Grand Productivity Experiment Phase Four: Exhaustingly Successful!

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that no part of your life is about to burst into unmanageable flames. But keeping it that way, it turns out, is rather tiring.

Dance with spinning plates2(js)
Last week went something like this.
Day 1: did something in each of seven areas and had energy for more!
Day 2: did something in each of seven areas.
Day 3: did two errands, two loads of laundry and nothing else.
Day 4: did something in each of seven areas, trying not to overdo it.
Day 5: did something in about five areas, but very slowly
Day 6: (people day) full of people, busy pretty much all day.
Day 7: (rest day) rested – and boy was I ready for it!

So on the one hand, I’d call the Seven Areas (Seven Spinning Plates?) Method a roaring success; on the other hand I’m either going to need to scale it back a bit or build up some more stamina. Or maybe only do 15 minutes in any one area.

This week, I’m trying another of my own inventions, which I call Inculcating the Right Frame of Mind. (Really needs a catchier name. Suggestions?) It came about as a reaction to my usual habit of bullying myself into doing whatever needs to be done (or more often, not doing it at all, because I don’t respond well to intimidation).

Chongqing yangjiaping 2007
I won’t and you can’t make me!
In Dorothea Brande’s excellent little book Becoming A Writer, she writes that, “in changing habits, you will find yourself getting your results far more quickly and with less ‘backwash’ if you engage your imagination in the process instead of calling out the biggest gun of your character equipment [the will] first.”

I’ve written about this before, or something like it. But there are more possibilities than, say, looking at a houseful of chaos and asking oneself What Would Jeeves Do? A picture of a garden might inspire one to go out and hoe into the weeds; a book or fantasy movie might inspire one to change how one lives in one’s home; reading about one’s personal heroes – whether individuals, groups or societies – might inspire one to have another stab at emulating them. For some people, music might be the thing that inspires them.

So this week, instead of browbeating and bullying myself into doing what is needful, I’m going to set about cultivating enthusiasm for the task that lies ahead.

What inspires you to joyfully go about the tasks before you?

Getting Control of Your UFOs

Spreadsheets have a reputation for being cold and factual. Less often are they seen as a form of inspiration and a repository of dreams.
I Love Spreadsheets
Let me explain. Some time ago, I was going down for what felt like the third time under a morass of unfinished things and dreams deferred. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, as the writer of Proverbs sagely observes, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. (You know you have too many UFOs when even the creator and sustainer of the universe tells you to get your act together and start finishing things.)

But where was I going to start? There were too many of them, and some had to be done before others, and they all had different conditions attached, and….

Enter the spreadsheet. The first thing to do is to list all the projects you have underway, followed by all the projects still at planning stage (Column A). To my shock, my list came to nearly 20 items.

Fotothek df roe-neg 0006317 003 Zirkusdarbietung einer Jongleurin mit ReifenThe next step is to assign them deadlines (Column B). These socks need to be finished by the intended recipient’s birthday; those curtains need to be lined before summer; this project needs to be completed before that one can be started, and so on. Some things don’t have a deadline; that’s fine. Just put down NA.

Then reorder them accordingly. Column B gives you your deadlines (where applicable) but it’s Columns C and D which really tell you what to work on next.

Column C tells you whether each project is portable or not. Can you take it out and about (to the theatre, on the bus, to a friend’s place), or is it a strictly stay-at-home kind of project? Obviously, if you only do one or the other sort of project, skip Column C.
Albert Guillaume 15 minutes d'entr'acte
Column D rates the concentration necessary for each project. A rating of 1 means you can do it while focussing on something else – TV, someone reading aloud, a conversation… Plain knitting, sewing hems or seams, and projects you’ve done a zillion times all fall into this category. A rating of 3 means that the project requires your full attention: complicated projects, cataloguing materials, or trying something you’ve never done before.

A column for notes can also be handy – take photos throughout for this one; break this one down into smaller tasks; check you have all the materials before starting. Do not attempt when tired. Here be dragons. Whatever.

The results? While I still have plenty of UFOs, there are fewer of them. Fourteen at last count, of which only six are actually UFOs – the others are still in the planning stages. When I add something new to the spreadsheet – for a gift, for example – it moves toward completion more quickly.
Albert Anker Sitzendes Mädchen mit einer Katze 1903And then it disappears. You may wish to keep a record of your Finished Objects, so you know where all your time went, but don’t clutter up your UFO spreadsheet with them – you want to see at a glance what you still have on your plate, and what you have, so to speak, eaten. (Let us leave this metaphor before it becomes any more ooky.)

After so long spinning my wheels, I finally have traction, and I am enjoying it. Enjoying making progress, enjoying knowing the UFOs are under control, enjoying seeing my dreams come closer, and enjoying the productivity of my hands. Because good time management isn’t about being harried by a to-do list, it’s about enriching your life. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”