The Phil Wells Dot Com

I Got A Big Mouth

Tag: productivity

Phil’s Intolerably Long Productivity Update

There’s a fine line between fine-tuning the productivity tools you’ve got established to increase your output, and actually putting stuff out there in the world.  Or maybe it’s not a fine line so much as it can be easy to plan how much ass you’re going to kick in a day or a week and then never getting around to kicking any actual ass.  I’ve struggled with this for a time.

I write lists and put cards on walls in an earnest effort to get my goals out there in a concrete, highly visible, and most likely fun-to-use system.  It’s true; I get a kick out of tracking my progress in pretty much any area of my life.  I can tell you how far away I am from clocking 10,000 of onstage performance.  I can recite how many pushups I did last week and how many I plan on being able to do by the end of next week.  These things are like candy to me.

There’s a gray mish-mosh, though, that hit me at the beginning of this productivity-geek evolution.  And it evidently happens all the time.  If I could line up my false starts and unchecked lists of goals end-to-end, they’d reach to Pusan from Seoul.  That doesn’t seem astronomical but remember that my handwriting is like tiny.  I’d tell myself what needed to get done, and go about not doing any of it.  I think in my case, and possibly in a lot of cases, it was an instance of putting the productivity cart in front of the actually-being-productive horse.  For me, that horse had still not left the stable.  Productivity tools, it seems, are most effective for people who just need a way to organize the massive output they’re already generating.

Well, maybe.  I mean, I eventually got productive and when I did I was glad to have been tinkering with all these inbox systems and reminders and index cards.  These days it takes a lot for me to feel overwhelmed and  I think it’s because I got into the habit of listing every plate I had spinning before I had any plates to even spin.

Right.  So, there’s that.  Now, what do I have to show for it?  Well, my inbox at work was at zero when I left the office on Friday.  It always is.  If you’re one of those people who reads that and says it’d be impossible for you to get yourself set up like that, know that I felt the same way.  But also know that I love, love, love having an empty inbox way more than I dreaded, dreaded, dreaded getting it cleared that first insurmountable time.  (Apologies if my stylistic liberty taken in that previous sentence was unnecessary, unnecessary, unnecessary.)  Do it.

Some things come to me at work that are not big enough to warrant a whole email each.  I do QA testing for a lot of individual products all at the same time, and they have a sort of insidious way of adding up.  To keep track of all these tasks, I’ve been using David Seah’s Task Order Up! templates which I painstakingly printed on index cards while watching The Office.  There’s a big stack of them at my desk and they’re perfect for writing one task each, a deadline for that task, and hours logged on each task.  Before they’re finished I keep them up in front of me using one of those ticket rails they have in diners, and when I’m done with a task I get to impale out on one of those spikes they have wherever they also have a ticket rail.  I guess you could look at that and say I’m eccentric or obsessed.  Yeah, fine, whatever.  It’s a fun system for me, it adds a tactile component to a not-at-all tactile profession, and there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of outranking coworkers thinking you’re obsessed with your work.

Finally, and most recently, I’ve begun filling in the circles on this bad boy: the whitehatblackbox Keeping Focus Form.  If you’ve clicked through (and, indeed, if you’ve read this far) you understand how this thing works.  I’ve got columns filled in for Fitness, Paying Off the Debt, and Writing the Song.  If I exercise and eat well, I fill in a circle.  If I snowflake a few bucks into the credit card fire, I fill in a circle.  If I write 20 lines of poetry, I fill in a circle.  I like it so far.  It definitely helps me remember how much of a jerk I am if I spend a whole day doing nothing toward any of these goals.  I think I’m going to fill in a fourth column for Decluttering.

So, yeah, those are my weapons at the moment.  I can go into other methods I use like “12+3*4” and Harnessing the Beast but you’ve heard it all before.  The sum of it all is that I’m pretty happy with myself right now.  I’m getting things done in the same time that I would’ve gotten a lot of nothing done and, really, I’m not missing the nothingness as much as I thought I would.  It only takes a relatively small stretch of days to establish a habit, and I can see the benefit of writing, exercising, and saving habitually.  How could I miss it?  It’s all written out and tacked up in front of me.


I am a procrastinator, and I get the feeling most of the people I know are the same way.  In this day and age it’s easy to assume that this is brought on by some chemical imbalance in my brain.  It’s become hip to self-diagnose as “ADD” or “just a little autistic” or “actually so smart it makes me seem kind of slow”.

Whatever.  I know that here, in real life, procrastination can be overcome with a little discipline and a lot of caffeine.  For the discipline, I turn to (10+2)*5.

I set aside an hour, give myself a list of at least an hour’s worth of work that needs to get done, and plow through it.  I’ve actually tweaked the formula to (12+3)*4 because I like longer breaks.

  • Work for 12 minutes, no excuses.
  • Break for three minutes, no excuses.
  • Repeat 4 times.

And there you go: you’ve completed an hour’s worth of stuff.  Now get out your stopwatch and a task list, and get back to work.