Is productivity all it's cracked up to be?

I got home tonight thinking about all the things I want to do. Most are work related; lots have nothing to do with work.

How can I fit everything in? It’s surely a matter of becoming more efficient; write faster, prioritise, get better organised. Except how can I do this and stay sane?

I should be writing something else right now; something that’s important. Instead, I’m looking for advice on how to get more and more stuff done.

Then I remembered Leo’s post on tossing productivity out, and I feel a whole lot better. No, I’m not going to follow all of this advice, but I’m going to weigh up some of the activities I’ve found myself doing in order to get more stuff done.

motivation productivity

Breaking the chain

Jerry Seinfeld offered some great productivity advice. Basically, if you want get better at something you need to practice every day. His craft was comedy and so he wrote jokes every day. His productivity system the simplest of tools: a large year wall planner. Every day he wrote, he crossed out the day on the planner. After a few days of watching the chain of days grow, your job becomes to ‘not break the chain’. Simple.

So, as a writer, the natural thing for me is to not miss a day writing. I haven’t got a wall planner but I’ve started using to achieve the same effect. But, you don’t need to use wall planners to get this effect. If you’re a blogger, you might want to blog every day about the skill you’re developing. Chris Strom achieved mastery over new development languages by blogging about it every day. He even got books published off the back of this.

I’m also using to write my morning pages, and that uses the motivation of ‘not breaking the chain’ to great effect.

I do like the idea of blogging about a subject to learn about it. I’ve so many things I want to learn in my job and personal life that I’m very much drawn to this idea. I’m going to go away and look to see which of these areas I could focus on.

productivity simplicity

productivity versus simplicity

I used to be a big follower of Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits. Several years ago, the site used to be a great place to go to for simple productivity advice. I honestly believe that the advice I picked up from that, and his book ‘Zen to Done’ has helped keep me sane in the workplace. However, now that Leo has changed track somewhat and is happy to throw away the productivity advice, it feels right that I should reconsider what I’ve learnt and look at how I want to continue going forward.

I’ve been following the advice in Zen to Done for about four years and have a list of 3-4 ‘Most Important Things’ to do each day. This has been great as it allows me to focus on tasks that will add value rather than tasks that will keep me busy.

The weekly review is the checks and balances part of the system. Once a week, I look at my goals, my tasks, my notes, and get things ready for the week ahead. This is a good time to be honest and evaluate whether the work I’m doing week in, week out, is contributing in a positive way to my goals.

The most important tool in my productivity arsenal (not sure if that’s good, that I’m using military metaphors), is undoubtedly Remember the Milk. This task logging website has been at the core of my work for over four years. Essentially just a way to create tasks and organise into lists, its beauty lies in its tagging system and the flexibility to use whatever system you like to manage your work. Although free, I’ve been a paying pro member for the last couple of years just because I value it so highly. Whatever productivity system I choose to go with (or not), there’s always going to be a place for Remember the Milk in my day to day life.

So, am I happy with my productivity system or should I throw it all away like Leo suggests and follow a simpler path? My system with Remember the Milk is anything but simple. If I tried to explain to anyone what I was doing with it, they’d be confused by the second sentence. But it does work well for me. Would I like it to be simpler? Yes. Would I like to throw away the productivity system completely and just follow my passions? Yes.

But, I live in a world where that simply isn’t possible. I have a job that demands that certain tasks get done by certain dates. I’ve got a busy family life that’s only going to get busier as the children get older, and I’ve got dreams I want to see fulfilled. My overriding concern through life is to be happy. And right now that means having some control over my day, whilst giving my dreams the attention they deserve.

Any thoughts?


chrome vs Internet Explorer – the rematch

I can’t seem to make my mind up.
I mentioned a while ago that due to some issues with some of the websites we use in work, I’d switched from using Chrome to using Internet Explorer. I was quite happy with this – for a time. Then recently, a few things have happened that have made me reassess this:

  • The sites that were causing a problem before, started working with Chrome.
  • Our IT department stopped blocking Dropbox. I was an avid user of dropbox for syncing my files between several computers. When IT blocked it, I switched to using Windows Live Mesh, which was OK, but it didn’t give me some of the features of Dropbox like iPhone access, or version control. Now that dropbox is available to me, I’ve no reason to use Windows Live Mesh (which was made easier when using Internet Explorer).
  • Google went mad and started refreshing all of the UI for their major products. I guess this would work OK in Internet Explorer but it was like a siren’s call bringing me back to the Google fold.

I feel a bit bad about leaving Internet Explorer behind, but it’s still a fair bit away from where Chrome is offering me.


can I do a week’s work in 4 hours?

No. But Tim Ferriss’s book – The 4-Hour Workweek has plenty of great ideas that I’ve already started to use after only taking two days to read.
I’m not planning to start my own business so chunks of the book are rather wasted on me but some of the things I’ve taken on board are:

  • It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.I haven’t had an opportunity to use this yet but I know that in my job there’s bound to be ample opportunity.
  • Get yourself out the office and away from management control. I already do this two days a week and it’s great but what about taking more? I find that I am reluctant to work from home in case it upsets other people in the office – despite it suiting the way I work, and making me more productive.
  • Don’t plan to retire. Instead, take the things you might want to do when you retire, and spread them throughout your life when you’re best able to enjoy them.
  • On a similar theme, pull a bucket list together but don’t wait until you’re at death’s door to work your way through it. Do it while you’re fit and well.

I thought it was a great book. Lots in there to make me think about how i view my life and of those around me. I’m going to start work on a bucket list and see where that takes me.


chrome vs internet explorer

I’ve been using Google Chrome since it first appeared, cool engineering  comic and all. I practically stopped using Internet Explorer at all. Chrome had all these cool things like tabs, and later came the extensions, and web apps, and so on.

But all these extra things were its undoing for me. Whenever I needed to check something on the Internet for work, I’d see the little gmail extension icon with its delicious unread email counter, vying for my attention. Sure, I could disable the extension but what would be the point of that? Disabling those extensions that were there to make my life easier made me wonder what I was getting out of Chrome at all.

My company is another factor. Most of our internal Internet sites, just don’t work very well with Chrome. I even went so far as to install an Internet Explorer extension into Chrome so it could render selected pages in ie. And when I click a link on one of our portals or a sharepoint site, to open a document, Chrome never did the right thing. So, for those sites, I manually switched over to Internet Explorer.

And there’s more. I like using Windows Live. Might not be very trendy but their programs have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. And I use Office 2010 (the best), and liked that I could link documents up to my Skydrive site. And whilst I could edit my Office documents in the Chrome browser, if I ever needed to do anything more complex in the full Office suite, Chrome didn’t support opening a web document into my local program. So, I was still stuck in the position of not being able to give up Internet Explorer.

Let’s not get started on synchronising bookmarks between the two browsers. If I was going to use both Chrome and Internet Explorer, I would have to keep the bookmarks between the two programs in sync with each other – some how. It’s not straight-forward, and not something you’d want to do on a regular basis.

So I came up with a solution. Microsoft helped make up my mind by releasing Internet Explorer 9.

I stopped using Chrome.

It was a bit weird at first. I felt like I was letting an old friend down. I’d watched Chrome grow up. But, the conflict between using two browsers just wasn’t worth it. So I surrendered. But surrendered to Microsoft (never thought I’d do that).

And I love Internet Explorer 9. It links in beautifully with Windows 7. Looks good, and It’s fast.

No more conflict.