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Deep Thoughts on personal productivity by Jack Handey

Note: I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next three weeks. Next week I'll be putting on three full-day workshops at the Kennedy Space Center. I'm taking my family, enjoying the toasty weather (hey - it's even hotter at home), and if we're lucky we'll get to see a launch! Then we're off to Canada for two weeks for vacation.

I'm inviting more humor into my life (part of my effort to enjoy the ride), and I re-kindled my love affair with the brilliant humorist Jack Handy (Wikipedia entry here). Not that I'm actually in love with him, but I think he's funny. (I'm thinking of adding these to my famous quote cards workshop activity...)

I just received my shipment of his "Deep thoughts" books (business expense), and I discovered his wisdom around personal productivity, and life in general. Below are some of his observations I thought you'd like. At the bottom you'll find links to his The New Yorker short stories. Enjoy!


On personal productivity

Mental "stuff"

I didn't want to cut down that tree. But I had no choice. It was growing right where I'm going to build my house, if I can ever get enough money together to build it and if I also have enough money to buy the land. That's another thing: I need to find out who owns that land.
Related: Personal productivity, IBMs (not the company), and NUTs: Some surprises about the brain.


I think in one of my previous lives I was a mighty king, because I like people to do what I say.

Project management, completion

A lot of times when you first start out on a project you think, This is never going to be finished. But then it is, and you think, Wow, it wasn't even worth it.

Internal commitments (open loops)

It's funny how two simple words, 'I promise,' will stall people for a while.

Prioritization and agility

If you're being chased by an angry bull, and then you notice you're also being chased by a swarm of bees, it doesn't really change things. Just keep on running.

Eliminating time-wasters

When I think of all the hours and hours of my life I have spent watching television, it makes me realize, Man, I am really rich with television.


There's a world that we know nothing about, that we can only imagine. And that is the world of books.
Related: A reading workflow based on Leveen's "Little Guide", How to read a lot of books in a short time.

Stress management

You can't tell me that cowboys, when they're branding cattle, don't sort of 'accidentally' brand each other every once in a while. It's their way of letting off stress.


If you drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let 'em go, because, man, they're gone.

New Yorker Articles

More wisdom - Broader life issues

Goal setting

It's easy to sit there and say you'd like to have more money. And I guess that's what I like about it. It's easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.

Pace of life

As the light changed from red to green to yellow and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.


If I had the time to sit down and write a thank-you note to everyone who sent me a nice, expensive present, what a wonderful world that would be!
Related: The power of a note, On the power of saying "Thank you", Living in the moment, preventing regret, and appreciating life, Use Gmail's "star" to highlight your good news.

Personal development

If you think a weakness can be turned into a strength, I hate to tell you this, but that's another weakness.

Public speaking

If you're ever giving a speech, when you start out, act nervous and get mixed up a little bit. Then, as you go along, get better and better. Then, at the end, give off a white, glowing light and have rays shoot out of you.

Body-mind connection

Life is a constant battle between the heart and the brain. But guess who wins. The skeleton.
One time I don't think you should listen to your body is when it says 'I'm dead.'
Related: Reflections on Alexander Technique and personal productivity, How to use the "I'm not going to ____" mind hack.

Life perspective, higher elevations

Whenever I start thinking that I am not living up to my potential, I remind myself of the old farmer and his fight to the death with the insane pig. It's an exciting story, and it takes my mind off all this 'potential' business.

Training, workshops

If you ever teach a yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep the students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we build to that.
If you had a school for professional fireworks people, I don't think you could cover fuses in just one class. It's just too rich a subject.

Life purpose

Perhaps, if I am very lucky, the feeble efforts of my lifetime will someday be noticed, and maybe, in some small way, they will be acknowledge as the greatest works of genius ever created by Man.

Reader Comments (7)

And if you are looking for a new job I like...

"When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges."

JH is some seriously demented humour. Thanks for reminding me of him Matt!

August 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMagicfuture5

Matt - The whole purpose of productivity is to help us get the most important things in life done. Actually enjoying life, and all the humor in it, is one of those things. Thanks for sharing these.

I hope that you and your family have a great vacation! That's another part of productivity too.

August 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRicky Spears

:) OK, I laughed lots. You've reminded me that humor is an amazingly powerful tool. A good joke reduced friction, and that, if nothing else, increased productivity. Have a great break!

August 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJamin

Thanks, all. Glad it helped. Having a good series of workshops down here. Launch is scheduled for Wed, with http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=126" REL="nofollow">T-38 flights by astronauts overhead during consulting - fun!

August 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Life is a constant battle between the heart and the brain. But guess who wins. The skeleton.

Oh, man. I'd never heard that Deep Thought before, but I love it! One to keep in mind, in the midst of drama.

September 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Elkins

I was in MA a few years back visiting family, and the power went out during a storm. For several hours, my then 10-year-old niece entertained us reading Jack Handey books aloud by candlelight. One of my more memorable family trips!

September 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Braithwaite

Thanks for the great story, Lisa. I think Handey has universal appeal, primarily due to his insightful approach to tapping into essential - [ archetypes | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archetype ] like cowboys, ego, and self-inflicted pain :)

September 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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