ping us if anything comes to mind.

What we read this week (3 Feb)

A taste of this week’s reading: Quora tackles the facts and figures in Facebook’s IPO application, the New York Times mulls over the growing pains in cyborg life, and the state of the future.

Quotes of the week

Maybe our desire to digitize and archive every little thing is not proof of a fear of forgetting. It’s a manifestation of our urge to remember how to remember.

Carina Chocano

What if you didn’t buy books so much as join them?

Megan Garber

Articles of the week

  • Quora: What are the most notable aspects of Facebook’s S-1?
    The Quora community expounds on Facebook’s IPO, providing a nice mix of editorial and factual content. The answers are dotted with interesting tidbits from the company’s IPO registration statement (S-1). The word ‘control’, for instance, is mentioned 131 times in the document, compared to 35 mentions of ‘privacy’.
  • Dan Pink: The Flip Manifesto
    Dan Pink offers 16 pieces of business advice that “[flip] conventional wisdom.” His points include “for Godsakes, talk like a human being” and “take as much vacation as you want.” He introduces his thinking with a case study of one of our best-known contemporary entrepreneurs: Bob the Builder. If you’re not feeling quite up to reading the whole thing, watch Dan’s 10-minute animated talk on motivation at the RSA.
  • Parker Higgins: Twitter’s best-in-class censorship reveals weaknesses in centralized corporate communication channels
    Our friend Parker Higgins, who recently moved to San Francisco to work for the EFF, with an on-point assertion about the implications of Twitter’s censorship acknowledgment.
  • New York Times: The Dilemma of Being a Cyborg
    Carina Chocano discusses what we experience when we lose our data, or “the constantly generated, centrally stored evidence of our existence.” A perceptive take on the interplay between human life and technology.
  • Imperica: The future of the future
    Leila Johnston and Chris Heathcote discuss the future of… the future, and of advertising. As our notion of the future has become very blurry compared to the 50s, their grasp of the current state of futurism is a must-read. Along the way we learn that advertising can stay relevant, particularly if it fulfills a need beyond just advertising a product.