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An idea (and question) dump from the big-arse text file

You know those crisis weeks when everything comes to a head, and then you get whacked by some nasty - and urgent - surprises? Well I've had three weeks of those, which explains the slow post rate. I apologize for that.

So rather than my usual long, link-rich, in-depth, and rather dry article (the patented Ideamatt style ;-) I'd like to tap into my pickle jar [1] and ask you some questions around productivity and living. Any thoughts would definitely be welcome.

Living (and suffering) with grace

How do you cope with life's curve balls? Last week I got some nasty medical news [2] that I'm having trouble coping with, and I'm looking for ideas. So far I've had great benefit from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I'll also be re-studying Full Catastrophe Living to ready myself for pain (you might enjoy this interview with him).

Is it possible to live out of ... the inbox?

You've read a hundred times that base 0 is a best practice for staying on top. However, that's not the only perspective. For example, The Hamster Revolution talks about deciding an optimum number of emails you'd like to have in your Inbox, and it's easy to find systems that use email flags to mark actionable messages. So is it possible to have a principled system based on the inbox? In my workshops I ask participants to list ways we use the inbox, and get answers like action reminding, reference, waiting for, even junk. So we'd need a system of tagging, I guess. Possibly related: Noguchi Filing System (sorry the images are gone).

The quality-quantity time myth

I forget where this comes from, but the standard line of spending "quality time" with our loved ones is bunk. Instead, spend quality time at work (go read Koch's The 80/20 Principle [3]) and quantity time with your family. Big idea. I wonder if the myth came about as a rationalization for working too much...

Dimming the lights

Do you notice cycles in your work - perhaps during an intense week - in which one big project overwhelms everything else? I know someone who calls this "dimming the lights," and it provides some really interesting challenges to staying on top. The main problem is other work gets sacrificed, creating crises, and work backlogs build so high that good productivity habits are at risk. Does this happen to you? How do you deal with it?

There is no "set and forget" in self-management

For other aspects of our lives, some habits are set and forget - once they're adopted, they're rather self-sustaining. It seems to me that staying on top of our lives isn't like that. Rather, it's a process of mastery [4]. But is there always a risk of falling back on old habits?

Desquamate your desktop

What can we learn about productivity from the medical profession? For example, Triage and checklists (you might enjoy The Checklist)...

William Morris and simplicity

What can we learn from the Arts and Crafts movement about elegant self-management? William Morris talked about values like craftsmanship, simplicity of expression, individuality, and usefulness in his designs. Anything we can learn?

Principled use of Selective Perception

In The Achievement Factors, the authors talk about seeing clearly, and the idea of selective exposure - avoiding exposing ourselves to information with which we disagree. (Related: The process of Selective Perception.) Seems there are two ways to use this. First, by only allowing into our minds those things that support our beliefs. A positive example: Visualizing the shape of your future. A negative example: Getting stuck in a worldview that's harmful to future goals [5]. Do you actively use this in your life?

Do you know about "Po?"

Among some of the great ideas in Mind Performance Hacks is the that of "Po," from De Bono's book Po: Beyond Yes and No. Suggested use is to interrupt mental interpretations of negative events. Anyone familiar with this?

The best gifts are either loved or hated

It seems that in-between gifts are almost not worth it. Do the best gifts take a chance? (Related: How to help people.)

Productivity tips from Hibatchi chefs

While watching a Hibachi chef, I was struck by parallels to our workspaces, including planning (collecting ingredients), focus (distraction = pain and bad food), and the diverge/converge cycle of mess during work. Any other cuisines we can learn from?

Don't throw away "bad" files

I've had files I didn't want to keep around due to negative mental associations, but I kept them anyway - for a sense of completeness, I suppose. Guess what? They really came in handy later. What's up with that?

Finally, how are you unconventional and eccentric?

From The 80/20 Principle: Be unconventional and eccentric in your use of time. In my continuing marketing thinking, there's a bunch of conventional ideas I'm throwing out - but isn't that dangerous? Darn right, and I'm taking some risks in my choices. But eccentric... That's an interesting one. Have you adopted either or both of these?


Reader Comments (21)

Sorry to hear that you're going to need some surgery, Matt. Possibly in a similar vein to the other two books you mentioned, you might try Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (I can recommend the Gregory Hays translation). I only read it a few months ago and haven't yet tested it through any really difficult situations or physical pain, but it's certainly helped me deal better with a lot of the normal stresses and worries of life.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercolin_zr

Thanks for the kind words, Colin. And the book's on my list - much appreciated.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt,

Just echoing everyone's concerns about your surgery. I've never been through a predictable pain period like that so I don't dare throwing in my hat with advice.

Hope all is well.


March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJose Quesada

Hope all is well, Matt. Thanks for today's post. I like the reminder of quantity time with family. It seems you can never force a "quality" moment, but the quality moments come on their own when we make family time a priority. Good mention on Viktor Frankl, too. I found his "Man's Search for Meaning" very insightful.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRay Fowler

Matt -- sorry to hear about the surgery -- I had lower back surgery 3 years ago but still deal with chronic pain every day ... my mindset is that God gives us all a "Cross" to bear -- Paul had his "thorn in the flesh", I have my back :) But one thing I like to do when I'm in pain is sit in a great 0-gravity chair in our FAMILY ROOM with my FAMILY -- combining these helps me 1) cope with pain and 2) BE with my family. Prayers and blessings to you.

JeffH -- Fort Worth,Texas

ps -- I'm writing this on my new MacBook Pro -- took the plunge too! More therapy :)

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJhunter

Jose, Ray, Jeff: Thanks very much for the good wishes. Should go fine. I'm trying taking an experimental perspective (like Frankl observed). How intense will the pain be? How long will it last? Will I have some broken bones? Will I wake up sick? Etc...

Jose: I owe you an article. Coming up!

> you can never force a "quality" moment, but the quality moments come on their own when we make family time a priority

Wow - that's a great quote, Ray. Frankl talks about something similar around success. You can't force it, but need to make room for (badly paraphrased - apologies).

Jeff: Sorry about the back pain. I have a sense of how excruciating it can be. Luckily I've avoided surgery. I hope it gets better. Re: a cross to bear, I can see that from a suffering perspective. Frankl's good on this too. I love your suggestion of being with family. Will do.

> I'm writing this on my new MacBook Pro

Hey - good luck with it. Overall I'm quite happy with the switch. Still some growing pains, though. And I still really, really want to throttle Address Book. Not perfect, but much better than Windows.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

on the medical issue:

"this too shall pass"

pain is temporary. that doesn't make it hurt any less at the time, but it does help to concentrate on the fact that it's just a glitch, just a pothole.

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Hi Matt,
Just to quote great Chinese sentence : what will not kill us it will strengthen us.
You've thrown a lot of good ideas. My current favourite is on Williams Morris and simplicity. It's so true looking at this from the time management systems. If the system is not an extension of your "body" you will never master it. You can't let the system to rule you and be a mindless follower.
Best of luck

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreywolf

Hey Rafal - thanks for the comment. The kill/strengthen idea is good, just a bit hard to take in sometimes (like any good bit of common wisdom - it must be experienced to be meaningful). And I like your body metaphor - will we be reading about it? ;-)

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt: Here are the best two books I've ever read about suffering. Both are from a Christian perspective, but they come at suffering and unexpected pain from different angles.

When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes ((http://tinyurl.com/3xoksc)

The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper (http://tinyurl.com/2kcaay)

The Tada/Estes book is both theology and personal experience (Tada was paralyzed from neck down in a diving accident). The Piper book is an extended poem written in the voice of Job. There's a CD that comes with the book and you can hear Piper read the text.

I will pray for you to find peace in the surgery and whatever pain accompanies it. Tony

March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Prayers from our family on your speedy recovery. I hope your financial situation is under control in handling this randomness that life has through at you.

Bay Area Fox

March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFred

Hey Brent, thanks a lot.

Tony: I'll add them to my list. I try not to rule out helpful ideas due to my personal differences. And I appreciate your keeping me in your thoughts. That's very kind.

Fred - That's very thoughtful - thank you. And it sounds like you understand being self-employed - no sick pay!

Again, much appreciated folks.

March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

jp in MD: hello Matt. get well soon, we are thinking of you back here and wish you the best.

Who was that guy who wrote in the 70s? Norman Vincent Peale? Didnt he write a book about posiive thinking? No time to google it but may want to look at that.

take care; jp.

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks, JP. Much appreciated. Here's a link for [ Norman Vincent Peale | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Vincent_Peale ]. Great thing about these classics is they're $1 online. We just have to make time to read them!

Thanks for reading.

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt: So sorry to hear you're feeling fearful and facing surgery. I've had a run of trouble, I think I'm just coming out of it. It is really what led me to my interest in productivity, I became so non-productive in the midst of what seemed like one blow after the other. I have always been an atheist and for some strange reason, in the midst of a rather long recovery from one problem after the other, I fell into Tibetan Buddhism and became a daily meditator. I can't quite explain how different this is from my usual perspective.
Take a look at the recent articles by David Sloan Wilson and E. O. Wilson. They explain eloquently why Dawkins is so wrong, so very wrong. He's a gene-centric "cardboard Darwinian" (to quote Frans de Waal) who is sticking to his foolish disdain for group selection and multi-level selection theory. Take the leap into contemporary evolutionary thinking and debates, try the two I mention, it will entertain you. I admire you a great deal, hey we all do. Keep writing about what is happening, it will help you and the rest of us as well. Feel better and stay in touch with us, life gets like that and having a group around you maybe the best medicine. You've got us.

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLynn O'Connor's Notes

Hi Matt- spending a Saturday preparing for my first productivity workshop next week and came to your blog for some inspiration (always in big supply). I am sending you my best healing energy from down here in Brisbane and look forward to hearing your updates on the healing path. What a great group of people you have supporting you- I have read through the comments and feel much better about our species.

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Brian - I really appreciate your good wishes. I've definitely been humbled by everyone's concerns. I genuinely respect and like my readers.

Best of luck with your workshop. Feel free to email me about it. And I hope you do get inspired here.

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

First, you have my thoughts and prayers for a successful surgery and a relatively easy recovery.

Secondly, I think your willingness to FACE your pain is already half the process in dealing with it. If you can suffer, yet in your suffering recognize that of others, you have achieved compassion (obviously a key component to several different religious traditions). You may not be this calm and collected offline, but just desiring to be that way will get you there a lot faster than if you banked on self-pity.

In other words, simply asking your community to offer suggestions is a great way to "cope." Bravo. It isn't that easy to do, especially when it is medical.

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Hi Lynn. Sorry to hear about your round of stuff. Glad it's settling down. I do find it difficult to manage life when things are challenging, but mainly it's around feeling guilty for not doing *enough*. I tend to not give myself any slack. However, I'm still tracking everything, so at least the important work gets done - I'm with you on that.

Re: Dawkins - I welcome your perspective. I'm always ready to learn and change my mind. Here are a few resources I found: [ David Sloan Wilson: What Do Selfish Genes, and Memes, Really Mean? - Living on The Huffington Post | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sloan-wilson/what-do-selfish-genes-an_b_71381.html ], [ What does evolution really have to do with religion? David Sloan Wilson argues that it’s time to find out. | Dangerous Intersection | http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=1539 ], and [ Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385340214?ie=UTF8&tag=masidbl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0385340214 ]

Thanks a ton for the support, Lynn.

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Rebecca - Your comment meant a lot to me. Thank you.

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

This showed up in my arse file: [ Really Useful Time Management Tips from a Cooking Show | http://mind.skserver.org/2005/11/18/really-useful-time-management-tips-from-a-cooking-show/ ] and [ Waitress as Organizational Guru | http://www.thenewhomemaker.com/node/306 ] ( via [ Collection Habit Infection, Routines, And The Value Of Creating Space | http://matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/08/collection-habit-infection-routines.html ] ).

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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