Monday, February 27, 2012

Productivity rediscovered

In parallel with rediscovering how to think, I'm rethinking what it means to be productive.  (This unemployment thing seems to be starting a series...)  It's very much the same theme - let's be less busy, and do stuff better.

I'm thanking the chaos of the Freshly Hacked weekend for this one.  It's amazing on an intensive weekend (like a startup weekend or the design jam that kicked this whole thing off) how chaos and productivity are combined - or at least amazing for someone who aligns productivity and busyness.

Beautiful post on chaos not quite so lovely

The melee

It's not just that chaos promotes creativity, because realistically most of what is achieved, in my experience, is not 'creative'.  Most of the good work is refining, turning the indefinite into definite, synthesising diverse sources into coherent solutions, and diverse voices into a simple message.  A lot of the creation has happened before the weekend, with the backgrounds people bring, and is just teased out.

With a dedicated focus and pressure-cooker time restrictions, prioritisation is ruthless.  Deciding what not to do or include, or when to stop, seems tougher and more important than working out what to do in the first place.  Testing, refining and iteration are more effective ways to chart a course through the chaotic uncertainty than a busily refining linear approach.

Working better

The main message I took is that being productive requires not to work harder, longer, or to do what I'm doing more efficiently - but to work better by doing better things, and doing them properly.

Personally, I need to learn to not just do things that are 'better' themselves, but understanding when to do things, by having a better sense of my mood and motivations.  I also need better focus on what I'm doing, which will hopefully flow on from the first point, so that I can dedicate myself properly the first time.  'Smarter, not harder' - it's not new.

I'm good at planning, and much of the time it's very useful, but it does break down sometimes.  I need to stop finding myself doing things because they're on the todo list, and making the todo list instead match what I should be doing.  When my time was more constrained it seemed to make sense trying to manage my motivation, but in the meantime I've lost some of my ability to listen to it, and with more unstructured time it seems increasingly important to get that back.

I think in part this is because motivation, energy and inspiration are far more important resources than time. Time is handy, but only when these can be applied to it.

Productive chaos

A lot of time is spent chasing false solutions, working unproductively, realising you've just gone way too far, or too far off the mark.  It seems over the course of the weekend that a lot of your time was 'wasted' - but you know that what could have been avoided in hindsight nevertheless needed to happen.  I got home at after midnight on Saturday and spent around three hours doing a presentation that got scrapped, and redone from scratch on Sunday - in about half an hour.  But the final version was so beautiful it hurt, and would never have happened without the first one. (And I'm now a prezi pro, to boot.)

Despite so much time going anywhere but forward, you look back over a weekend and it seems amazing how far you've come.  As it turns out, being really productive is composed mostly of activity that is 'unproductive' itself.

And then, I get back into the real world, and need to make these realisations work for me on an ongoing basis.  It's easy to work differently for a weekend, but hard to effect lasting change.  You'll have to wait and see how that turns out.

John Baxter

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