Reflection and Bonuses

First, regarding yesterday’s post: The statements made were not just out of momentary passion. Even after reflection I believe, perhaps even more strongly, that my concerns are valid and justified.

Bonuses: Annual Christmas bonuses at work, a free computer with the purchase of a car, or the child tax credit are all highly publicized “bonuses” that we’ve come to expect. I believe that a bonus should be unexpected. Give people more than you told them you would. Give them more than they expect – not less. Pay this ideal forward, and one day you’ll be blessed with getting something more than you expect.

Why? Marketing campaigns tend to hit the high points, all of the high points, and then hit them again. How many times have you paid for a movie ticket only to be less entertained than you were by the free trailer? The most effective marketing tool is your product itself because it brings people back. If a consumer discovers an interesting and useful feature they didn’t expect they will be more likely to come back next time to see what other surprises may come.

This doesn’t only apply to the business world. If your spouse asks you to vacuum the living room while they run an errand (of course the first step is to do exactly that), dust the furniture and (un)load the dishwasher too but don’t mention it. Even if they don’t mention that they notice, they notice. Your (edit – thanks, Seth) pointing it out will take away any cool points you earned from the extra work – its like adding the extra-cool feature to your marketing campaign (mistake). Keep it secret, keep it safe.

Declare Yourself Victor

Everyone runs into those days and weeks (I can imagine even longer) where most things seem not to go your way and it becomes tough to carry on. This is especially true if you haven’t quite yet found something you’re passionate about doing. Try to remember what drew you to what you’re doing. Then find a part of it that you’re good at (hint: these are probably the same notion). Make a next-action that relates to this idea and do it soon. Declare a small victory on this action and your personal morale will be boosted.

How do you declare small victories?

Rally Troops for Your Cause

Wow it’s a beautiful day in the CMA today. I should take as many non-smoker-smoke-breaks as possible. But before I walk out for some fresh air, I’ve got a thought for us all.

We (presumably you’re included in this lot since you’re reading my blog) do a lot to make our living environment conducive to productivity, the hacks that we use to survive, and doing what makes us happy. One of our biggest obstacles to success in this caption has to be allowing exceptions for people who are ‘uninitiated’ or just ignorant to what we’re trying to accomplish. If your colleagues, family, and friends aren’t embracing your vision for a blissful and productive lifestyle it isn’t because they want to see you fail. You just haven’t properly evangelized.

I’m quite keen on the red-yellow-green desk notification system to let people know when you’re really too busy for a non-critical interruption, only busy enough to handle semi-important inquiries, or ready for anything. As cool as this system can be – it isn’t going to work if I’m the only person in the office that understands what I’m trying to accomplish. Start small, and find a like-minded colleague to start a collaborative effort to become more productive. You already know who can most appreciate this scheme at work. When people see a small bit of cooperation that works, they’ll want to take part.

If you’re trying to make third-party information requests and action items link into your GTD implementation more smoothly, suggest to a colleague that they hand you an index card, or send you an email with a formatted subject to ease into your email-based GTD (we all should have promises, requests, and information in writing anyway). It’s not like you’re asking them to go find you a closer parking space.

These methodologies we practice aren’t witchcraft – we’ve gotten this far because the ideas are excellent, and if other people are educated on them, they’ll embrace them. Let people know that it’s not a selfish request. You’d like for them to increase their ability to succeed as well and by helping your cause, they’re increasing their own productivity.

Go take a walk, and think about how you can create a productivity network (and of course share your ideas – we’ll all be part of the same productivity network).

Make Days Off Grand

Disclaimer: (I often like to start with disclaimers because this medium lends itself to easy misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Here, emotion and spirit are not easily conveyed.) The following does not mean to complain about yesterday, the day before, or any other day in history. I simply mean to reflect and look forward to opportunities that may be eventually come again.

It is my belief that the socially accepted pattern of 5 days of work and 2 days of ‘weekend’ bears down on humans more than we’re meant to withstand. Many of us, too tired to complete household chores after work, end up turning weekends into work days just to attempt to catch up with the rest of our lives (it’ll never happen at this rate).

Yesterday was a company holiday. Alas! A perfect way to round out Easter weekend and recover from the last eleven or so weeks (since the last vacation day). An opportune time to catch up on the things that have been piling up since the Big Move. Not my best idea. I really needed a Sabbatical. The (obvious) goal of GTD is to actually do stuff, but at the core of human mental and physical health is the fact that we really need to take a break from time to time.

Ideas for making this happen:

  • Every ten weeks or so, take a day off from everything. Schedule this in a clever way. It could even be a weekend day. Make sure the affected people know and are willing to help you make the day work out (by leaving you alone).
  • On these days (5 a year certainly doesn’t sound like an awful lot but it will serve you well if done effectively) don’t glance at your lists, email, calendars, and only answer the phone if it isn’t going to make work or seem like you’re working. Friendly, pleasant conversations only.
  • Make sure you hit the ground running afterwards. This mini-retreat should refresh and invigorate you to be insanely productive for at least the next week and should keep you going without dread and heartache until the next one.

If you’re anything like me, you could use one of these days immediately. Id est, go flip through your calendar and find the day now. It could be your next company holiday, your birthday, or this coming saturday. Remember the rules and stick to them. It’ll be grand.

Television Anarchy

Previously on SAW, I mentioned our big move. Before the move I made sure that our home was equipped with a cable modem because so much of what I do depends on having reliable Internet access. Paritally as an experiment, I purposefully neglected to set up cable television at the new house. This experiment has proven itself useful. This machine that centers nearly every American home wastes an inordinate amount of time and brain cells weekly in my home. I’m going to experiment with the following guidelines to increase my nightly productivity – it might be refreshing. How many hours did you waste in front of the television last evening alone?

  • Limit time to an hour per night, but consider leaving it off completely 1-4 nights a week (every night if it pleases you, but I just can’t do without LOST). Spend an hour of your normal TV time doing something productive but not taxing, you don’t want to turn downtime into hard work. By now we all know that productivity != hard work.
  • If you’re reading this, chances are you get your news on the Internet, so don’t tell me you HAVE to watch the nightly news. It’s just depressing anyway. A lot of families watch the news or some other TV over dinner. Talk to your family. “People who watch television while eating also tend to be unaware of how much they eat, which encourages overeating.” (citation).
  • Relaxing is excellent, and TV is one way to do that – but it shouldn’t be the only way to relax. Play cards with your family, roommates, neighbors (it’s a very good idea to meet and befriend them if you haven’t already), or pets. Game night rocks, and rather than relaxing by vegetating in front of the television, you can exercise your mind.

If you’ve got any experience with these sorts of exercises, please let me know. Have a wonderfully productive, relaxing, and fulfilling weekend.

Gmail:GTD with Bluetooth Camera

Yesterday, another parcel arrived from – yes, of course, my new bluetooth adapter. I will say that until recently, I was neither a fan of bluetooth nor camera phones, but now I am an advocate of both. I use gmail’s label & star system for GTD and the camera phone has added a new level of effectiveness to the system.

Frequently at a meeting, in the car, or even at lunch I’ll jot some visual notes down on my Hipster PDA that might include flow diagrams, purposefully arranged text, or drawings of mice. Rather than taking the time to somehow represent these non-linear, non-text thoughts in plaintext, I can take a picture with my trusty Nokia 6230, send it to my iBook via bluetooth, and attach it to the action or reference note in gmail.

In theory (I have not tried this yet, but probably will), I can record a memo on my phone, and follow the same procedure. This would be an excellent way to get song ideas into digital GTD action/reference format.

Kicking Instant Gratification Syndrome

A friend and I were discussing instant gratification syndrome and the causes, side effects, and work-arounds. It seems that the current generation of hipster-geeks has been handed everything on demand and that microwave ovens, broadband connectivity, cell phones, and instant messaging have infected us with this strange disorder.


  • iBook On the Slow Boat – Back in October, I bought an iBook (right after the refresh) and of course there were delays and the reload button on my at-work-browser actually broke because I hit it too many times on the FedEx page. “Why can’t Apple just materialize the iBook in my lap after they approved my credit card?” “Well son, our transporters just won’t work from Taiwan to South Carolina.”
  • “Boy, Could I Use a…” – Been meaning to buy that new $8 gadget z that you can only find on You can’t do it, can you? By the time it gets here, it’ll be too late because you need it right now. Here’s the thing, Peter: you’ll need it again in a week. It’s gonna take you 90 seconds to buy it (I know you don’t have to find it because it’s on your wishlist) so go do it right now. If you managed to make it back after your shopping spree, thanks. You’ll be thanking me next week when your package comes from amazon and you don’t have to slap yourself in the forehead again for not having gadget z right when you need it.
  • Urgent! 911! Help! Help! – Why isn’t Dungeons and Dragons guy responding to my requests for [insert help desk ticket number here] yet? This is the most debilitating example that I can come up with because when I’m frustrated about waiting for something that I think is dire, I’m insufferable and nonproductive. I’m working on it though. For a few weeks, I’ve had a sentence on my whiteboard: “It’s probably not as urgent as you think.” It serves as a reminder that I can cope with waiting.

All of these situations where I long for instant gratification serve as a distraction against by biggest goal – to get things done so I can spend time with my family and at leisure.

Instant gratification syndrome is also very debilitating if you live in my area. About ninety-eight percent of the population just isn’t in a hurry to do anything – which makes it hard if you’re anxious, easily distracted, or just in a hurry. Try keeping your head on straight while driving behind a 1972 Impala going 1/3 of the posted speed limit with its left turn signal on for 14 miles. We have no Fry’s, no Apple store, and a lot of hipster-geek paraphernalia just has to be waited on.

If you notice these same effects, make yourself wait on things on occassion. Take your iPod to work and go home the long way; bring your Moleskine to a restaurant when it’s way overpacked and just jot some ideas down while you patiently wait for a table. Practice for a time when you have to wait, and learn to make the most of it.

Persistent Card Hipster PDA Hack, New Gear

The other day it occurred to me that the use of a persistent card or two in my Hipster PDA may become useful. I happened upon this after moving into a new house and I kept noticing things that needed to be purchased (important, but still at a semi-leisurely pace). Rather than using a regular white blank card for this, I stuck a bright red card into the pile (in addition to my blue divider card). When I happen by a store, I can quickly find the red card, glance at my list and potentially scratch another item off the list. Now, I’ll keep a jot’n’scratch red card in my pile for shopping lists and replenish when necessary. I’m sure there are other things you can think of for a persistent card in your stack. Let me know what you think.

Also, two parcels arrived at my doorstep yesterday. My Fisher Bullet and Volant Moleskines have arrived! :) The bullet is a phenomenal piece of writing technology – small to store, but has the feel of a full-sized fine writing instrument (mine’s chrome, just like my dubs). I’m still getting used to the Moleskines and trying to remind myself to find the appropriate times to use them, but they’re such a nifty item that I’d probably be satisfied carrying around an empty one all day.

Sprinting over IMs and emails.

Nine years ago, if prompted by question or doubt I would have explained that “email will be forgotten about in a few years, after having taken a back seat to Instant Messaging and the next higher standard of super-instant communication.” Where I devised that theory is beyond me – I was much younger then and succumbed to my overwhelmed this is new and cool response to technology. My penance for communicating that thought to multiple listeners will be the following few points.

  • First the positive: Instant Messaging is a quick, easy way to communicate with friends, family, and even colleagues when your primary focus for that period of time is communication. Once the information has been shared (think of it as the time when you hang up the phone) sign off or put up a do-not-disturb away message and queue all incoming messages.
  • Sprinting… Merlin Mann (of 43 Folders) suggests using “sprints” to get through daunting tasks. He says
    “Stuff like cleaning off your desk, tidying the living room, or making a dent in a big pile of things to file. Try 8 or 20 minutes, set a timer, and go! Collections of micro-tasks can be knocked down quite nicely this way, and the timer gives you assurance you only have to work on it for so long.”

    These are the types of activities that I am most easily distracted from – and the “ding-dong” of instant messages can draw even the most savage productivity maniac across a castle from his duties to see what sort of interesting link Bob McRobertsburgchesterson has unmasked regarding last night’s episode of LOST.

  • Email is better… I have implemented GTD through gmail with labels for projects and my inbox as… well… my inbox. If someone sees that I’m not online or in do-not-disturb mode and their request or information is important it forces them to email me. At this point, I’ve eliminated a step because rather than me having to add an actionable item to my stack, someone else has done it for me. In theory, they’ve also had an excellent opportunity to include details that I may have missed in transcribing their request into my action. It should also be noted that I only recieve notification of new mail items once per hour to eliminate the constant interruption of flow when about 80% of my new mail is bantha fodder.

While Instant Messaging has some merits in the communication world, the always-on nature that many have come to adopt is counterproductive to the flow of accomplishment. A certain amount of downtime can be spent with it, and it serves as a nice record-keeping-friendly communication of project information, contact information, and knowledge sharing (be sure to turn logging on, it’s worth it!).