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Reader request: Feed the IdeaMatt!

Sorry for the delayed posting these last few weeks. I've been working on v1.2 of my workshop for an up-coming on-site series, and it's dimmed the lights (a term a favorite client came up with) on other projects.

(Sidebar: Why dimming the lights can be bad: While I recommend against this practice I've been drawn into it, and it stinks. Not only because it's stressful, but because the promise of "simultaneous progress on multiple projects" falls apart. Yes there's a dozen small - 5-15 minute - tasks on my list, and each one would not take much effort, but drat it's hard make them go when overshadowed by a big difficult project with a near term deadline. Makes one think of urgent/important, eh? And of course: Teaching this doesn't mean I'm perfect at practicing it myself. No mistake, I'm good at it, but "practice what you preach" is always good advice for me. How about you - do you dim the lights? What's the impact? And how do you avoid it?)

OK, so we interrupt the usual broadcast etc. to bring you a special request:
Send me good stuff!
I love to receive timely and relevant articles and news relating to productivity, and it helps my development of ideas here on this blog. Why am I asking you? Because you're a terrific resource: 1) you know what I like, 2) you're out there reading the best productivity sites (don't deny it - I attract what Pamela Slim called my "smartie productivity geeks" (paraphrasing here - sorry, Pam!), 3) you know I'll read and integrate it into my Big-Arse Text File, and 4) I'm lazy. And hey - If you want to help people you gotta' know what they want, right? :-)

Are you up for it? Email your goodies to brain@matthewcornell.org. Samples of things I loved getting:

Variation: Feel free to snail-mail things - contact information here.

So please: Feed the IdeaMatt! No job too big or small! We aim to please; your aim helps! (Further sidebar: I'm continuing to develop the idea of living an experimental lifestyle, and I'll be treating this request as such. Like my A Daily Planning Experiment, these results are fun to write about, they often influence my worldview, and sometimes inform my consulting practice - the daily plan is now a fundamental recommendation, for example. [sound of lab book opening...] Cheers!)

Reader Comments (4)

> How about you - do you dim the lights? What's the impact? And how do you avoid it?)

This definitely happens. I do feel like it basically makes it seem like I am disregarding other work. However, it usually only happens when there is some important, urgent project. According to GTD reules, these are the things that you should be working on anyway...so maybe I shouldn't feel bad about not working on the other items. If I try to go ahead and work on the other tasks, I feel like I should be working on the other urgent task so it is hard to focus.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGary

Excellent points, Gary, esp. your comment about feeling anxious when working on other tasks. I definitely get it. I guess the key is minimizing the times when this happens - classic Important/Not Urgent territory, with a dose of good planning thrown in.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I've been playing around with this a bit, too. Because of the nature of my work, I always have a stack of projects in limbo. They're too valuable to move to the "not gonna happen" list, but deadlines, resource constraints, and incoming interruptions leave them in a vague state.

For the last few months, I've been playing with contexts and my weekly review as a way to balance how I work on the looming priorities and other valuable but less critical work.

I've started treating my mental attention as resources like home/phone/online/etc and creating different contexts for things that require concentration, are easy, require a block of uninterrupted focus, etc. Like Gary mentioned, a lot of the non urgent projects end up with tasks in "easy" and "quick", and many of the priorities in "concentrate" or "write".

I'm still spending some time refining the approach and the categories (or am just not fully trusting it yet, I'm not sure which), but it's improved my ability to strike that balance. And it's had the nice side effect of making me use my time better, because I've created a mental agreement with myself about when working on priorities is really valuable and when it's not the best use of time.

I'm trying to do the same sort of thing with my areas of focus (since my system implements contexts as tags, they're doing double duty for me). During my weekly review, that lets me grab an overview of what I've completed in what areas, so I can evaluate how well I'm balancing the way I'm spending my time and make mental adjustments for the upcoming week.

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoreen

Hey, Doreen.

> I've started treating my mental attention as resource...

That's a good way to slice and dice actions. I too have played with the various dimensions (fun, difficulty, urgency, importance, ...) and I usually come back to my flat list of actions with no markings. Having just looked at the list differently has been useful...

And yes, I think we all have our "limbo" projects come and go (good term). Sometimes I get stuck on even the *simplest* thing and need help breaking it out of its rut. For example, I'm selling some music equipment, and I've done all the research, etc. and I simply need to take photos of the stuff. Easy, right? Nope - been sitting there for two weeks. So I asked my wife to simply sit and watch me do it, which helped get me over the hump...

We humans are a weird kind of beast, that's for sure.

Nice to have your comment - thanks!

June 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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