Productivity in 2009

“Now is the time to design the next ten years of your life–not once they’re over.
— Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within
Driving to my parent’s house last night, I was listening to the Gnarles Barkley song “Crazy”. Over and over again. That’s because it was the first time I’d ever caught this passage:

My heroes have the heart
to live the life I want to live.
And all I remember
is thinking
“I want to be like them.”

Thing is, I’d been giving a lot of thought to exactly that: my heroes, the lives they live, and what it takes to be like them. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about my future, where I am, and where I’m going, starting with goals for the next year. 

It didn’t take long for me to start writing down these thoughts. What I came up with was not a list of what makes these people successful, what makes them my heroes, but a list of things I’ve found keep me from succeeding to the highest possible level. Unfortunately, succeeding only 90% is sort of like jumping across a gorge only 90%. Anything short of all the way keeps us from where we hope to end up.

At the top of that list was productivity, which can be broken down into the following: useful information gathering, action, and growth. If I’m to become more productive, here’s where I begin.

Last night at Border’s Books, I found myself spending more time than usual in the Self Help section. For the past week I’ve been eying some of the books in my library, particularly those by Anthony Robins. I listened to some of his stuff earlier in the day, so my being there was a directed coincidence.

When I got back home, I looked through the stack of writing magazines I picked up a few days before. I thought about the last year, my goals then, what I’d written and, most importantly, read. Someone once told me that if you were to read just one book in your field every month for a year, by the end of that year you would become an expert in that profession. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about keeping a novel with him at all times, and how he reads over 50 per year. Thinking back through 2008, I realized this is one of the areas where I’ve faltered. Badly.

Taking this to heart, I resolve to read considerably more. Offline. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to do a lot of reading online. But the fact remains that on most subjects, blogs haven’t yet come close to replacing the depth with which a book covers a topic. (The only area I’ve really seen this be any different is SEO, and that only because SEO is such a dynamic, web-specific field that print media doesn’t have much hope of catching up.) As of now, topics of interest are fiction writing, technical writing, business, and self improvement;

(In case you’re wondering, I’ve already started on Awaken the Giant Within. I had been reading Nancy Kress’ Nano Comes to Clifford Falls: And Other Stories, which is inline with my desire to focus on short fiction, a genre I believe will make a very strong comeback over the next few years.)

As for my reading online, I realize more and more every day how much I loathe sitting for long periods of time when I could instead be walking. (I already sit for 8 hours at my job, I don’t need to do it for any part of the other 8+ I spend awake.) While I’ll be reading more books, there’s a lot I can still gain from reading online. That’s why I’ve decided to get an iPhone, or at least a phone plan which also allows for unlimited internet plus a better phone than I have now. Obviously, an iPhone is preferred, but any phone with a good screen where I can comfortably resize the text will do, since I plan to do most of my blog reading while either on an elliptical glider or walking around the neigborhood. Oh, and FYI, I’m still using Google Reader and couldn’t be happier.

In addition to reading, I also need to review the tools I use. At my job, the tools are fairly simple: RoboHelp, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, SnagIt, and Adobe Acrobat are the standard. Over the years I’ve found these to be the best for what I do (though I’ve yet to try FrameMaker), and just about everything else is extra. As far as blogging goes, while I love the new WordPress 2.7 administrator interface, running multiple blogs means logging into multiple sites and keeping track of multiple article lists, schedules, etc. It’s far easier to use a tool like MarsEdit (which costs US$29.95) or even Flock (which is free) in order to post to multiple sites from a single interface. The fact that the Internet is not always accessible also makes it somewhat of a necessity. Currently, I’m evaluating some of these tools to see which meet my needs. (MarsEdit seems to be winning. Ecto, which costs US$17.95, also looks like an option.)

But what about the tools I use at other times? When I write (as opposed to blog), how do I leverage my time? For not-necessarily-online writing projects, should I use WriteRoom, Ulysses, Scrivener? Or is it better–though seemingly less productive–to instead use my typewriter for first drafts? (It is considerably more fun than my Mac, love it as I do. And since it forces one to think before hitting the page as opposed to thinking on the page, it might actually make for faster creation of a finished product.)

Of course, lest we not forget, paper and pencil still can’t be beat.

Strangely, part of this drive to narrow down my tool set has brought with it a desire to redesign this site in a way that would make it simpler, better suited for a reader, since the bulk of what I do here involves words. (I realize some people are thrown off by the lack of pictures. Maybe the next theme will include some.) WordPress.com has a wonderful theme called Journal v3 which I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Maybe instead I’ll just do a little rewriting of the current theme (based on Derek Punsalan’s Grid Focus). The point is that while I’m working to be more productive, I’d also like to help you, which is why you should sign up for the RSS feed, if you haven’t already.

On a similar note, I’ve discovered that my accounting needs are not currently being adequately met by current organizational methods, so an exploration of tools like Mint and Quicken Online is underway. The possibility of hiring a bookkeeper also comes to mind, particularly if The Wife and I decide to start another business (mostly, though not exclusively, online endeavors).

Alright, so you can see where this is all leading. I resolve to become a more productive person in 2009, to not waste time, and to use the best tools available to me towards that end. And I’m not waiting until January 1 to start. Right now I’m on vacation from the job; during this time, in addition to some hiking, biking, and driving we’re planning on, I intend to get this process started and resolve to finish what I responsibly can before returning to work. For the record, I’ve already cleared my email clutter, opted out of a bunch of newsletters I didn’t need to be receiving, unsubscribed from a bunch of blogs I know I won’t be reading, organized and de-cluttered much of my iTunes library, and organized my computer clutter both at the home and work computers. Not bad for two days, though I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more when I read The Power of Less by Leo Babauta.

By the way, you’re probably wondering why I opened up with the quote from Anthony Robbins. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time imagining what life would be like had I done one thing or another different in my past. This is tantamount to planning the life that has already passed. I know, I should spend the time planning the life that’s ahead of me, but sometimes I get caught playing a bit too much “What If”. I’m not talking about ignoring the lessons that need to be learned, but there’s a difference between reviewing a memory and sitting there, nurturing it, and growing it into what I wish had happened. Maybe this is normal and maybe not. In either case, it’s something I resolve not to allow myself to do from hereon out. I seriously doubt my heroes are people who allow that to happen to them. Instead, they use that time to be productive and think about the future, being more sure of it than the past.

Most people overestimate what can be accomplished in one year. Paradoxically, they underestimate what can be accomplished in ten. While this might sound a lot like Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, it’s actually an axiom in personal development.

I still haven’t finalized my plans for the year, and all of this is subject to change, pending any future ideas, but while I understand that 2008 was a year of overcoming challenges, 2009 will be a year of succeeding where I had previously failed. This year I’ll lay the groundwork for the next ten years of my life.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
— Anonymous