What three things can I do today?

I just read an headline called: what are the three things you want to accomplish today.

That’s the productivity philosophy I strive for. My philosophy used to be ‘get everything down and do as much of it as you can.’ That’s still appropriate in some ways. But it’s not realistic most of the time.

Let’s assume I get somewhere near an average amount of work done each day. On any given day, I’m setting out to do two or three times that amount of work. And lately, with my calendar almost completely full of meetings, I’m pulling down my average.

So, the net effect on my emotional health is that I’m always behind and I’m never successful. That sucks!

If I focus on three things instead — a ‘minimum viable product,’ if you will — and work to try to get them done as early as possible in the day, then anything else I get done is surplus.

So, what are the three things I want to focus on today? The three most important things on my radar.

productivity time

What Busy Feels Like

For the most part, busy feels great to me. It feels like I am adding value, that what I’m doing is important.

Busy also feels scary. It feels like I’m close to the edge. Deadlines are looming. I could catch the flu or sprain an ankle and I would worry about opportunities missed and people let down.

It’s also scary because it carries a bigger risk of failure. I might not be able to pull all of this off. Some stuff might fall through the cracks.

Busy is disruptive. I’ve been trying to shape all of these behaviors in my life — how much I exercise, what I eat and drink, how much I write. Busy enables the part of me that wants to break from my routine and indulge in my impulses. Pizza for breakfast? You deserve it, for all the hard work you’ve been doing lately. Go for it.

There’s no space when I’m busy. I have a shorter attention span and less patience. My spiritual, reflective self goes into hibernation.

I like being busy. I hope it subsides soon.

belief growth health productivity resolution time

Trusting the Method

“Enlightenment” by marirs

After I got out of the shower yesterday, I curled my arm to look at the size of my bicep. It had been a while since I had done this. I was impressed. It looked noticeably larger than the last time I checked. It looked like a tight ball under my skin with some definition of other muscle around it. When I checked it in the bathroom mirror this morning, though, it looked the same as it always had — sort of a round mass. Perhaps the gym has better lighting.

I’ve been going to the gym for four months now, lifting weights three days a week and doing cardio exercises five days a week. My intention was not to build a bigger bicep, although I hoped for it as a side benefit, along with losing weight (so far, not so much). If I did it for those reasons, I would have given up discouraged months ago.

My intention was merely to build a practice that would improve my health, mentally and physically. I resolved to focus not on the results, but on the method itself.

This is big change. I have always thought of practice solely as a path to improvement. You pick up a musical instrument or a foreign language so that you can play and converse, otherwise it’s a waste of time. That kind of thinking associates practice with wasted time. It longs for a machine or a pill or a shortcut.

A grudging practice must be continually justified. Am I learning fast enough? When will I be good enough to not make mistakes? Why do I even want to do something that requires so much practice? I quit.

If you learn to love the method, the results will arrive. I thought about this recently after a short but wonderful flight through space.

I’ve been adding all sorts of methods to my life — methods for cleaning my house, for writing, and most recently for flossing my teeth. My most cherished method is for meditation. I sit in my living room chair, wrap myself in a blanket, set a timer (first for 10 minutes, now for 20), close my eyes and focus repeatedly on one word that sets my intention for the day. I use every sound to reinforce the word. I breathe the word in and breathe the word out. My heart beats to the word. The clock ticks to the word. Sometimes my dog will bark the word or a loud car will drive the word up the street.

After months of daily meditation, I’ve had some “peak experiences.” Once I felt like I was outside my body. I often see colors and shapes. Mostly these experiences are in the form of a complete relaxation that straddles dreaming and waking.

But even more than those, meditation seems like a complete waste of time. I struggle with it. My nose starts to itch or I get distracted by something. I start to worry that I’m not doing it right.

But then I come back to my focus. That’s what meditation is all about — returning to your focus. You won’t get stronger by merely holding the weight, but by pumping it, bringing it back again and again in repetition, sets of repetition.

Meditation is teaching me to trust the method. Someday it will make flowers grow out of my pockets.

Internet productivity

My Firefox Extensions

Firefox with 100 extensions installed. Don’t try this at home.

I use Firefox. One of the reasons why I use it is that I can use all manor of extensions — tiny helper programs — that people create on their own time to improve the functionality of the Internet experience.

This is what is known as “open source.” The idea behind it is that you do a little bit of work for free to the benefit of humankind.

I’m not qualified to be a software developer or to otherwise make these widgets on my own, but I think that I should still participate in this noble endeavor. So, to that end, so instead here are (hopefully) helpful reviews of my favorite extensions.

  1. NoScript: This is the most useful, by far. There is so much javascript out on the web now and because it’s mostly invisible to the end user, it’s good to know that this prophylactic is protecting me from annoyance, inconvenience, and possibly infection. 5 stars.
  2. Copy Plain Text: Ever try to copy some words from the Internet into a program like Microsoft Word and end up hanging your program because you are pasting a bunch of hidden HTML? This extension makes it a lot easier to just get the raw text without all the formating. It’s simple and effective. 5 stars.
  3. post: This add-on puts a new menu and buttons in my browser so I can use the free service to manage my bookmarks. It’s a handy plug-in for a great service. The best thing about delicious is that you can add tags (keywords) to each page you bookmark. It even suggests which tags to add. 4 stars.

photo credit: hey mr glen

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Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Advice

Thanks, Jerry

Lifehacker shared a piece of advice on getting things done a little bit at a time. The advice comes from Jerry Seinfeld, right at the top of his career, to a new (then) comic and (now) software developer:

[Seinfeld] said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself – even when you don’t feel like it.

He then revealed a unique calendar system he was using pressure himself to write.

Here’s how it worked.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain.” He said again for emphasis.

There are a few things that I try to maintain by doing every day, like cleaning the house and blogging. It’s easy, though, to let things go for several days. I’m going to give this method a try.