What’s Important?

December 16, 2014

I’m currently trying, albeit somewhat haphazardly, to simplify my life. I’ve tried this before with varying success. One aspect is dealing with information, of which there are mammoth amounts these days (in a way it’s effectively infinite).

However time isn’t so unconstrained. Consequently I’m once again trying to improve my handling of to-do items, capturing and storing information (so that I can actually find it when I need it) and using all this to make better and faster decisions to hopefully release more free time etc etc.

However some of this I actually like doing for it’s own sake as it gives me pleasure eg reading reviews of clever new software, getting to virtually ‘know’ the developers, trying out and using it and being (occasionally) delighted at what it can do.

Some of this activity is patently useful as it keeps me up-to-date with developments in an area where things are moving fast but some of it is just going round in circles which can then be a bit dispiriting eg did I really just spend 3 hours to eventually come back to what I was doing anyway? If I was bored or needed a break, why didn’t I just go out for a walk in the fresh air? I even live near a nature reserve!

This is a good example of focusing on tactics rather than strategy and of easy fun versus discipline.

This point, together with it’s concomitant emotional triggers, is perceptively discussed by Ed Batista in a recent blog post:

The first step is to reframe the issue. Viewing a full inbox, unfinished to-do lists, and a line of disappointed people at the door as a sign of our failure is profoundly unhelpful. This perspective may motivate us to work harder in the hopes of someday achieving victory, but this is futile. We will never win these battles, not in any meaningful sense, because at a certain point in our careers the potential demands facing us will always outstrip our capacity, no matter how much effort we dedicate to work.

So the inbox, the list, the line at the door are in fact signs of success, evidence that people want our time and attention. And ultimate victory lies not in winning tactical battles but in winning the war: Not an empty inbox, but an inbox emptied of all truly important messages. Not a completed to-do list, but a list with all truly important items scratched off. Not the absence of a line at our door, but a line with no truly important people remaining in it.

The next step is to stop using the wrong tools. We expend vast amounts of energy on “time management” and “personal productivity,” and while these efforts can yield results at the tactical level, they’re futile when it comes to the strategic task of triage. Remember: this is not about making a list but deciding where the cut-off point is and sticking to it.

Finally, we need to address the emotional aspect of triage, because it’s not merely a cognitive process.

So, it makes you think, what have you encountered or addressed today that is actually important? Important may of course be something intangible like getting an insight for something that has been germinating for a while, or having an inspiring conversation that changes your mood or viewpoint completely. It doesn’t just have to be a task.


Looking In The Wrong Place

December 12, 2014

Thought provoking snippet mentioned on the blog of Tim Harford:

“In 1943, the American statistician Abraham Wald was asked to advise the US air force on how to reinforce their planes. Only a limited weight of armour plating was feasible, and the proposal on the table was to reinforce the wings, the centre of the fuselage, and the tail. Why? Because bombers were returning from missions riddled with bullet holes in those areas.

Wald explained that this would be a mistake. What the air force had discovered was that when planes were hit in the wings, tail or central fuselage, they made it home. Where, asked Wald, were the planes that had been hit in other areas? They never returned. Wald suggested reinforcing the planes wherever the surviving planes had been unscathed instead.

It’s natural to look at life’s winners – often they become winners in the first place because they’re interesting to look at. That’s why Kickended (a site that details projects that receive zero crowdfunding on Kickstarter) gives us an important lesson. If we don’t look at life’s losers too, we may end up putting our time, money, attention or even armour plating in entirely the wrong place.”

See also Financial Innovation – Alternative Finance 2014.

 


Making Connections

December 11, 2014

knoweldgeFrom original artwork by Hugh MacLeod

The above picture was spotted in an interesting article on How to Generate More Good Ideas, and highlights the crucial role of connections. See also the illuminating quote from Steve Jobs below, on the potential benefits of having lots of dots.

steve-jobs=creative 2

 


Habits

December 9, 2014

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” – Warren Buffett

This applies to business habits as well of course!


Screaming All The Way

November 30, 2014

Something light for the weekend:

“When I die, I want to go peacefully like my grandfather did – in his sleep. Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car.” – Will Rogers

Well, it still makes me laugh even though I’ve read it many times now; as an undercurrent, it’s slightly scary too!


What Are You Aiming For?

November 26, 2014

From Tim Ferriss (although I expect the story is timeless):

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

    “How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

    “Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

    “Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

    “I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

    “But … What do you do with the rest of your time?”

    The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

    The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

    He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

    The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”

    To which the American replied, “15–20 years. 25 tops.”

    “But what then, señor?”

    The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

    “Millions, señor? Then what?”

    “Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos …”

The caveats in the story are obvious but the point remains!


The Stopping-Off Point

November 22, 2014

I’m quite keen on reading posts on productivity, even though I rarely come across anything startlingly new. The principles seem timeless, it’s their disciplined implementation that’s hard, or at least very challenging.

One such post, recently seen in the The Chronicle of Higher Education lists ‘The Habits of Highly Productive Writers’. One point did however grab me:

“They leave off at a point where it will be easy to start again. Some writers quit a session in the middle of a sentence; it’s always easier to continue than to begin. If you know where you’re headed the next time you sit down, you’ll get there faster. There’s an activation-energy cost to get things brewing. Lower it however you can.”

I realised that when I write I usually split items into tasks and aim to finish them off, one after another. Consequently I start each one from scratch, which usually means there is an obligatory period of procrastination or prevarication before I get into the flow (especially when tasks span days).

Bearing the above advice in mind, once I’ve finished a task (say, reviewed and published a blog post), I’ll now try sketching out the main aspects of the next one or two so that when I approach them I’m not starting cold i.e. I’ll be changing my stopping-off point. Alternatively I might even go so far as to write the first few sentences.

It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes overall a better process. The approach is not limited to just writing of course, it can apply to nearly any task.

On the same day as reading the above article, I read a couple of related ones (although very different in slant) but which also discuss overcoming barriers to writing and publishing (or most things actually).

One, by James Clear, discusses the clash between Goals and Systems. It’s a good read and here’s an extract:

“As an example, I just added up the total word count for the articles I’ve written this year. (You can see them all here.) In the last 12 months, I’ve written over 115,000 words. The typical book is about 50,000 to 60,000 words, so I have written enough to fill two books this year.

All of this is such a surprise because I never set a goal for my writing. I didn’t measure my progress in relation to some benchmark. I never set a word count goal for any particular article. I never said, “I want to write two books this year.”

What I did focus on was writing one article every Monday and Thursday. And after sticking to that schedule for 11 months, the result was 115,000 words. I focused on my system and the process of doing the work. In the end, I enjoyed the same (or perhaps better) results.

Let’s talk about three more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.”

The other, which sounded a bit too detailed for me personally, but which had some good points to think about was the software product Vitamin-R (Mac only, but there should be lots of Windows alternatives). This emphasises the habit of time-slicing and monitoring tasks, something I’ve often found quite effective in the past.

You can read about the philosophy behind the product (which is the important part anyway) in the User Manual, which is a free download. You can then try to adapt it to any system you use, or else you can trial or buy the software directly if you prefer (a recent review of it is here).

See also: Start The Day With An Unfinished Sentence.


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