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IdeaLab 0826: Systemic self-repair, over-blogging, faith, and "doing it" productivity style

The latest installment of my IdeaLab mashup - short ideas from the IdeaMatt My Big-Arse Text File to stimulate thinking, lead to discussion, and prevent Alzheimer's.

  • Can your system solve problems with your system?: I rediscovered Einstein's idea that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." This made me wonder whether this applied to self-management systems like GTD. That is, whether we can use a method to self problems with the method... I think the short answer is "Of course! It can solve anything!!" But it would me a strange moment when you realized you needed a major change - would the system look at it as hara kiri?

  • Productivity "Do It" jokes: Just for fun, do you have some good "Do It" Jokes? You know, "Productivity whizzes do it..."

    • ...in the office
    • ...wherever they can
    • ...with 100% focus
    • ...as much as possible
    And yours are...?

  • In the "What's this mean?" department: "It is the busiest man who has time to spare" [3]. My take: If we take "busy" to mean "productive," then then she has freed up important thinking time. Thoughts? (Apparently this is an implication of Parkinson's Law, one I hadn't seen before. Neat! Found via Time Tactics of Very Successful People, which definitely passed the scribble test.)

  • The funniest productivity tip I've found yet: From the brilliant Robert Benchley (quotes here): How to Get Things Done (with edits):
    The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

    Instead of putting [the most important items] first on the list, I put them last. My eye catches [the easier work]... I am soon hard at work [on it]. before he knows it, the easier stuff is done, and he returns to the harder one, which he works on a tiny bit more. then drawn to the next easiest thing. Tomorrow I will do the [hard one], and no fooling this time. ... The only trouble is that, at this rate, I will soon run out of things to do, and will be forced to get at my newspaper articles the first thing Monday morning.
    Go read the whole thing.

  • There is no reason to blog more than once per week: I know this runs counter to all "how to create a successful blog" advice, but given these days of information overload there is no thinking that's so important that I should see it daily. I'm sorry, but there's just too much interesting for me to invite backlog-producing sources into my life. It simply adds too much falling behind stress. The only exception is emergencies, but those should/do come via other more appropriate means (e.g., university threat warnings via SMS). You might consider news being an exception, but really, anything really important will come to you via friends or walking past the newspaper stand (see media diet). Still not convinced? Try this experiment: Track what news you think is important, then a week later check a) is it still important to you, and b) has anything important about it changed? (And yes, I'm biased by my "news is crap" perspective.) Related: Why Blogruptcy Is A Great Idea But Doesn't Work, And Why SPAM Is Easy To Fix And Information Overload Isn't.

  • 2x2: Serious vs. Fun: Why does work have to be so serious? I had an insight when reading the time management classic Seize the Day!, esp. this passage:
    "We have become conditioned to believe that working is a very serious business and any time, we're having fun, we are probably not 'producing'. Depressed people generally tend to be less productive. Likewise, people who take themselves too seriously create unnecessary tension in themselves and those around them. While there is a basic level of tension which can be very beneficial to performance, too much is counterproductive."
    I take this to mean it's possible (and recommended!) to do serious work, but have fun at it. This leads to the following 2x2: Serious vs. Fun:

    • Trivial, Miserable: Drudgery
    • Trivial, Fun: The Fool
    • Serious, Miserable: Death by stress
    • Serious, Fun: Great!

  • Keep a Question Pickle Jar: I'm a huge fan of asking questions. Good ones, and many of them. I think they're essential to living an active life that stimulates our curiosity and engages us in our world. It also opens our minds to seeing the world differently, and helps disconnect ego, opinion, and bias. When I spoke with Scott Ginsberg that keeping a list of questions (around any topic) is a great idea. As a minimum I recommend having a "party of three" at your fingertips for any social situation. In What If You... I suggested:

    • "What do you do for a living?"
    • "What do you love about your work?"
    • "What makes your job hard?"
    Yes these are all work related, but I have no problem with that. Everyone has some kind of work they do. (Plus, I couldn't come up with a general question that doesn't assume out-of-the-house work. "What keeps you busy?" "What do you love to do?"...)

  • Treat yourself like a kid: I need reminders to not be so serious (see above) and to give myself some slack (I'm very hard on myself around expectations - "I should be doing more," etc.) While observing my (now 8 year old) daughter playing with friends I thought I could take some hints from kids:

    • They're allowed to be super (over?) confident.
    • They have fun. They do silly things. They dance and pick flowers while playing in the outfield.
    • They know it's OK (and good) to get a kiss on a boo boo (i.e., to ask for support).
    • They "talk like they talk," i.e., they use simple language. Plus, what professional wouldn't benefit by adding "pee" and "poo" to his vocabulary?

  • Matt's Question: What value am I creating right now?: OK, ego dictates that I have "my question," ala Alan Lakein's "What is the best use of my time right now?" (from How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life). So I thought mine might focus on value made in the moment. Variation: "What meaning am I making at this moment?" So: What productivity question do you ask yourself to get on track?

  • Some recent acts of faith?: Having become self-employed in a career based on a $12 book, I am rather aware of leaps of faith. Some early ones included buying a couple of dozen labelers, reading lots of books, getting my CCR number, and ignoring (flouting?) conventional wisdom around marketing myself (turning down low paying opportunities, for example). Interestingly, faith (not necessarily the religious variety) comes up in some surprising places in my study of the field:

    • Three predominant elements of making a response lucky: high energy, a vigorous imagination and a strong faith. (From How to Attract Good Luck.) Sadly, Carr nails the description of a significant personal limitation of mine:
      People take twisted pride in not having a faith, a sneering disbelief in a religion contempt for philosophy seems the stamp of a superior mind has not science negated religion.
      Time to do some work...
    • The FAITH processing method from Organize Your Office In No Time: File, Act, In-coming, Toss, Hand-off.
    • In Kaizen: Faith that with small steps we can better overcome the mind's initial resistance to change (from One Small Step Can Change Your Life).
    • From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't: Confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith).
    So what are some acts of faith you've recently taken?

  • Tennis match or juggling tournament?: In describing the daily flow of work, productivity is often portrayed as juggling - keeping multiple balls (projects) in the air at one time. This gets at the parallel nature of work, but ignores the back-and-forth that's required to get things done. How about looking at it as a tennis game, but with multiple balls? OK, it's a bit contrived (OK, completely contrived), but goes farther to capture delegation ("It's in your court"), waiting (and, importantly, tracking these things), focus ("Keep your eye on the ball"), making decisions when too much is going on (intentionally "Dropping the ball"), and the overall dance we have to do in our high-speed workplaces. Thoughts?


Reader Comments (14)

... in 2 minutes or less!

August 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPascal Venier

LOL - Made my day, Pascal. Good to hear from you!

August 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

It's hara kiri.

August 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks very much, Anonymous. When I looked it up on Answers.com I missed: "Redirected from "hari-kari" at the top. Much obliged.

August 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

. . . it's "flout," not "flaunt," when you're dismissing conventional wisdom. It's a common error: "flaunt" is to show off, while "flout" is to fly in the face of. (Pardon my flouting of the rule abjuring ending a sentence with a preposition. And pardon the flaunting of my vocabulary when I say things like "abjure.")

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdaniel markovitz

Thanks a ton, Dan. But darn it, I want my errors to be special, not [ common | http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/flaunt.html ]! Very much appreciated.

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Matt, my friend e-mailed me today and asked, "What's on your plate these days?" Can be work-related, but doesn't have to be.

Regarding "treating yourself like a kid," if you haven't visited Kim & Jason's [ Escape Adulthood | http://kimandjason.com/blog/ ] blog, website and store, it's high time you got over there. You can't take yourself too seriously if you read their stuff regularly.

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Braithwaite

I *love* that question, Lisa. Perfect tone, open enough, and works for everyone. Thanks! I also appreciate the link to Kim and Jason's blog. Great title, love the concept. I tried subscribing to humor blogs a while back, but keeping up got too serious. ;-)

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Long time reader, commenter, and tip top public speaking coach [ Lisa Braithwaite | http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2006/10/about-speak-schmeak.html ] took me up on my intentionally provocative assertion about acceptable posting frequency. She [ polled her readers | http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2008/08/how-often-do-you-read-speak-schmeak.html ] and found the majority check for new content daily - and like it! Here are a few comments that made me think:

  • I think what makes such regular posting work is that you keep it concise - like a good resentation, in fact!
  • I prefer to read daily chunks as opposed to a long weekly post. However there are exceptions - sometimes the content calls for a more in depth post that might take a week to prepare and make it worth while.
  • Weekly... LOL. If I read my feeds weekly I'd have 25K of unread posts to catchup on (and would have missed some cool stuff).
The last one is interesting. Anyone care to analyze it?

So as usual there's probably no one rule that doesn't depend on context. Maybe I'm just not the "read frequently, read small" type. As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

Finally, let me state clearly that Lisa's writing is clear, concise, and valuable. For a topic as important as public speaking, she's a terrific resource. Not to mention conscientious as heck.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

... @Bed

August 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdirjy


August 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell


I agree with your point based on Einstein's quote.

Instead of adopting a productivity system and immersing oneself in it, I think that a user should maintain two separate points of view.
#1) My productivity system, created, managed and put together by me

#2) Me -- the inventor, creator, and manager

I find that when people focus on only #1 they get lost and frustrated in the system they are trying to implement (whether it's Covey, GTD or whatever.) They focus on getting it right, and on following the rules laid out by the guru, and when they have a hard time, end up abandoning the entire system (in the majority of cases according to what I have read.)

I think a shift in focus to asking "how can I use this advice to improve MY system" would go a long way in helping the maintain (and separate) the two points of view.

It also would help the user to employ ideas from multiple sources, and many gurus, and test them out to see what works best for them. Hopefully, the truth would be realized... we all have different systems (even now) and our unique habits must be realized and understood in our design.

September 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFrancis

Hi Francis,

I completely agree there has to be a connection between how to get work done, and why you're doing the work. In my case, my consulting practice is informed strongly by my personal experience: Bottom-up (that is, left-to-right) provided a big breakthrough. But people come at it differently, and it is in fact more of a spiral than a line. If you have clarity on your higher-level goals, then of course it makes sense to structure your work to be in accordance with them. If, however, you just need to get control of everything before you can get some breathing room to even *listen* to yourself, start there.

And yes, customizing the system for clients is important, as is adjusting it over a longer period. That's why I do both. Will one approach work for everyone? No. And that's why I've studied so many! :-)

Thanks very much for writing.

September 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Hi Matthew,

This is a veritable smorgasbord of thoughts & ideas. Will check out your references at some point.

Re. Frequency of blog Posts & newsletters. I have made the decision to publish my blog only once a wk. & my newsletter quarterly. I love doing both of them, but not at the expense of over-whelming my readers nor over-extending myself.

As a stress coach, it is important that I model that we do have choices. One of many thing that happens when we transform the stress is that we are able to become more productive and as such, see what activities and behaviours are no longer resourceful for us.

Warmly; Marianna

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarianna Paulson

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