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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Entries in productivity (32)


Link Roundup for 26 September 2012

I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve seen a lot of improvement recently in my ability to focus and get things done. Here are some ideas that helped me do that.


Attention Unsecured Time Creditors

Looking back at the first six months of 2012 makes me feel like I need to file for temporal bankruptcy. At the beginning of the year, I set some goals for things I wanted to get done. Along the way, I added a few more. And a few more. And a few more. I think we all know what the outcome of that process usually looks like.

Fortunately, my office is closed this week, which means that I suddenly find myself with some time to take stock of my situation, make some decisions about priorities, and figure out what I want to try for the rest of the year that might be a bit more realistic.


Pull, Don't Push

One of the things I struggle with is balancing the desire to get things done over the long haul with the need to respond to things in the moment. To my surprise, I’ve been applying tools for managing this balance at work but failing to do so at home. Over the holidays, I spent some time trying to work out how to fix this oversight.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: At the beginning of every month, I sit down and make plan of what I want to accomplish during the next several week, based on the data I have about what I’ve been able to do in the past and what I see coming down the pike. Where I get into trouble is that I get attached to the plan. When something comes up in the middle of the month, I try to stick to it — even if what comes up is something I want to do. A conversation with Gwen in early December woke me up to the fact that I’m not as flexible or spontaneous as I think I am or as I want to be. I’m missing out on opportunities because I’m too attached to my planned outcomes.

The irony is that as an improviser, I’m supposed to give up my attachment to outcome, to trust in the process and in my partners, to respond in the moment to what happens. At work I’ve been doing more and more of that. To realize that I’m not doing it in my personal life is… an opportunity for growth.

So with that in mind, I took a long, hard look at my personal planning process and discovered a few things. I’m essentially using a Scrum process, with month-long iterations. One option to increase my flexibility would be to reduce my iteration length. I could do my planning on a weekly basis rather than a monthly one. There’s some appeal there, but I found that I was more interested in another option: I could move to a Kanban-based approach.

So with that in mind, I sat down to read Personal Kanban, which had been recommended to me around Thanksgiving. The book is pretty simple; if you read this slide show, you’ll know 90% of what the book says. That’s slightly unfair, because the book also has a lot of stories about how the authors and people they know have used it, but the essence of it is this:

  1. Visualize your work
  2. Limit your work-in-progress

I completely agree with these two principles, though I’m conflicted in how I felt about the book. I wanted a little more “how” to go with all of the “why.” I get that you have to adapt this framework to your own situation, but I was hoping for more guidance about how people have adapted it so I could see potential fits for my situation. (Appendix A does this a little, but it’s much later in the book than I hoped it would be.) I also felt like the book took a long time to get to the point. When I was outlining it for my notes, I jumped over entire chapters that I was able to summarize with a single sentences. It did not have what I would term economy of expression.

These misgivings aside, I found the core ideas of Personal Kanban compelling, and I’m experimenting with it. The first change I’ve making is one I was toying with already: I’m only working on one “project” at a time. I don’t have a timetable for finishing that project; I work it on it as I have the bandwidth to do so, and when I’m done with it, I pull the next one. What I’m noticing so far is that while my overall productivity may be down slightly, my sense of well-being is up. I’m feeling better about what I’m doing. Most importantly, I’m responding to opportunities as they come up — like the chance to watch hockey with Gwen.


Every Day is New Year's Day

I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Say it again

Jackson Browne, “The Pretender”

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Last year I linked to Scott Berkun’s article on why we’re so bad at keeping them and how to make better ones. This year, I noticed Alistair Cockburn’s Post-hoc New Year’s resolutions, and I thought it was fabulous. And I find it strange that we often wait for a special occasion, like the changing of the numbers on the calendar, to try to make change in our lives, when we have the opportunity to do it whenever we want.

So I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions. Sure, I’ve got things I want to accomplish in 2012. The way I’m going to get there, though, is by making Today’s resolutions, and This Week’s resolutions. I don’t live my life a year at a time, so I don’t like trying to make resolutions at that scale. I’m going to pick the things that I need to do now, and do those every day until I need to do something different. When will that happen? Maybe a year, maybe less; I’ll know when I get there.

I understand the symbolism of New Year’s resolutions, and I understand the importance of symbolic resolutions to help inspire you. More important, though, are resolutions that help you do the hard work, day after day, that get you to your goal. And those can happen any day of the week.


It Affects "Corpus Omne"

Lex I: Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare.

—Isaaco Newtono, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Or, more familiarly: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless an outside force acts upon them.

Right now it’s the staying at rest part that’s bothering me. Starting can be surprisingly hard. I told Gwen the other day that running when it’s cold out doesn’t bother me that that much. I run hot anyway, so after the first mile or so, I don’t really notice that it’s cold. It’s starting to run when it’s cold out that bothers me (as I reaffirmed yesterday at 6:15 AM when it was 44 degrees out). If I can just get out the door and get moving, I’m fine. The trick is getting out the door (which I didn’t yesterday).

Revising the current draft of the novel is another thing I’ve had trouble getting going. I’ve had two or three false starts at it, and I’ve had to accept that I won’t get it done by the end of the year. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I want to break the hold inertia has over that project.

There are no end to the sayings about the importance of beginnings:

“The beginning is a very delicate time.” —Princess, Irulan, Dune

“Well begun is half done.” —Mary Poppins (and Aristotle) (and Horace)

“What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” — John Anster, in his “very free” translation of Goethe’s Faust

I know these things, but there’s always a gap between theory and practice. The challenge is to close it. I’m trying to do that with regards to getting started on things, and I’m curious: How do you push yourself over those thresholds? What do you do to overcome whatever mental or emotional hurdles you have to pass in order to get started on something? What tricks do you use?