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A dozen important productivity blog posts that haven't been written yet

As I write my weekly posts I try not to cover topics you can easily find elsewhere [1], including (with a few resources):

These are all important topics but they've been covered widely. Given that, I'll take a stab at the productivity meta post [2]. This is a close cousin of my "There is no one tip" (non)answer to What's the ultimate productivity tip [3]. But there's some bad news.

These were suprisingly hard to come up with. Actually, given the amount of blog coverage in the field, maybe that's not unexpected. (Related The Real Reasons For The Modern Productivity Movement.)

So in an effort to stimulate thought [4] I present 12 productivity ideas that haven't been nailed yet. This post is a bit loose, but I'd like to put it out there to hear your thoughts. Has a solid meta post been already written? What's missing from the list? What's already been addressed? Cheers!

  • Difficulty adopting new productivity habits: Why is becoming more productive so bloody hard? It's certainly not for lack of information. There's a ton of it on the web (guilty as charged), and most (other than mine :-) are easy to read, so that's not the problem. I see two issues. 1) Changing any habit is difficult (there are posts on that too!) 2) We're apparently not prepared "out of the box" to handle our modern pace - that onslaught of communication, commitments, and information that we all face.
  • How to know which trick/tip/technique/method you need: While Allen's Getting Things Done methodology is extremely popular in productivity geek circles, people have been writing about time management for centuries [5]. But we change, our work changes, and our lives change, so our personal self-management systems need to adapt and keep up. That means we need a regular process that takes this into account and indicates when and what we should change.
  • You already know what you should be doing: ...and it isn't a time management problem that'll be solved by a two minute "25 tips" post. Oftentimes we what work is important, and what to do next, so sometimes we just need to hunker down and do the darn thing. Is it painful? Sure! In fact that's one definition of "work" - important + difficult. But I like how Pressfield puts it in The War of Art
    The athelete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.
    Is this true for you?
  • Why productivity changes don't stick: Let's face it, adopting a principled new approach to how we work is not only hard to start, but hard to sustain. This is partly because changing habits is hard, but also due to the brittleness of most methods (one of the 10 GTD "holes" I identified). What are the typical obstacles, and how do we address them?
  • Why the big interest in productivity? Again, see The Real Reasons For The Modern Productivity Movement.
  • How much does personality matter? Many time management books and practitioners start with an up-front assessment of personality type. Are you convergent/divergent, do you like working with a busy physical space (i.e., cluttered desk), etc. I don't do this. Partly it's due to my engineering "process solves everything" thinking, but also because I can get away with it (why be coy?) I'm taking a cue from David Allen on this, who similarly skips an initial time analysis. (Side note: I dislike the idea that four letters say it all about me. Bunk!)
  • Why no "build-a-meal" productivity menu? "I'd like one 'Schedule It All' calendar, a color-coded filing system, and a helping of delegation tools. Hold the tickler." I provide this as needed, but a book covering all options along with guidelines for using them would be very cool.
  • Productivity blogger field guide: Since there are many of us, with our own take on the field, why not a fun little categorization of us all? How about "25 tipper" and "GTD regurgitator" for starters? (Related: Types of Twitter users [6].)
  • Metrics: How do we know whether changes have had an impact, and how much? I made a stab at this in How Do You Measure Personal Productivity? but I know there's a solid analysis there.
  • Underlying psychological concerns: In addition to lack of skills there are deeper reasons why we have trouble doing all we want to accomplish. How about a canonical list of them? One of my readers put it this way:
    I, like lots of people, have skeletons in my closet. Why, for example, did {comedian running for Senate in MN} not pay his workers comp? Why do people avoid Big Things? What impact does this have on productivity? What are the psychological effects of living in society today? What do people need to do to address skeletons in their closet? Go to therapy? Revival like seminars? Religion? Seems to me this is something that is critically important and never addressed in the drier books (like GTD etc) -- though I could have missed it, not being schooled in this subject.

  • It's (not) all been written before: I've read a lot of time management books, and - really - a lot of this isn't new. From Doug's comment on Why Blogruptcy Is A Great Idea But Doesn't Work, And Why SPAM Is Easy To Fix And Information Overload Isn't
    I would argue that the most recently written material on a subject is not necessarily the best... I also think that as intellectual citizens of the blogsphere we serve a greater purpose by knitting together the best material
  • Definitive bottom-up vs. top-down guide: I've grappled with this a while: When is it better to start with adopting a personal system (ala Allen) rather than doing a goal-driven analysis (ala Covey)? Talking with some of my interviewees has clarified this some (short answer: it depends, and it's a cycle spiral) but I'd love to see some principled advice.
Got a good one? Let me know!

(P.S. The folks over at simple·ology have kindly picked up my article Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide: Productivity Lessons from Basic Math on their blog and newsletter. While there you might check out their productivity approach. They've put their own spin on the ideas out there. Thanks, folks!)


  • [1] But, not surprisingly, I do track them.
  • [2] A post about productivity posts. I admit - I love the term "meta." Meta, meta, meta. Partly because I cut my AI teeth on a Space-cadet keyboard, and partly because I like thinking about thinking about things. It's also why I'm considering calling what I teach metawork.
  • [3] Alternatively, decide which tip you currently need.
  • [4] I've been working on a tagline for this blog, with my current favorite: The "made me think" blog. A "Good Blogging" sidebar: I should have given some more thought to my blog's title, something other than "Matt's Idea Blog." Why? It turns out that picking a good one is a very important thing to consider when starting a blog. See What not to name your blog. (Follow up: This might actually have been a fine name. Stay tuned.)
  • [5] You might enjoy 10 Ways History's Finest Kept Their Focus at Work and The Productivity Promisers.
  • [6] Help me here. A few starter ones: "Look how successful I am," "I just used the potty," and "Replying to my followers but not actually saying anything myself." :-)

Reader Comments (6)

Thank you for including a link to my post, suddenly this morning I had a half dozen hits from your site and didn't know why.

I like your first footnote, I have a list of the sites that I will reference in the future and will often mail it to my partner, just so there is a backup list floating around.

I stumbled this post.

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCindy King

Hi Matthew

Thank you for a very interesting post - some really good ideas & links there.

Thought you might be interested in my post "The Zen of Productivity" at http://alexbowyer.blogspot.com/2008/07/zen-of-productivity.html

It's kind of a meta-post, as you talked about; it seems like we are both talking about some of the same ideas.

Alex Bowyer

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Bowyer

I don't know about everyone else, but to me this is the key element on the list. Some thoughts:

- Burnout is when you just can't play hurt any more. Maybe some of us wake up some mornings and wish that just once, it didn't hurt so much?

- Different athletes have different pain thresholds... some days a lot of the "good habits" and "productivity" advice seems to come from people with bizarrely high pain thresholds. Is it any wonder it doesn't work as well for others?

- Many successful athletes are less organised, less conscientious and less productive in other parts of their lives. It's relatively easy to play hurt in your "main game" particularly if it's your passion. Playing hurt in every aspect of life is maybe more complex/draining/difficult.

- As a supplement to the above, we've become enamoured of the "myth of the marathon runner" in thinking about motivation, habits etc. But the reality is that few goals in life are anywhere near as cut and dried as running a marathon (or indeed, any other kind of sports competition.) And yes, we can all sit and create more focused, SMART objectives for ourselves, but those are mostly much more artificial constructs. Perhaps some kind of "suspension of disbelief" is important? Perhaps ordinary life is harder to visualise that "winning that gold medal" and as such the techniques of athletic training need more adjustment before they are applied?

- Playing hurt can lead to injuries that leave you crippled for life. We know so little about the mental side of ourselves. By comparison in pro sports now we've gotten much better at working out when someone can play hurt and when they should rest, to prevent making the physical injury worse.

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMetatone

Thanks for stopping by, Cindy.

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Apparently I'm not the only one who eschews short posts :-)

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

> to me this is the key element on the list

Yea! A "hit."

> bizarrely high pain thresholds. Is it any wonder it doesn't work as well for others?

That's a *really* interesting analogy to productivity. Pain = Willingness (or ability) to adopt methods?

> "main game"

Conservation of energy?

> Perhaps ordinary life is harder to visualise that "winning that gold medal"

That's definitely another missing post: "10 productivity metaphors and how they're broken"

Thanks a tone for the insights, Metatone.

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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