theforest.jpgMy post 2 days ago, Stop stealing, seems to have hit a nerve – given 57 comments so far. So, I thought I’d better pony up the big and small ways I and others have found to stop stealing time from ourselves.
Two things I want to make clear – I fall off the productivity wagon just as much as most people: it’s a constant struggle to be productive in the online world, but it’s a worthwhile, necessary struggle you win by not giving up.
Second, if some of these ideas sound familiar, that’s because you’ve been reading some of the same great bloggers and authors as I have: David Allen, Steven Pressfield, Matt Cornell, Pam Slim, Linda Stone and others; to mix metaphors, standing on the shoulders of giants gives you a leg up in the world. Here goes:

Strategic Forests, Tactical Trees

Later this week I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty tactics I use day to day and project to project; In this post I wanted to focus on five strategic big ideas that can make a huge result in the results you get. Here’s five big ideas: flow, intention, it’s an imperfect world, time to think and mode.
Flow. One of the best ways I know of working really productively is practicing how to deliberately put myself into – and out of – a particular state of mind: flow. For example, when I bookwriting, I will put my notes here, my writer’s checklist printout there, my iTunes to Mozart or Rachmaninov and go with the flow.
If the writing gods smile upon me that day, I’ll notice two or three hours later I’m sputtering to a stop and put my notes back into their folder, put my checklist back in its folder, change iTunes over to reggae and move on. That’s how three books got written by the way.
Flow is a learned – or if you’ve been banging the digital drum of life online too much, unlearned skill. What you flow on – writing code, writing music, spending time with kids – is up to you, but it’s a skill you need as successful human being in your repertoire.
The biggest indictment of multitasking, email-checking, web-site jumping is it kills dead your ability to flow. And flow is where the good stuff happens – the code or words or ideas or music or art you later look at and can say, damn! that’s good stuff.
Intention. Day in, day out either you make your reality or someone else will. If you get up and immediately write down a list of no more than 5 things you absolutely intend to accomplish that day, odds are much, much better that you will get those 5 things done. If you don’t, you won’t. Sure, there’s plenty of exceptions to this – see my next point – but if you don’t know where you’re going, why on earth do you think you’ll end up where you want except out of blind luck?
It’s an imperfect world. The more digital your lifestyle, the worse you come off by way of comparison. All those new and shiny toys have the bling and the gleam you don’t. That’s okay – really. If you code for a living this tendency to hold yourself to an impossible – therefore ignorable – standard is 10x worse, because we damn well know a single mistyped line of code can turn a program into dreck.
But here’s the thing: perfection is the angel-like floating in the sky enemy of not just getting most of your life the way you want, but feeling pretty good about yourself. Don’t sacrifice being more productive 80% of the time just because it’s a ball-breaker to get that other 20% the way you want.
Give yourself time to think. Another casualty of the digital lifestyle is since we can load up with information, connections and ideas a hundred, hell, a thousand times more than anyone normal could 20 years ago, we do. You need to know how to give yourself time to think because that’s how you’ll find your way in this world, that’s how the really, really good ideas come about and that’s how you can regain and maintain some perspective.
Final big idea: Mode. Simply put, different modes of action and the ability to consciously pick which mode you’re in hugely change the results you get. For example, yesterday for a good two hours I had Tweetdeck going, 3 IM sessions in Adium going, was bouncing from site to site, commented on a half dozen posts while responding to emails as they came in.
The difference between me and you is I did it for exactly 120 minutes and didn’t try to “work” at the same time. That’s what I call my communication mode – as opposed to my writing, coding, debugging, brainstorming or planning modes. It has its place – and that’s where I decide it is, not the net, not my mac and certainly not my pc’s.
So there you have it, five strategic ideas I – and others – have found get you better results. Give the one that most got your attention a try – what do you have to lose?


  1. I’ve been setting 5 tasks to do every day for several months now. Some days I don’t finish them all and others they are all done by lunchtime. But rarely does a day go by where I don’t finish at least one task on the list. The best tool I found for this list is a whiteboard, it forces you to commit to the task by writing it down but it forgiving at the end of the day if you didn’t complete everything.

  2. AgreeToDisagree Reply

    While I do spend time, sometimes during work hours, doing things online which don’t relate directly to my task, I am doing the company a favor because the majority of time I spend browsing websites, etc… is time I dedicate to educating myself in new strategies, tactics, and tricks to streamline the work process. Reading your last two posts is a perfect example. You have re-iterated something of which I was already aware, and thereby I will now save time by focusing on the task at hand. Had I not read your post I may have not realized this. Hence, was I really stealing time from myself by accidentally finding your blog while browsing online or did I do myself a favor and stole time from itself? That is the question.

  3. Great post, Bob.
    > I fall off the productivity wagon just as much as most people: it’s a constant struggle to be productive in the online world, but it’s a worthwhile, necessary struggle you win by not giving up.
    I’m very happy you said this. For productivity bloggers like ourselves, it’s kinda’ the elephant in the room. I’m the same way and consider it a practice (great resource: Mastery by George Leonard. Question: Does the experienced piano player have to struggle every day? Is productivity a special case?
    > great bloggers and authors
    Thanks a ton, Bob. Exceptional company here.
    > Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”
    I am now a HUGE fan of this work. As a self-employed consultant, Pressfield’s message is extremely inspirational, yet not sappy. Can’t recommend it enough.
    > no more than 5 things
    Actually, I think five might be *high*. For me, I’m sometimes down to one thing. I have mixed feelings about this. Realism vs. fantasy (expectation).
    > the ability to consciously pick which mode you’re in
    Principled work – 100% agree. For a time I tried using an artifact to reflect what mode I was in (or wanted to be in, or *should* be in): A GTD WorkFlow Tool: The Five Stages On A Business Card Cube –

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