Define and execute - managing my energy like a resource

I’ve used the Getting Things Done method of organising my tasks and projects for years. While I admit that it has, more than once, become a distracting hobby of optimisation instead of helping, it has also freed up a lot of mental energy.

In my work I’m constantly switching between creative problem solving and mechanically grinding something out. Normally I just do a task from start to finish, but quite often it’s hard to start being creative when I’m already in a grinding out mindset.

The great people at Basecamp has an idea to solve this issue, they call it a Hill Chart, and it represents how well defined a task is and how far along execution it is. This could really help with picking the right thing to work on depending on mood and energy levels.

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To apply this strategy in my GTD setup I’ve created a new context I call Definition, which has two tags Define and Execute. I label all my tasks with one of these, and depending on which state I’m in I sort my tasks accordingly. I’ve only been doing this for a week so far, but I really enjoy the difference.

What do you think? Any better tips on how to manage your energy?


Optimisation your life away

I've thought a lot about optimisation of the last decade, always looking for better tools, productivity systems, and efficient ways of doing many, many, things. Until a few years ago when I started thinking about over-optimisation instead.

I now believe I've been using optimisation as a crutch, to procrastinate from doing the important, but scary, things in life. 

Optimising up front is usually a bad idea, it's a worse idea for every day life. Optimising should have a clear outcome of freeing up time.  If it doesn't, maybe you shouldn't be spending your time on that?
Maybe that time is better spent on the real work, or life?

Leo said it better.

(Update: This is a life strategy worthy idea.)

Why minimalism is a meta skill

Cultivating a selective focus is the only way to make real progress towards your goals in life. This is an excellent article by James Clear based around investment advice by Warren Buffet. Advice doesn't get much better than this.

The key point is this:
Your odds of success improve when you are forced to direct all of your energy and attention to fewer tasks.
— James Clear

2018 Setup

I’ve always been impressed by people detailing their setups for activity. It’s part inspiring and part a treasure trove of tips. So with a head nod to Thord who inspired this one, here’s my setup going into 2018.

What I do

I mostly do consultant work, front end development and UX design. But I also do some product development, which means writing and creating content. So my time is split pretty unevenly between: Design, Development, Entertainment and Creativity. I figured these might be good categories.

Devices

Design & Development

  • MacBook Pro 13” (space gray, touch bar edition) — I spend 90% of my time on this machine. I wish I didn’t, but until I finish KodApp I can’t properly work on my iPad Pro. The MBP is great though, it’s no longer as overwhelmingly better than the compition that MBPs used to be. But this is still a fantastic machine.
  • iPad Pro 10.5” (silver) — my favorite device by far. I use it with two external keyboards, the Apple Smart Keyboard an Apple Keyboard in a Canvas cover, and the Apple Pencil. Can’t get enough of it! Everything I can do, I do better on the iPad. It’s just a much more limited device. And strangely, those limitations create both focus and creativity.
  • iPhone X (space gray) — I’ve had an iPhone since the iPhone 3G so you can imagine how well integrated into the ecosystem I am. The iPhone has captured more memories and facilitated more  opportunities in my life than anything else (except maybe the internet itself). I could not be happier. And th X is simply the most iPhone of any iPhone so far.
  • Apple Watch (series zero) I’m forever greatful to the Apple Watch for helping me catch my ex cheating, it had gone on for a long time and might’ve gone on a lot longer without the Apple Watch. But truth be told, I don’t use it that much. I wear it every day but I read the time, temperature and measure my sleep. That’s about it. When there’s a nicer watch available with these featres (there are some already but none have caught my eye) I’ll switch to that.

Creativity

  • iPad Pro 10.5” — Already wrote about this device, but couldn’t list creative tools without it. That’s how good it is.
  • Notebooks and pens — I’ve always carried around a ton of notebooks and pencils to draw and sketch on. While I’ve been trimming these down over the last year I’ve also added a new habit: Every morning I journal in my Field Notes with my 0.7mm black Muji pen. It helps me stay acountable and learning.

Entertainment

  • Kindle Oasis — I read. A lot. And this is the best reading device I've ever had.
  • Nintendo Swith — I've always loved gaming, even used to work with game design, and this magical console has completely rekindled my sense of childlike wonder for gaming.
  • Apple TV — Netflix machine.

Apps

Design

  • Paper by 53 — Probably the best sketching app ever. Use it with my Apple Pencil every time I start fleshing out ideas.
  • Figma — This is collaborative Sketch, in the browser. It's amazing, and allows you to prototype directly.
  • Keynote — Sometimes I have to present design, and I usually use keynote for that. Why? It's free and beautiful and easy to use.

Development

  • Atom — Fantastic text editor for all your coding needs.
  • Zeit Now — The best collection of cloud tools for developers I've ever used. Check out everything Zeit does, and never use anything but Now as a dev environment.
  • Digital Ocean — If, and it's increasingly rare, Zeit's environments aren't configurable enough.

Creativity

  • Field Notes — Great looking notebooks, for sketching and journaling.
  • Paper by 53 — Like I wrote above. Everything starts in Paper.

Entertainment

  • Spotify — For music, tried Apple Music, but I just missed curated playlists way to much. Before you say it, no, Apple Musics playlists are not even close.
  • Podcasts / Overcast — I try to live with defaults to understand users in all situations. But Apple Podcast app is just so bad I keep coming back to Overcast.
  • Audible / Kindle — I listen to books as much or even more than I read.
  • Twitter — The only social media I've ever truly loved. The company is doing everything wrong now a days, but I still love the free exchange of ideas. Wish someone could build a next generation of this.

Productivity

  • Bear — My note taking app of choice.
  • Things — All my todos organised in a  GTD system. Beautiful app that's a pleasure to use, all day every day.

Stuff

  • Fjällräven G-1000 — my daily laptop bag. This is basically my office.
  • AirPods — The best headphones I've ever owned. Always with me, always in use, always work.

That's it! That's all the stuff I use on a daily basis.

 

Productivity porn

Conferences have interested me less and less over the last five years or so, and I just realized why. It’s because so much of it is inspirational instead of educational.

Inspiration is basically productivity porn. It’s entertaining and feels like you’re leaning, but it’s just another distraction. It’s the “busy work” of learning.

Stuff to keep you busy from doing what you really want to be doing.

You don’t need more inspiration. You need to do the work. Because doing things inspire us.

The surprising effect of boredom

I've spent years trying out all the tools and tips for increasing productivity I could lay my hands on. Hundreds of apps, and services. Tips for sleeping. Hacks for staying focused. They all worked.

Each one increased the number of todos I checked off my lists. At least for a day or two. After that the search was on for whatever could help me improve more. I'm not even sure now if the methods failed as novelty wore off, or if I just got bored and started looking for my next fix.

The problem is that time went by and I wasn't actually getting anywhere. My todos were demolished but poured in ever faster,and I never really achieved what I wanted.

I had become an efficiency junky.

I'm not sure when the turning point came. But over the last few years my projects are reaching further, quicker. My todo lists shrank, as did my working hours, but my output increased.

What did I spend the rest of my time on? Being bored. Nothing I've ever tried has increased my output or my mood as much as being bored. Boredom has a bad reputation, but it seems to focus my mind.

I've come to enjoy being bored. Even try to find time to be bored. Not that I enjoy the actual boredom, but I do enjoy the simplicity that comes after it.

Like meditation but without the training. Being bored for a few minutes, by yourself, can make all the difference in a stressful day.

Try it. It's free.

Fear of success or fear of failure - why we don't try new things

I don't know about you, but I certainly do less exciting things than I could. Actually I do know a bit about you. I know that at certain times you go beyond your comfort zone and have a fun exhilarating time, but usually you back out right back into that comfort zone. During work, time with your family, even at parties most of our time seems to be spent not doing the things we want to.

We cant do them all of course. But we could live a bit more.

Why don't we? Fear of success: My own worst enemy. The fear of succeeding and adding to the pressure can be daunting. This is why we find errors in our own work, why we focus of details that don't really matter.

Fear of failure:  The fear of not succeeding can be stifling because we fear the mocking of those around us. This is why we find reasons that projects have to fail. Why we spend a lot of energy on finding reasons or scapegoats to blame tha failure on.

Learning to indentify when and why we're backing into our comfort zone isn't enough. When you've identified such a situation, your doing something right. This is when you should get going.

Try it, right now. Go do anything that makes you nervous.