Category Archives: Productivity

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Pressfield on the Protean Power of Resistance

Protean: adj. readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity.

Power: n. ability to act or produce an effect

Screenwriter Steven Pressfield has written the definitive book on the struggle involved in becoming a professional writer (artist, creative person), The War of Art. He is, how shall I say it, a muscular writer. Very yang. The artistic process is a WAR in which you either emerge victorious (and bloodied) or you die.

He attributes all my procrastination proclivities to RESISTANCE, that force that prevents me from producing a plethora of perfect prose .

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be….

Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mown down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed.

Once he’s kicked the reader’s ass around, he grapples with what it takes to be a Professional. It has to do with nailing your butt to the chair and just DOING IT. Every Day.

Although I write for hire, I’m clearly not a Professional – at least as concerns my OWN writing.

I’m taking a 4-week writing workshop in which we are to move a stuck project forward.  The third class is this weekend and  I’ve done almost nothing (again) on my project. While it’s true I’ve been busy with other things that seem essential, I should have been able to carve out a mere 30 daily minutes, for gods sake, to work on it. Flails at head and shoulders in pathetic gesture of self-abasement.

Even this blog, which has been such fun, is seeming onerous right now. 344 posts in 11 months; don’t stop now!!! Who cares. (the critic speaks.)

My daughter is blaming her blahs on sun-spots or solar flares. Sounds about right to me. Better than blaming it on my own resistance.

Plenty platters of polenta! A parade of pears.

Plenty: n. a full or more than adequate amount; the quality or state of being copious

Platters: n. flat serving plates

Polenta: n. see prior post

Parade: n. a lengthy array or succession; a procession

I should have brought my camera (how many times do I have to learn this lesson??) to take pictures of the beautiful food we prepared for the donor’s acknowledgment dinner last night. It was a totally vegetarian meal, and as local as we could make it, given that it’s March.

The group of 60 was to gather for wine and appetizers at 6:30 then proceed to dinner around 7.  Our cold appetizers were ready by 6 and the yummiest one,  garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes, would come out of the oven right at 6:30. Little did we know that the hungry hordes would begin to gather at 6:10, forks in hand, napkins tucked into their collars.

A little wine and a lively conversation soon worked its magic and they forgot that amateurs were in the kitchen. Fortunately we had a fine team to spread the work load.

And it IS a work load. It’s one thing to throw a big salmon or a bunch of steaks on the barbie to be served with french bread and salad. It’s quite another to prepare a wild mushroom ragout (about fifteen separate ingredients, most requiring chopping and sauteeing) to be served on squares of grilled polenta. We did EVERYTHING from scratch.

There were also technical/logistical problems to solve. Like gathering sufficient large saute pans, cookie sheets and stew pots. Like having enough big bowls to hold batches of chopped or sauteed veggies in process. Like how to keep a vat of stew from burning on the bottom before it’s cooked through on the top. Like how to toss great quantities of green salad (how much dressing?) And how do you calculate how much is ENOUGH of each dish?

We over-prepared. As it all turned out, the hors d’ouevres were both tasty and substantial enough that appetites were significantly reduced by the time people sat down for the main meal. We had PLENTY polenta, a PLETHORA of ragout, and a PARADE of pears.

So let me describe the pears, the easiest and most beautiful of all the dishes.  We stood 24 D’anjou pears upright in each of three baking pans, poured some red wine to a height of about 1/2″ around them, sprinkled them with some sugar and a little grated lemon peel and baked them, basting occasionally for about an hour. They came out of the oven like an army of mini snow-capped mountains. Killer tasty too.  If you were to make a pan of 6, it would be about a cup of wine and a 1/3 c. sugar. Serve room temperature w. some sauce and a scoop of ice cream.

pears

This web image will give you an idea of how our pears looked lined up in their pans: multiply by about 9 to envision the Pear Parade.

Prep for this dinner took me at least 40 hours, even with help for about half of those hours.   Others spent as much time or more on other aspects of the event. And to think I once thought it would be fun to be a caterer. HA!!!!

Patients’ patience: waiting costs us

Patient: n. an individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment

Patience: n. the quality of bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain

For years my ex had an internist who habitually ran an hour behind. No matter what time he arrived for his appointment he was seen an hour later. He spoke to the administrator about it, he chewed out the doc, and even threatened to bill him for the wait time (he was a lawyer, and had billable hours down!). Finally he found a new doc.

Princeton economist Alan Krueger wrote about this a couple of days ago:

…Time is money. So, although it doesn’t currently enter into our national statistics, the time that patients spend getting health care services should be reflected in the way we calculate America’s national health care expenditures.

Any student of Econ 101 knows that economists measure costs by opportunity costs, meaning everything that is given up to get something else. Time spent interacting with the medical system could be used for other activities, like work and leisure. Moreover, spending time getting medical care is not fun. This time should be counted as part of the cost of health care.

He suggests that we undervalue the cost of health care by about 11% by excluding the opportunity costs of waiting for care, which he calculates at about 847 million hours annually. Valuing the time at an average of $17.43 he says Americans spent the equivalent of $240 billion waiting around in 2007.

He says that if we’re going to modernize health care record-keeping, we should be including patient time in the equation:

Failing to take account of patient time leads us to exaggerate the productivity of the health care sector, and to understate the cost of health care. The time that patients spend seeking, receiving and paying for health care services is just as real as the dollars they spend for medical services.

I know scheduling is a constant challenge because emergencies do arise, but other industries have figured out a way to keep irregular systems rolling; why can’t physicians?

Practice, practice, practice: the theory of 10,000 hours

Practice: v. to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually;  to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient; to train by repeated exercises

You know the story:

The tourist in Manhattan asks for directions: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Helpful local: “Practice, practice, practice.”

I have resisted practicing since I was a kid – starting with violin at age 7,  piano at 10, and as an adult – meditation, yoga, writing, you name it.

Resistance is a child’s tactic against a pushy parent though. How many decades does it take to outgrow this worthless ploy?

By now I know full well that whenever I do something repeatedly my performance soars. But that doesn’t make it any easier to knuckle down.

Stephen King wrote about his own writing habit in his 1999 book On Writing.  He poo-poos writing workshops and says in a nutshell, if you want to become a better writer, write a LOT.  (He also says to read a lot, but that’s another topic).

He writes several hours a day. Every day. Including Christmas and the Fourth of July. And he’s got more than 30 bestsellers to show for it.

Daniel Levitin in This is Your Brain on Music talks about the theory of 10,000 hours:

… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

Three hours a day (20 hours a week) for ten years. Or for the crash course, 40 hours a week for five years.

Alrighty then. At least I’ve gotten started.  Thank god there are at least 10,000 p-words. Check back with me in about twenty years.

Pandiculate, then get on with it!

Pandiculate: v. to stretch, as on awakening or while yawning.

Pandiculate for Health! Grow Tall! Get Well! Be Young!” Exuberant ads like this, running in health-fad magazines since 1914, have proclaimed the virtues of a spine-stretching device called the “Pandiculator.” — Time, 1942-04-12

My P-pal Patrice sent me this great P-word, the word of the day at Dictionary.com.

So let’s all stand up and pandiculate. Pandiculate with your arm overhead to the left, and then repeat on the right.

This is the perfect thing to do as we awaken from an eight-year nightmare.

Now take a deep breath, clap your hands and let’s put our shoulders to the wheel, joining President Obama in rebuilding our confidence, our trust, our infrastructure, our economy, our nation…

We’ve got work to do. Together we can.

Purposeful Path for 2009: forget New Year’s Resolutions; pick a “theme”

Purposeful: adj. intentional, meaningful, full of determination

Path: n. a way of life, conduct or thought

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago, because they were inevitably doomed to failure. (Research bears me out…). Instead I’ve picked a THEME for the year – a word or phrase that indicates a path, focus, attitude, or way of being to attend to.

The first time I tried to choose a theme I had about five disparate ideas.  I was chewing over these on a walk with my best friend that New Year’s morning. She listened to me prattle on for awhile and then she said, she had a better one: “FOCUS!”

Of course she was right – focus has been an issue for me since I was a kid. I’m not ADHD, but my interests and passions are all over the map. Jill of all trades, mistress of none… So Focus it was – for two years, because it took that long to simplify my life enough to do so.

Last year was  “Completion.”  I’m embarassed to say that I’d forgtten completely about that theme until I just read it in my journal entry for New Year’s Day 2008. Obviously I never figured out how to keep the idea in front of me!

Several of my friends also choose annual themes, so they have been kind enough to share their themes, in case I wanted to borrow one:

  • “Think Big” – VaNessa
  • “Engage!” – Heather
  • “Generous and open-hearted” – Peter
  • “Make it happen!” – VaNessa
  • “Patience and understanding” – Mary
  • “Now is the time!” – Jack

I love some of these, but “Now is the Time!” really resonated with me and I’m going to run with it – for several reasons:

  • The energy cost of dithering on decisions (as minor as to whether to keep or toss a piece of paper, or as major as just FILING the damned divorce papers and being done with it.)
  • The acknowledgment that the present moment is all there is and I want to be present for it
  • The recognition that time is precious

The question is: How will I keep this mantra up front in my brain several times a day for a year?  What will be an effective trigger to jog my mind?

Jonathan Mead, guest poster on Zen Habits offers these suggestions:

  • If you want to help yourself get in a creative state, you can setup an environmental trigger. Maybe that means sitting in a certain chair (putting on your thinking cap, as it were). Or it could be triggered by a change in your breathing (slower or more rapid breathing).
  • To get excited about exercise, you might setup a trigger by moving a certain way or doing a visualization. You could make your trigger swinging your arms back and forth and visualize yourself in front of mirror with your ideal body. Use something that gets you pumped up. MMA fighters and boxers do this all the time by slapping their chests or face. Not recommended, but you get the idea.
  • In order to put yourself in a state of confidence, you could create triggers in your posture. Sitting straight and stretching my arms above my head always makes me feel more confident.
  • To trigger yourself into a state of focus, you can touch your eyes or massage your temples.
  • Putting your hand on your heart is a great idea for cultivating an open mind and preparing yourself to really listen to someone.

These are just a few ideas; you can make up your own triggers. They can also be environmental, like engineering the attentional feng shui of your room. Take a look at your space and see what kind of triggers it sets off in you. Are they reinforcing your passions and your goals?

My current idea is to write NOW IS THE TIME right after the day’s date, when I sit down to journal. And whenever I write the date on a check or a time on my calendar, to use that as the trigger to say out loud, with conviction: NOW IS THE TIME!  Hopefully that will remind me to breathe deeply and ask myself, “what’s happening right now?” and “what should be happening right now?”

Yoga class is another place to use this trigger. It also wouldn’t hurt to review a chapter of one of Eckhart Tolle’s books – the Power of Now, or A New Earth.

I’m noting NOW IS THE TIME on my calendar for the 1st of the next 11 months right now.

Pressure to perform and produce

Pressure: the act of pressing or pushing; urgent claim or demand; a constraining influence upon the mind or will; a burdensome, distressing or weighty condition.

Perform: v. to begin and carry through to completion; to fulfill a promise or obligation; to carry on, function.

Produce: v. to bring forth; to create by mental or physical effort

The weather is lovely today – a clear fall morning, vine maples turning, mists rising from Salmon Creek where I walked with a friend, crystal air.I want to sit in the garden with a good book.

I said I’d write every day in my blog.

I don’t want to write today.
I definitely don’t want to write about politics.
I don’t even want to write about other matters.
I don’t want to do my laundry.
I don’t want to make the phone calls on my list.
I don’t want to clean up the kitchen or go to the grocery store.

My puritan head says MUST. KEEP. COMMITMENTS.
MUST. KEEP. PRODUCING

My pagan heart says not today.

It sure is hard to give myself permission to be a slacker.

Paperholics Anonymous

Hi, My name is Joy and I am a Paperholic.

I’m grateful to be here with you today at Paperholics Anonymous. I don’t know where else I can turn.

My addiction began innocently enough. I was in college, writing an essay on feminist thought in early Ibsen. I had notes on index cards, notes on scrap paper, notes on the backs of envelopes and in the margins of books.

It was 6 a.m. and I’d been working on this !@#$% since noon the previous day. It was due in two hours and I COULD NOT FIND the scrap on which the perfect ending quote was scrawled.

I pawed pathetically through the papers till my desk looked like the bottom of a hamster’s cage. Minutes before my deadline the note surfaced and I typed my brilliant conclusion.

But ever since that day I’ve had a Paper Problem.

I LOVE paper. Books, magazines and newspapers, of course. But even better I like articles clipped from magazines and ripped from newspapers. I read the newspaper like I’m on an easter egg hunt. I scan to rule out all the drivel I don’t want to read, but when I find an interesting article, I tear it out and set it aside to read later.

The pile on which I place it grows ever taller, because every day there’s more to read. The pile must compete with a steady influx of the New Yorker and Newsweek magazines (both relentless weeklies – I get only one monthly, National Geographic.)

The New Yorker is especially challenging because I like to rip out the good cartoons to distribute to various acquaintances. Like here’s one for my son, the industrial designer:

And here’s one for a friend considering surgery:

The only good news is that I’ve managed to cut my junk mail and catalog intake to almost zero. (This demands dogged dialing to each company’s 800 number.)

Two spots compete to attract the most paper: the end of my kitchen counter, and the top of my desk. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If the space is clear, I can stay on the wagon… for awhile.

But then I have a little slip; maybe I get too busy to put things away before I rush off to the next thing. “I’ll just put it here for now…” I tell myself, as I set a piece of paper on the counter top.

I should know by now I can’t just save one piece of paper. Before I know what hit me I’m buried again.

How buried? Imagine an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, where you’ve got a cross-section of the earth’s layers…

The top-most layer is light and fluffy – mostly current newsprint, Toyota tuneup coupons and an occasional offer for a 2-for-1 dinner.  That’s about six inches deep.

The next 6” layer is more compressed – printouts of articles I read online, reports, manuals, magazines yet to be ripped into. Printer paper doesn’t fluff as nicely as ripped newsprint.

From time to time, I moisten the pile with a cup of spilled coffee or tea. Using both hands like salad tongs, I turn the pile as I seek some piece of wisdom I know is about halfway down. This serves to aerate the pile nicely. Over time, the lowest layers begin to heat up and decompose.

The bottom six inches is where my addiction begins to pay off. That’s where I’ve got dark brown crumbly compost, complete with happy earthworms. It grows great tomatoes.

You may ask, what have I tried to cure my addiction?

I had great hopes when it was rumored that the advent of computers would bring us the paperless office. This didn’t work for me: my computer just brought me in contact with MORE articles I wanted to print.

I tried taping my eyes shut so I could no longer read. I tried going cold turkey – installing a paper detection/rejection system at the door.

But then I found myself rifling through my neighbor’s recycle bins in the middle of the night seeking day-old paper.

So, now I’ve hit bottom and I’m here at Paperholics Anonymous. Can you help me?

Pity the poor political junkie! Play with productivity Legos instead

I am up to HERE with Republican perfidy and pugnacity.  I didn’t start 365 Words Beginning with P to write about POLITICs… though I am a political junkie. Unfortunately Politics and Palin and Putrid and Perfidy and Pugnacious and President all begin with P and when I’ve spent the past ten days watching two conventions (one inspiring, one frightening), I need to vent.

I’m over it…  at least till tomorrow.

Let’s talk instead about productivity, priorities and procrastination!

I stumbled on software developer Michael Hunger’s blog a couple of weeks ago in which he talked about his new method for keeping track of how he spends his time – his creative solution to the Time Log.

Why should we care about time logs?  Because most of us haven’t a clue where the minutes and hours go in the day.  “Where DID the time go????” we ask.  Taking a clue from the diet industry: if you’re trying to lose weight, the first and most crucial step in finding the unconsciously consumed calories is keeping a food diary — writing down every morsel you eat from dawn to dark.  Then it’s much harder to say, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”

It’s even harder to record the hours in the day, because it’s so easy to get side-tracked. Michael Hunger makes time-keeping tactile and truly fun by using colored Legos.  You could think of it as Lego Logs.

Here’s the set he uses (available online for about $25):

And here is what a week of work looks like:

He describes his technique:

I chose a time partitioning of a quarter of an hour (each bump = 15 minutes). So I can use the lengths 1,2,3,4 to build 15,30,45 and 60 minutes worth of time in a row representing an hour .

Stacking these hourly rows on top of each other builds up the whole day. I use the different colors for the projects I’m involved in (8 are just enough), putting them on the stack whenever I want and have time to do so (but mostly quite instantly).

I made up a single width column as ruler for the work hours (from at around 10 am up to 6 pm). So I can easily see whats missing and at what time I did something. For the days of the workweek I chose the rainbow color scheme (red, orange, yellow, green, blue – Monday to Friday) for the longer base row that I stack my hours on. So I can gather a whole week of time tracking until I have to enter them in some time sheet (software). I put the columns of a whole week on top of a green building plate to fix them.

You can easily see how much work you did for any given project as you recognize the colored areas rather than time ranges (8:45-11:15). Having the relative time shares as part of this setup helps as well.

You can even plan your work by pre-building your days on temporary bases with the planned amount of time for each activity (or putting at least the estimated amount of bricks aside).

The benefits are obvious:

  • it works (for about 4 months now)
  • I have something to play with while pondering stuff
  • it looks great
  • it’s incredibly fast with no overhead
  • planning is possible

The single disadvantage:

  • coworkers coming to your place and disassembling your time tracks
  • He figures for an 8 hour day you need  5x8x4 = 160 bumps (1×1) minimum to do all your hours. 70% of Lego pack 6177 are one-rowers, so you get plenty.

    One challenge for me is tracking the roving nature of my work. Some is at my desk, some is in the kitchen, some is in the yard, some is around town. I’d just have to carry Legos in my purse at all times.   What color  for household chores? What color for naval-gazing? What color for getting lost on the world wide web? When is dish-washing, naval-gazing or web-browsing part of writing preparation?  I’d need some in-between colors to record these nebulous states.