Pondering productivity, and trying to hack it

Feb 21 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

What is your ideal self? (In California, we were allowed to ask this type of question.)

The me that I want to be is more productive than the me that I am. The real me, the true me, the me that I want to be... she's organized, she gets things done, even if she's had bad luck. She's also had good luck. She needs to keep moving forward and take advantage of the opportunities she's had and has, and work to create more opportunities for her in the future. Even if doing so makes a subset of senior people think she's bigger than her britches. (If she were male, they wouldn't dream of thinking that-- she never hears people complain when men make their own opportunities, only when women do. She has not yet had the courage to ask folks to check their bias when she hears these stories.)

We've had several posts about hacking our productivity in the past. Obviously it is a work in progress.

Virginia Valian has an incredible paper called Solving a Work Problem that I keep coming back to. If you have ever had writer's block, do yourself a favor and click the link for a PDF, seriously. One thing she says in it is that "people are not wrong about their true selves" (p. 101). So if you think that you really are a scientist or a writer, in spite of the fact that you're not getting as much done as you want, you still are that thing. We are always attempting to be more productive over here.

Here's some strategies we're trying to use:

I wrote myself a syllabus last semester -- for my writing. Just like my regular syllabi, it had a list of dates throughout the semester and what should be done by then. I put course outcomes on the front page and a list of recommended readings, as well as expectations for myself. I stole this idea from a fellow junior faculty member and I think it is brilliant! Here's a little excerpt:

Office hours: writing will take place Monday evenings for at least 30 minutes,
Tuesdays all day (along with research) for at least a total of two hours,
Thursdays from 1 to 3pm, and Fridays from 1:30 to 4pm at [Coffee Shop].
Exceptions: travel; Thanksgiving break
On Sundays, all work of any kind must be completed by 11pm.

Class Days/Times: Lab meetings are Wednesdays from 2-3pm and I must be prepared for them. Group accountability meetings will take place (TBA)

Course Objectives:
By the end of the semester, have R. project done and S. paper under review. Continue work on 2 – 3 other projects. Have projects in all stages of pipeline, from conceptualization to under-review. Keep track of all tasks completed for annual report and binder. Abide by timeline and complete tasks on schedule, or revise schedule.

We make so many lists. Crossing things off is motivating for both of us. We drink coffee.

We (Nicoleandmaggie) are allies for each other. We know each other from real life and have read each other's writing for years. We share our online to-do lists and question each other: "Have you started that report yet?" We report what we've done that day and what we're doing next. This is a regular part of our daily chats about everything under the sun that we IM each other every day, which is also how our blog began.

One of us installed leech block. Sadly our IT situation is such that some days it works and some days it doesn't. It's a bit like being a pigeon in a Skinner box being randomly given treats when I hit the button. (At home it always works.)

We strongly disagree that people who are productive and organized are unhappy. Nobody should have to apologize for being awesome, even awesome people. And I agree with Virginia Valian-- if the you that you want to be is more productive than the you that you currently are... then don't listen to people who tell you that productive people are all miserable. You know you.

We continue to work through these issues each semester. Do you have tips for us? Pretty please? What do you do to help yourself be productive?

9 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Stop reading the blogs?

  • scicurious says:

    Nice to know I'm not the only one who's this kind of productive. I haven't set aside solid times for writing yet, but I know I need to.

    I make weekly to do lists. They include anything I need to remember, some of which take 5 min, some of which will take 8-16 hours. The list often goes over 100. My goal is to get half done each week. Nice to cross things off.

    • nicoleandmaggie says:

      I love crossing things off. Sometimes I end up with more than one list, even, which is a drag.

  • Great post. I think being productive has a lot to do with your ability to concentrate, tune everything out, and just do it.

    Concentration is a skill that can be learned. One way to learn is to practice. The first thing to do is to figure out how long you can concentrate for on average.

    I love the pomodoro technique, because 25 minutes is just about how long I can concentrate at one time. I read an article about a guy who could concentrate for 90 minutes. I never was able to pull it off.

    • nicoleandmaggie says:

      We can concentrate for a long time (with a few small breaks), but we rarely have a long time in which someone doesn't bug us. This is why we escape campus when trying to do work; my office is just a place for people to interrupt me. Maybe I should use a timer more!

      • ah yes. My first year on the t-t I went to the office every day from 8 to 5. Now, I just go on Monday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons. But, I realize that not everyone works at a place where that is feasible.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Part of planning is prioritizing; put the A stuff first on the list and the D stuff last. The D stuff will either move up of fall off. I modify this by making a flow chart which may have a convenient D inserted among the A's. I am basically lazy, so I try to be as efficient as possible so I have more time to goof off. I break my research efforts into small bits, and try not to have a day with no bit accomplished.