The first half of 2017 has been “productive.” I’ve been to Colombia once and Mexico twice (and Guatemala for a couple of hours). I’ve made two big reports with colleagues, about 20 shorter commentaries, 10 podcasts, and lots of posts on this site. I’ve had over 30 meetings with congressional staff, and spoken to several audiences here in Washington. And of course there’ve been hundreds of tweets, for what they’re worth.
But how strategic has it all been? The past six months have been the most alarming time, politically, in my life. As the “day ahead” posts on this site often show, my days are often booked up completely. At this tumultuous time, am I filling my hours with the “right” things, toward the right objectives?
We all have to ask questions like these. I find I’m doing a lot of that here at the midpoint of my two-week vacation.
In the process, I’ve enjoyed reading (or re-reading) these online articles, which all try to get at the question of “am I using my time right.” They’re all well-written and inspiring. I hope you enjoy them too.
- “Good and Bad Procrastination” by Paul Graham.
“I think the way to ‘solve’ the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you’ll leave the right things undone.” See also the excellent essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.”
- “The Sanctity of Your Calendar” by Julie Zhuo.
“[M]akers should aim to have at least six chunks of three-plus hours of uninterrupted work time on their calendar every week. This averages out to one three-hour block every day (either an entire morning or afternoon), plus a no-meeting day with two such blocks.”
- “Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It…)” by Cal Newport.
“I argue that we need to spend more time engaged in deep work — cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”
- “Lecture On Creativity” by John Cleese.
“Now, because it takes some time for your mind to quiet down it’s absolutely no use arranging a ‘space/time oasis’ lasting 30 minutes, because just as you’re getting quieter and getting into the open mode you have to stop and that is very deeply frustrating. So you must allow yourself a good chunk of time. I’d suggest about an hour and a half. Then after you’ve gotten to the open mode, you’ll have about an hour left for something to happen, if you’re lucky.”
- “The Note” by Shawn Blanc.
“When I sit down at my desk in the morning, it’s time to write. There is hot coffee to the left of my keyboard. My keyboard, well, it’s about as clicky and awesome as they come. I put in my earbuds, hit play on the soundtrack, and set a 30 minute timer. My phone is in Do Not Disturb mode. So is my computer. The outside world can wait. For the next half hour I’m pushing the cursor.”
- “Why I Am a Bad Correspondent” by Neal Stephenson.
“Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all.”
- “Turning Pro – by Steven Pressfield” by Derek Sivers.
“Distraction and displacement seem innocent on the surface. How can we be harming ourselves by having fun, or seeking romance, or enjoying the fruits of this big, beautiful world? But lives go down the tubes one repetition at a time, one deflection at a time, one hundred and forty characters at a time.”
- “Transcript of the first Linchpin session” by Seth Godin.
“[T]here’s a difference between amateurs who are muddling their way through, doing what they feel like, looking for inspiration, and maybe doing good work. And professionals who show up and do the work. A pro golfer practices even if it’s cold and rainy. A pro psychologist is able to empathize with a patient even when they don’t feel like it. A pro trainer or coach is able to do the work and have the difficult conversation because it’s their job.”
- “I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan.
“Yes, online and automated life is more efficient, it makes more economic sense, it ends monotony and ‘wasted’ time in the achievement of practical goals. But it denies us the deep satisfaction and pride of workmanship that comes with accomplishing daily tasks well, a denial perhaps felt most acutely by those for whom such tasks are also a livelihood—and an identity.”
- “Better” by Merlin Mann.
“I want to become an evangelist for hard work and editing, and I want to get to a place where it shows in everything that I do, make, and share. Yes, even if it makes me sound like a fancy guy who just doesn’t get it. Fuck it. So, yes. I am cutting way back on trips to the steam table of half-finished, half-useful, half-ideas that I both make and consume.”
And here’s my one public foray into this sort of wooly “how to do your work better” writing: a Medium piece I wrote after having lunch with WOLA’s interns in 2013.