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Firewall for ideas?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I am beginning to think I need some sort of conceptual firewall to separate ideas from the mass of other digital information I collect. I have lots of ideas, some clear and many more vague and fuzzy, and I dutifully record them as they come to me. However, I don't seem to have a review mechanism that puts these ideas back in front of me at appropriate times. I do come across some of them while searching for other information I need in the course of work, but I inevitably tend to ignore them at that time because I am not in "idea review" mode; I'm just trying to get work done.

Idea may also be too specific a term: essentially I'm talking about any non-action oriented thinking that I do. This is probably the most valuable type of thinking, but it gets lost amid the fray of details that make up the majority of working life.

It would be nice to have a process to make sure that when I am doing more abstract thinking, I can get a list of related thoughts I've already had on a topic. Of course, any information management program with search can help in this regard, but what I'm getting at is that I think it needs to be unbundled from all the other information: a dedicated "thoughts" database.

I'm a data aggregator by nature and I want to shovel diverse types of information into one master data store. In part this is because I believe unforeseen connections can emerge this way. But I wonder if some high level segmentation wouldn't be more beneficial.

Posted by murt at 1:53 PM  |  2 comments  |  links to this post

The productivity ceiling

Saturday, July 29, 2006

If you spend a lot of time reading about productivity and efficiency methods, tips, and hacks, you may start to get the feeling that your productivity is an infinitely expandable thing. While it's true you can always shave off a few seconds here and there, the fact is that you do have a productivity ceiling, and once you start bumping up against this ceiling, saving seconds becomes counterproductive. You need some kind of leverage to either raise the ceiling or get back to where you have some room above your head.

How do you raise the ceiling? In an organization, the answer is easy - you add more people. Think about it. Each additional person in your organization adds around forty hours per week to your overall productivity. Now that's some hack!

I suppose the same could apply to personal life as well: hire a maid, a gardener, etc. Outsource whatever you can. Even then, there is a point where the projects you undertake will have you hitting your upper limit of productivity. All you can do at that point is renegotiate time frames and even eliminate some of your projects and responsibilities.

I hope this doesn't put a damper on anyone's spirit. I just think it's worth keeping in mind that even the most formidable arsenal of productivity tricks can't save you from hitting natural limits.

Posted by murt at 4:18 PM  |  0 comments  |  links to this post

Balancing with modes

Friday, July 28, 2006

A balanced life is one of the recurring themes in personal development and productivity. Usually this centers around balancing work and personal life. In Covey's material, the idea is to balance various roles that a person plays. In David Allen's, the idea is not really directly addressed other than an implicit promise that if you are managing all the details, you will intuitively be able to balance at higher levels.

I've never had much success at forcing myself to take action in various areas or roles; I tend to do very well in a few areas at the expense of others. Of course, that's the very problem the personal development gurus are trying to address, but I've recently been thinking about the problem a different way. Instead of trying to balance out different areas, I simply "give in" to what I call my "modes." I've identified certain recurring sets of mood, desire, energy levels, etc. that I sort of naturally cycle through, and each one is ideal for a certain type of action, thought or focus. It's usually pretty obvious which one I'm in, and I'm now trying to play to the strengths of each mode while I'm in it. It's very similar to the rather obvious advice of "eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired."

My modes:


This is the mode where work (programming), administration, and other reality-based items get done. Luckily for me, I'm pretty much in this mode from at least nine to five throughout the work week. You may not think that sounds lucky, but business is essentially pragmatic and to do well means not straying too far off into more flighty realms.


This is when I want to read, write, and think. While business has intellectual aspects, for me this is more about things like philosophy, history, culture, and fiction. This is solitary activity for me so it also serves as a type of mental recreation.


In some ways, this is kind of a "spaced out" mode that is the opposite of pragmatism. I do a lot of standing or sitting around while in this mode, interspersed with bursts of unrelated and unplanned action. In this mode I am totally open to intuition and do not refer to any lists, plans, or even the computer. I like nature a lot in this mode. I tend to only get into this mode on the weekends.


An obvious one: this is when I want to hang out with other people.


This could be sleeping, watching TV, reading popular fiction, etc. It's a sort of complete disconnect from real life.


This is (now) a somewhat rare mode for me, but it's also one of the most fun! I write most of my songs while in this mode, a song being a sort of trick or joke where I can say anything and wrap it up in sugar-pill capsule form.


The mood to be in this mode strikes me very rarely, which brings up the next obvious question - how do you naturally increase the occurrence of a particular mode?

Of course, most of these are personal and everyone will have their own set.

I'm not above forcing personal development on myself, but I've been trying to capitalize on natural cycles and impulses to reduce my own rigidity and make the most of natural, fluid approaches. This is mainly because I realized that micro-managing everything on a computer is only helpful for certain areas and is actually detrimental to others.

Posted by murt at 4:51 PM  |  2 comments  |  links to this post

Ultra Recall discount

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

You can get a discount (today only) on Ultra Recall over at Bits du Jour.

I've been using Ultra Recall for almost two years now, and while my initial review was good, my opinion has only gotten better with time. This is just a great program for info packrats.

Posted by murt at 7:27 PM  |  0 comments  |  links to this post