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Productivity For Absolute Beginners


Sophia Gubb

4:58 PM, January 10th

Now that I actually care about being productive, I have to face the fact: I am absolutely *hopeless* at productivity.

Sophia Gubb

10:20 PM, January 10th

For my first week of “official” self-directed work, I tried a standard 9-5 timetable (actually 10-6). I knew I wouldn’t like it, but I wanted to try. Here is why I didn’t like it:

1. It feels like I’m pushing myself to do those exact hours, and it doesn’t take into account any of the reasons I might want to do more or less or at a different time.

2. It feels like I’m focusing on the time I’m doing rather than the actual work or the results I’m looking for.

3. My energy and attention levels vary a lot during the day. If I can work out when I’m most clear headed, I can get the most out of my work.

Now here’s what I did like:

1. By doing 9-5 I got myself into the shoes of a “full time” worker. I want to continue with that spirit, even if I find better strategies for it.

2. I had to wake up at a fixed time. I didn’t always manage it (heh) but the fact remains that if I can cut down on excess sleep I can have a clearer head, more energy, more hours in the day, and more structure/rhythm/predictability to my day (probably a good thing when combined with flexibility).

3. I’ve got a glimpse of what it means to value time, to actually care about those hours that slip past idly Facebooking or getting into other energy/time drains. I want to make best use of my working time now, as well as my everything-else time.

4. When I work more, I eat less and care about eating for optimal energy.

I’ve also discovered the fine art of making priorities and focusing on one thing at a time. The simplicity this brings removes a great deal of stress and makes it easier to focus and take action. What else have I learnt? Well, I’ve learnt that Facebook really is a massive distracter. And that it’s so easy in general to get sidetracked clicking links if you don’t hold a sense of priorities about you.

Finally I’ve learnt that it’s good to be alone in my office for doing focused work, but that for less focused work (smaller tasks) it’s nice to be sitting with my darling in our room. Even if we’re not interacting it’s nice to share our physical presence.


Blogging

1:11 PM, January 25

A week and a half has passed since those Facebook posts.

Last week I tried a more free-form productivity schedule, which ended up with me working mostly from the afternoon till night. It definitely seemed to work better than 9-5 for me in terms of getting stuff done, though I have thought to myself that if I could get mornings to work it’d be much more convenient for my social life.

I’m thinking there may be something about my natural rhythms that just make me more focused, creative and clear-headed at night. I’m also wondering, though, if my tendency to start work late has something to do with my difficulty in getting into the working mentality. I start the day out feeling a bit resistant, and I slowly remind myself of my goals and desires and manage to get to work. By that time it’s afternoon.

Non Coercive Self Motivation

Since the 9-5 experiment, which contained some flashbacks to life working under forced schooling, I’ve renewed my commitment to non-coercive self motivation.

Basically, I don’t want to get myself to take action by kicking myself until I do it (the standard method for most people). I want to relax and allow myself to work or not work, check in with my needs and priorities, and see how much I actually want to make progress on my projects. Sometimes allowing myself to flow with my current needs and priorities will mean not working, but given the importance of my projects that shouldn’t be overwhelmingly often.

Yesterday I felt rather like not working, and despite having a voice in the back of my head saying that I should work, it was a good idea. I had a really good day yesterday with my partner and wouldn’t have changed a minute of it.

Interestingly Monday and Tuesday felt a little wasted. I had gone to Spain for Sunday on a crazy plan to watch The Hobbit with another partner of mine. My original plan was to go on Sunday and come back on Monday, which felt good given my priorities right now to get the working year off to a strong start, but I let myself be swayed by the logic of staying one more day just to take advantage of the fact I was in Spain.

Sunday was great but Monday felt rather hollow. There wasn’t much to do, and me and my partner basically just lounged about most of the day. I felt myself itching sometimes to make progress on my projects, and got that slightly weepy feeling I’ve identified in myself as meaning I’m not honouring my sense of purpose.

Then Tuesday was broken up because of arriving at midday back in Germany, and having a therapy session not long after, so I didn’t get any work in.

The funny thing is that yesterday I think I did absolutely right in not listening to my inner voice nagging at me to work. However on Monday I had a genuine desire to work and I ignored it, listening instead to a voice of dubious logic.

My intention is to take advantage of this genuine desire to work, and to silence and neutralise the nagging voice which tells me to work or else. Whenever I hear the nagging voice and become aware of it, I want to pause, meditate a little and relax, and get in touch with my true motivations and priorities to see whether I really want to work or if I actually want to do something else at that point. When I do work, I want to be relaxed about it and enjoying it, not whipped into a fury of action.

Other Observations

I’m still very, very much a beginner with productivity. I chuckle to see advanced productivity strategies like Speed Up Your Mouse when the few extra minutes that would save me are dwarfed by the sort of time I could gain with large things such as changing my work rhythm, eating rhythm, or sleep rhythm.

I’ve talked to a friend about polyphasic sleep. She tried it… she said something along the lines of, “Doesn’t every Steve Pavlina fan try it at some point or another?”

Maybe they do :) And that sort of results (2 hours sleep per day) are very tempting. But rather than aiming for such large investment – large payoff changes, I can do so much just by learning to sleep more or less like a normal person.

My sleep rhythm until now was 10-12 hours a day. I guess I kept that going just because I didn’t much care about the hours I was losing. I also had a slightly childish idea that if sleeping 10 hours is what happens when I don’t intervene, that’s what I should do, cause it’s natural, you know.

Now I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks on about 8-9 hours of sleep a day, and I’m finding it much easier than I thought it would be. The interesting thing is that now when I try to sleep in it’s not so easy and not so tempting to do a whole 12 hours. Also, I’m enjoying the greater clear-headedness that I’m getting from avoiding sleep overload.

My technique – if you can call it that – is simple: I just set my alarm for about 8 hours of sleep. Then I indulge in the “snooze” function as much as I feel the need to, and finally get up when I’m done with that. I normally don’t snooze too long.

I’m getting used to feeling genuine tiredness towards the end of the day at a fairly predictable time. This contrasts with my previous life where I normally didn’t have such a strong signal to go to bed; I normally went to bed about when I thought I “should” – or procrastinated on it for a couple of hours after that point then finally went to bed.

I eventually might like to try Steve Pavlina’s method of having a fixed wake-up time but going to bed when my body tells me to, or perhaps eventually more advanced stuff like biphasic sleep. (I doubt I’ll be doing polyphasic sleep any time soon). But for now just getting used to sleeping normally is a big leap in the right direction for me, and I’d like to fully absorb all the shifts which working at this level will bring me before marching forward.

I’m also seeing that at some point this year I might start a regular exercising habit, as I can see how having a healthier body in that way would give me more energy. It’s way overdue besides, but I think living with purpose as I am now will give me the motivation to start it. Among other things, I’m just not that energetic when I don’t have a purpose to fill up my days, and I think that knocks on to my motivation to exercise.

I also think that thinking about what foods I eat and working out how I manage my other needs will have a great effect. And then there are other things like figuring out my working cycles and slaying the dragon which is Facebook addiction.

Overall, it’s like I’m doing the very first wash of a canvass. I’m slathering on the colours intended to act as a background for the details, making effort to catch the big picture but being otherwise very crude with it. That’s what I’m doing with all this exploration: looking for the big important shifts to make, and ignoring the smaller gains I’ll eventually get from doing more refined experiments like polyphasic sleep. Right now it’s very very crude.

Next Steps

The next things I plan to try are working for very long periods of 12 hours or more, hopefully freeing up time to spend other days just on leisure or other activities.

I’m also going to be working on more inner-oriented stuff such as learning to be sensitive to the voice in me that tells me when I want to work and when I need to be doing something else, and becoming more reliably connected to my source of meditative, positive, non-coercive motivation.

I want to harness the power of momentum, the feeling of motivation which previous advancement brings you. This week didn’t have much of it, though since writing this article I’m feeling it again. I have the sense that momentum is going to be an important force to be aware of. Though I don’t know much more than that for now.

I also think I just need to get used to all the new changes I’ve been making and let them sink in. It’s already a pretty big thing to be working large numbers of hours a day when I previously worked very few. It’s already a big thing to be sleeping so much less. One thing I know is – stir things up just enough, but don’t court instability by having too many balls in the air. So I’ll be integrating these new advances in the coming weeks, or so I hope.

Do you have any insights about productivity? What are your favourite bloggers or authors on the topic?

Sophia


 

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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Eva Linn January 27, 2013, 2:18 pm

    My favorite productivity blog is Zen Habits. I love how the author focuses on how to form good habits which translates into slowly transforming your life in ways that sheer motivation and determination often fail. I think you’d really connect with that blog, if you haven’t already.

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