I’ve got quite a few irons in the fire at the moment. A daughter going on two, a demanding (but enjoyable) job, gearing up to teach a class in the fall, several small programming projects, a website or five, a couple three or four rooms in the house that still need painting and/or redecoration of some sort, and last but certainly not least, a wife who is just as busy as I am and who needs a hand from time to time. So I devote the occasional brain cycle to thinking about productivity and workflow and how to do more stuff better in less time with less effort.
Here’s an interesting idea, called Structured Procrastination:
All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.
Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen.
I do that all the time. I’m not quite at the point where I depend on it or schedule tasks around it, but it does form part of my core working behavior. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.
Joel Spolsky has another view on productivity, in Fire and Motion. His basic thesis is that the hardest part is getting started, getting out of the blocks — what people who have taken Chem 101 will often refer to as “getting over the activation energy threshold”. I seem to have this problem more when I’m tired (mentally or physically) or stressed out about something.
Pointers to other similar articles welcome; I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and could use some reading material to help me avoid thinking about that too much… 8^)=