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A few thoughts on vacations & GTD, used time management books, a few productivity tips, and heroes - both super *and* real

I'm on vacation this week, so I wanted to do a relatively light post. Following are a few thoughts that have been bouncing around.

What's the GTD definition of "vacation?"

The first thought is about the meaning of vacation for GTD practitioners. Let's start with this definition, but try to get more specific:
planned time spent not working
Well, since we use the five workflow phases to define how we think about work (Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do), can we translate them into "not working?"

My thought is that we stop doing all phases except for the capture part of "Collect." For example, when I'm trying to relax, I don't want to be thinking about my calendar or action lists at all, and I won't be processing my tickler file (if I maintain one). (However, I did pre-process it before leaving.) But to maintain my focus on relaxation (a studied "UNfocus"?) I want to keep a clear mind, which means continuing to capture any thoughts, ideas, and concerns that come up, so that I can proceed to forget about them. Len Merson calls it "the pleasure to forget" in his book The Instant Productivity Toolkit, which is a nice way of putting it. (I discussed the book in my previous post.)

In fact, another way of looking at vacation is as a time to reap the benefits of a clear mind, by allowing it to be as fully disengaged from the work/life world as possible. (Naturally, one benefit of practicing GTD is that we get this benefit all the time, to on degree or another.)

Another thought is that vacations provide us a structured, but safe and limited opportunity to practice decision-making ("the hard part of knowledge work," I've heard it put). Instead of the "heavier" topics that we encounter during the normal workday, we get to address simpler ones like whether to go to the beach, take a bike ride, read a book, etc. (This is analogous to considering poker as a safe framework for trying out risk.)

A few related GTD/Vacation posts are: GTD at DisneyWorld, GTD on vacation?, and the free davidco article Managing work on vacation (which you unfortunately have to buy to read).

Why are used time management books so common?

As I continue my self-defined Masters in Personal Productivity, I've been keeping an eye out for related books, esp. time management classics. Lo and behold, I continue to find many of them at tag sales, tents sales, and thrift shops. For example, here are a few I've recently picked up:So what is it that makes these books so readily available? My first thoughts were:
  • these days managing ourselves (AKA "time management") is more of a problem than ever
  • the problem is possible to address in many different ways
  • many of the ways don't work
My wife had a more optimistic interpretation: People read the books, they work, and they don't feel the need to keep them! Naturally, as a new consultant in this business I wonder if the more modern techniques like GTD just plain work better...

What really gets you excited? For me, superheros! (surprisingly)

A number of sites and books talk about how to decide what you should do with your life, including Steve Pavlina, Fred Gratzon, Dick Richards, Po Bronson, and local author Margaret Lobenstine. In my case I stumbled upon my new area thanks to David Allen's book Getting Things Done, but it's a question I continue to tangle with.

However, one approach I've been trying out lately is to simply listen to what gets me really excited. I wrote What to do when an excited person person is waving something at you because I wanted to recognize this in others, but I'd like to encourage you to hear that little voice in yourself when it speaks. For example, we were at a town fair a while back and someone was encouraging me to try one of those bungee rides in which you strap in, bounce a while, and have fun. I was wrestling with whether or not to go, but I just wasn't interested. (The problem was that I thought I should be excited about it.) I felt much better when I realized I didn't care to do it.

Luckily, all is not lost: Here's something I thought was very cool: Wired magazine had a blurb on Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co, which I thought was extremely cool. Read more at Bruce Wayne Is on the Mailing List, and Mr. Chips Is in the Back Room.

(A small confession: I consider my business clothing my superhero costume. Why? First, the act of putting it on helps me transform myself mentally into the knowledgeable, comfortable, and personable expert and presenter. Also, it gives me special powers, including profound humility, extreme likability, and superhuman confidence. I admit it helps that it's made of reinforced Kevlar, and has a custom utility belt - contents secret!)

Productivity tip: WebDrive

Tech tip: I use remote Linux servers for backups, and SSH to communicate securely between them and my Windows machine. While free tools like WinSCP are great, I had a big usability improvement by switching over to an OS tool that lets me mount remote hosts as local drives via SSH. The two I looked at were SftpDrive and WebDrive. Briefly, I found both to be solid programs, though I ended up using WebDrive because SftpDrive wasn't available for Windows 2000 at the time (they've updated it since). Both are highly recommended. (Disclaimer: The kind folks at these companies gave me free evaluation copies, for which I'm grateful.)

Note: Works great with the free synchronization tool SyncToy.

Productivity tip: Firefox smart keywords

As a Firefox user I've found their Smart Keywords feature to be a serious time-saver. Briefly, these are bookmarks with place-holder characters that allow creating a shortcut pattern that expands into a full URL. For example, I type "am productivity" to look up Amazon books on productivity. Here are some example keywords I've set up that have been useful for writing and research:

Search Amazon Booksamhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/ref=br_ss_hs/104-8085125-4087950?field-keywords=%s&platform=gurupa&url=index%3Dstripbooks%3Arelevance-above
Amazon.com Wishlistawlhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/IZZMVJXF5IQO/104-8085125-4087950?reveal=unpurchased&filter=all&sort=priority&layout=compact&x=10&y=14
Google Blog Searchbshttp://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?q=%s&hl=en
Answers lookup (dictionary)dihttp://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=%s&gwp=8
Google Blog Search - my blogimhttp://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?q=%s+blogurl:http://ideamatt.blogspot.com/&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
Local Library Title Searchjlhttp://wmars.cwmars.org/search~S4/t?SEARCH=%s
Wikipedia Searchwphttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search?search=%s

You can read more about them at What are Smart Keywords? and Smart keywords explained.

Finally, a great movie: An Inconvenient Truth

My wife and I saw An Inconvenient Truth last night, which I thought was an excellent movie, both from the standpoint of his presentation (a topic I care about because I'm now paid to do them), and the crucially important topic of global warming.

Al Gore was definitely preaching to the choir in our area (lots of hybrids on the road, CSAs, state-wide environmental leadership, etc,) but the theater was still full, even though the movie's been out for a while. I strongly recommend everyone see it - it destroys the arguments against global warming being real. Their site is www.climatecrisis.net.

As a result, Gore's now one of my heroes, along with Amy Goodman, James Randi, Bill Moyers, Carl Sagan, Michael Moore, Jon Stewart, and many others. If you run into him, please pass along my thanks!

Reader Comments (9)

Matt, I am digging your blog more all the time. [ My blog | HTTP://WEB.MAC.COM/AIRJAIRJAPAN/IWEB/REALITY%20BYTES/BLOG/BLOG.HTML ] does a bit tech personal productivity, Japanese, global warming and political rants.
I would add that passion and drive are key ingredients to persistence, which is integral to long term goal achievement.

August 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hey, Anonymous. Thanks very much for the compliment, and for reading. I got a real kick out of your [ post | http://web.mac.com/airjairjapan/iWeb/Reality%20Bytes/Blog/5F89D72E-D51B-4DE1-9775-24530CE5ADA4.html ] about Pat Robertson getting on the global warming bandwagon. Even for an atheist, I consider it a miracle!

August 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Joe - Thanks a ton for the fabulous comment. Amy Jo Kim's presentation is loaded with good ideas I hope to adopt for my presentations, similar to the [ GTD Playing Card | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/05/personal-productivity-playing-cards.html ] idea.

Carse's book looks really neat - thanks for the pointer.

Excellent point re: things we think we should be doing. Of course I'm hoping there's a market for people who actually want to change...

I love the Martha Graham quote - Hopefully I'm combining both knowledge and passion!

Your Inconvenient Truth post is excellent (I just finished it). I think that as long as some of us are aware of the problem there's a possibility of change. Maybe the hard-core "fingers in ears" people won't change, but if [ Pat Robertson | http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060803/us_nm/robertson_dc_2;_ylt=AvVBnwlr8UGrrNQj6uJzbOhrAlMA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl ] can change his tune...

Finally, I like the thought "I think we're all heroes, if you catch us at the right moment." It reminds me of [ Madson's | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400081882/qid=1153171071/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-6968660-7021631?redirect=true&s=books&v=glance&n=283155 ] thought about "whose job it is:"When I see something that needs to be done, I usually do it without debate. The improviser in me is trained to take action rather than muse over whose job it may be. It's always my job if I see it to do, and I'm able to do the task.

More on that in a future post!

August 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

The very concept of GTD on vacations cracks me up. But I totally agree with what you said.

Vacations are great! (Can I have another?)

August 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNairobi Paul

Hello Matt,

I very much enjoy your posts, being an avid student of the David myself. My own articles are published in Dutch, at http://www.meereffect.nl

Regarding FireFox keywords: You may also want to try Fingertips.

I've created it to make my whole computer into a keyword-based machine :)

Adding NA's, SM's, WF's to Outlook, surfing the web, opening documents and applications, all through keywords (with parameters).

It's still in beta and needs more documentation, but hey, it's free and quite useful.

I actually made the site when I was presenting at a software conference, starting applications with Fingertips and people in the room started surfing the web to find it :-)


Keep up the good work!

August 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTaco Oosterkamp

Nairobi Paul: If I understand your point, it seems silly to think about vacation and being productive at the same time. My thinking here was whether GTD allows having better vacations, and in what ways. Thanks for reading, and for your comment!

August 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Taco. Your site looks great. I'd love to talk with you sometime about your work. I also like your Fingertips program. Is it similar to http://www.activewords.com/" REL="nofollow">ActiveWords? I certainly see why it would be useful. Thanks for reading!

August 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your reaction. The major difference between Fingertips and ActiveWords (as I see it) is that Fingertips activation is based on a global shortcut-key, where ActiveWords tries to read all characters that you type on the keyboard.

Technically that is a more difficult thing to implement, thereby leading to more issues (at least in my limited experience).

I'll send you an e-mail to continue our discussion.

Keep up the good work here!
Taco Oosterkamp

August 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTaco Oosterkamp

Thanks for the details, Taco.

August 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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