The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

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Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

via The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Note: Great article about the Getting Things Done philosophy of productivity and mindfulness, and interview with its creator, David Allen. I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I read the book back in 2009, and have been struggling to perfectly implement it in my work and personal lives. This article is making me rethink how I interpreted GTD (despite the fact that I’ve read the book cover-to-cover and listened to the full audio book at least 3-4 times!). I especially enjoy the analogy to Zen Buddhism, a philosophy and spiritual discipline that really resonates with me. Worth a read and won’t take more than 10 minutes to do so.

The Father Of "Getting Things Done": You're Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

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Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

via The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Note: Great article about the Getting Things Done philosophy of productivity and mindfulness, and interview with its creator, David Allen. I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I read the book back in 2009, and have been struggling to perfectly implement it in my work and personal lives. This article is making me rethink how I interpreted GTD (despite the fact that I’ve read the book cover-to-cover and listened to the full audio book at least 3-4 times!). I especially enjoy the analogy to Zen Buddhism, a philosophy and spiritual discipline that really resonates with me. Worth a read and won’t take more than 10 minutes to do so.

The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings

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Compressed into this humble and humbling morning routine is the entire Buddhist belief that life is a “joyful participation in a world of sorrows.” This daily rite of body and spirit is the building block of the Dalai Lama’s quiet and steadfast mission to, as Iyer elegantly puts it, “explore the world closely, so as to make out its laws, and then to see what can and cannot be done within those laws.”

via The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings.

The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings

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Compressed into this humble and humbling morning routine is the entire Buddhist belief that life is a “joyful participation in a world of sorrows.” This daily rite of body and spirit is the building block of the Dalai Lama’s quiet and steadfast mission to, as Iyer elegantly puts it, “explore the world closely, so as to make out its laws, and then to see what can and cannot be done within those laws.”

via The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings.

The Quantified Self as a Writer

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Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

I’ve been a dedicated follower of the sci-fi writer (and software developer by day) Jamie Todd Rubin, ever since I read one of the blog posts extolling the virtues of going paperless. He’s an Evernote Ambassador (apparently an unpaid honor that entitles Rubin to a free Business plan and an audience of Evernote fans to tap into to promote his own writing), and as a productivity devotee and Evernote user myself, it didn’t take long for his name to pop into my consciousness.

Rubin’s in the middle of a massive writing streak. Massive, as in, he’s been writing at least once a day for nearly 700 consecutive days. He hasn’t missed a day since July 21, 2013.

Rubin doesn’t have a word count goal, nor is he aiming for a specific number of pages per day. Rather, he simply squeezes in as much time as he can in his very busy days to get some writing done, whether it’s a couple hundred words a day or 1,500. Since he launched his writing streak, though, he’s discovered that the more he writes, the more efficient he’s become, the better his writing, and the easier (relatively speaking) the writing gets. Writing is never easy, of course (not to me, anyway), but like with anything else, as Rubin has demonstrated, you do get better at something the more you do it. It doesn’t matter how little talent you have to begin with (and Rubin is clearly talented) – if you keep at something and persevere, you will get results. You may never find yourself playing solo at Carnegie Hall someday, but if you push yourself to practice the piano every single day for years on end, you will improve.

It’s a discipline I’m working on now as I hit my mid-forties. I dreamt once of finishing a novel by the time I actually reached 40, but clearly that’s well behind me. Still, the big war novel is begging to be completed – I left my protagonist stranded in steamy Singapore, waiting to learn of his fate, wondering where the Girl is and if she’s still alive. I’ve several bookshelves groaning under the weight of dozens of World War II novels, biographies, and histories. I think this book, this story – even if it’s fiction – belongs up there, too.

Rubin uses a script he created (did I mention that he’s a software developer?) to automatically tally up his word count every evening. He writes directly into Google Docs so that he doesn’t have to mess with learning a new program like Scrivener, which is beautiful to use and packed with features, but which does have a bit of a learning curve. As a quantified writer who likes to track not only his writing output but also his sleep and his fitness milestones and probably his diet, too, Rubin doesn’t want to waste time that he already has so little of on something not directly related to the act of writing itself. There’s something to that. I’m surrounded by at least 5 dogs nearly every day, have a full-time job that demands a huge chunk of my mental processing power, a husband with his own demanding career, and a house that needs occasional upkeep. Once my head hits my pillow each night, I’m usually asleep within five minutes. Every day is a packed day.

As much as I’d love to try out Rubin’s script, I think I’m going to aim for the already-challenging goal of writing 500 words a day. Not 200 or 100 or 50, which is the pitiful low barrier I’ve been hurtling myself over, but something that will actually get me closer to my goal of completing the damn thing. Fifty words is better than zero, but it’s so easy to lose momentum that way. I like to let my hands do the writing and let my brain hang around for the ride. It can make for some interesting detours in the story sometimes (I switched POVs halfway through), but that’s what the editing process is for.

iDoneThis, iDoneThat

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I’ve been trying out iDoneThis for a week now and realize that I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but wow, it makes me giddy.

I use it exclusively for work, especially to help jog my memory when our biweekly updates are due, but for now I’m testing it out on a personal account. Entire teams at Automattic are using it to keep track of their milestones, especially our developers, and I can understand why it’s such an appealing and maybe even addictive tool.

idonethis-banner

My favorite feature is its app integration. Since our entire company spends an ungodly amount of time on Slack — it pretty much remains open on my screen anytime I’m at my laptop, and I’m sad to admit that I periodically scroll through it even when I’m not officially working, like at the doctor’s office — it’s so easy to pop into any channel, type something like /done Posted a trac ticket about x theme’s documentation, and watch with deep satisfaction as the app robotically congratulates me on getting things done and adds the new iDoneThis event to my daily diary.

I’ve resisted using it for awhile even though many of my colleagues have raved about it, preferring instead to keep things simple by throwing completed tasks into a blank Note every day. Now that I have a massive collection of Notes, though, with no easy way to search them (especially since I have a lot of non-diary Notes thrown in there for good measure, too), it was time for me to try something actually useful for a change. So far, so very good.

Now if only they’d change the name. As a writer with a bit of an OCD tendency to mentally correct poor grammar on billboards and movie titles, hearing and reading iDoneThis evokes a reaction somewhat akin to the noise produced by fingernails on a chalkboard. I mean, okay, iDidThis.com has been registered since 2007 (based on a quick whois search), but surely there were other, less grating options?

On the other hand, it has a nice, edgy sound to it. Plus, sometimes when I look at my daily diary and see a long list of completed tasks, I do feel like pumping my fist and declaring, “Yeah, I done this!” The grammatically correct alternative just doesn’t sound quite as emphatic or powerful, you know?

Remembering the Milk, Moving on to Wunderlist

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One of the things I love about working at a place like Automattic is being surrounded by like-minded folks obsessed about productivity. Our internal operations manual even has entire pages devoted to particular productivity apps like Alfred (<3) and Things. Much of the conversation is driven by my colleague Bryan V., who is the productivity master, but overall Automatticians are very much a productivity-driven bunch of folks.

I wasn’t always this way. Before I got my first smartphone (a Palm Centro in 2008), I relied exclusively on a hefty Day-Timer. Bulky and packed with Post-Its, business cards, and receipts, it nevertheless served me well for years – I ran my entire freelance writing career on it and somehow managed to accomplish way more than you’d think considering how limited a paper planner seems now.

Once I launched my social media/content marketing agency in 2009, though, whatever latent obsession I had with productivity and efficiency suddenly bloomed and I found myself trying out ever project management tool, task manager, to-do app, and calendar app on the market. Seriously, name a project management tool, and chances are, I’ve at least researched it. Especially after I began hiring contractors and other freelancers, my need to find the perfect productivity tool expanded, and I must have subjected my poor brain to a new tool every month. I somehow managed to get things done, but I was frazzled with the learning curve each new tool demanded.

Eventually, it dawned on me that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. What I needed wasn’t the perfect tool but rather the dedication to actually using the damn thing. Anyone halfway familiar with how productivity works understands that, but despite my college degree and graduate education, apparently that basic fact escaped me for years.

So I picked the app that seemed both the simplest and most comprehensive: Remember the Milk. I used it for a few years, moving it from my old Nexus 4 to my current Moto X and then my iPad. I even paid the annual $25 subscription fee for premium features, primarily the on-demand sync option. When I find an app that helps me get things done, I’m more than happy to pay the developers to help them continue maintaining and updating it.

Recently, though, I’ve been trying out Wunderlist, which I’d experimented with a couple of years before but somehow dropped. I don’t remember why, but the current interface on the Android is beautiful, yet still minimal. Unlike Remember the Milk, where all your tasks for the day are just thrown into one big list, I can view my entire day’s tasks on Wunderlist on one page, broken down into different categories. I can just focus on my Work tasks when I’m at my desk, but also scroll down quickly to view the Phone Calls list or the Emails list if I find myself with spare pockets of time during the day. I don’t ever have to leave that particular page.

wunderlist to-do app review

Plus, bonus: Wunderlist also has a handy-dandy Chrome browser extension that lets me add any page on the web to my to-do list, and even categorize it right within the extension.

I still have my Remember the Milk account, but I haven’t looked at it in several weeks as I’ve been resting out Wunderlist. I have a feeling it will be a keeper, especially since it’s free. There’s a Pro version, but it seems to be largely for businesses or freelancers, so while I’m happy to pay for an app I use all day, everyday, if I don’t need to, $25 is still $25.

My latest favorite book (and inspiration)

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CT daily-rituals01.jpgI finished reading Mason Currey‘s Daily Rituals recently. It’s one of those books that you have to read with a highlighter in one hand and a hot cup of tea or coffee in the other. A notebook might be nice, too, but it’s not required.

I can’t remember how I first heard about this book (probably from Arts & Letters Daily, one of two websites I must read every single day if I’m going to feel complete before I tuck in at night — the other one being NPR.org), but I’m sure that when it happened, I must have immediately opened a browser tab and searched for it on Amazon. I went to several Barnes & Noble shops over the next few weeks, but not one of them had a copy. I guess I could have called each one rather than wasting so much time and gas traipsing from one to the other, but I like going to bookstores. Bookstores are my Tiffany’s — nothing bad could ever happen to you in there. You get rid of the mean reds, blues, violets, and blacks.

Except, of course, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, which was the case in my search for Currey’s book.

I wanted to give my local bookstore a chance to make me happy, especially after the disappearance of not one, but all of the brick-and-mortar bookstores in my town last year, but I finally gave in and ordered it from Amazon.com. Once I had it in my hands, I devoured it in two sittings.

It’s actually a pretty short, quick read. Currey collected interviews, essays, and vignettes about various creatives — over 200 of them — from Stephen King to Henri Matisse, Somerset Maugham to Twyla Tharp. You can dive in and read a one- or two-page written snapshot of how each creative professional worked, their routines and habits, even their tools. It’s not meant to be a little encyclopedia of artists, and Currey doesn’t really even bother explaining who these notable figures are. If you pay any attention at all to the worlds of arts and literature, you will likely at least have a passing familiarity with just about everyone featured in this book (Louise Bourgeois, Friedrich Schiller, Knut Hamsun, and Maira Kalman, are just a handful of folks mentioned whom I had to look up on Wikipedia), but really, it’s not really necessary.

Currey goes into intimate detail with many of his subjects, from Picasso’s habit of sleeping late and rising late as well, getting to his studio by 2pm to begin his work of the day; to Alexander Graham Bell’s own regimen of working around the clock, which he eventually had to modify to take his wife’s pregnancy into consideration. If you’re looking for techniques on how to be creative, or tips on how to call forth the muse when you’re stuck on a paragraph or a blank canvas, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

What I got instead, however, was a deep appreciation for the sacrifices artists must make in order to engage in the hard, unrelenting work of creating something: a book, a painting, a piece of music, or a piece of software. Austin-based writer, artist, and blogger Austin Kleon frequently laments the creative’s practice of sharing only finished work with the world and hiding all the messy, gut-wrenching process that made that work possible. Currey’s answer to that was this book, a wide-open door into what artists throughout history have had to do in order to make time and room for the act of creation in their lives. Whether it meant working feverishly around the margins of a day job, or a family’s demands, or crafting a rigid schedule of daily hours, these folks got it done.

I have it on my desk now as a reference, right next to a lot of history books and notebooks (and receipts, pens, random Post-Its, and folders), and dip into it frequently. I’m still working on a schedule that works for me and the many things I juggle with on a daily basis (home, work, dogs, volunteering, extended family needs, reading, and writing), and this book reminds me that others with far more demands on their time were able to carve out the space in their lives to make art.