Knowing when to stop

This editing continues until the painting is finished. The criterion for what constitutes a “finished” work is reaching the stage at which you are no longer sure whether applying additional changes makes it better or worse. So there is a real possibility of making things worse than they were by not stopping at the right moment. Incidentally, this is the main argument for taking frequent breaks from your work, even at the risk of interrupting a flow state. Doing so allows you to take a more detached, if not completely objective, look at the current state of your work and thus avoid making costly mistakes.

~ Peter Oshkai from, http://peteroshkai.com/2020/06/04/ways-to-fail/

This is a brilliant way to tell when to stop.

I also believe that stopping while in the flow state is a good way to set oneself up for the next working session. I call it “parking on the hill”—which is a reference to strategically parking one’s car, nose downhill, on a hill so that it can be jump-started using the manual transmission. When stopping a work session, it’s obvious how to pre-position all the physical materials, the space, etc.. But stopping mid-flow also means, in my opinion, your mind is “parked on a hill” as well.

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Is it a process?

Not everything is a process, but much of what you do each day is a process. How much of what you do each day is a process, but you don’t realize it is? Because you’re wasting your life in that gap.

Two examples to illuminate my thinking, then you’re on your own:

Groceries. You know there’s a process for this. Get in car. Travel to store(s). Move through store in the usual pattern. Select things. Pay and leave. Travel home. Exit car. Move purchases into domicile and put them away.

Laundry. Move dirty clothing to the washing machine. Load machine with clothes and detergent. Start machine. Return later. Flip laundry to drier or to hang-dry. Return later. Fold or organize clean laundry. Return clothing to domicile storage.

Every detail of those processes will be different for each of us. You know your exact process very well, and you could tell me your process, just as I’ve done above. But these processes are actually closed loops which you are going to repeat a huge number of times. I could append, “Wear clothes. Repeat.” to the laundry process, and I could add, “Consume food. Repeat.” to the grocery process.

You know you can optimize things, but the entire process can be optimized—should be optimized. If it’s a process, you’re doing it by rote. (Yes, you can focus on what you’re doing and enjoy it. But you’re not doing anything creative.) So optimize the entire process. Is a car the optimal way to go get your groceries? Where do you keep the grocery list? How do things get put onto that list? Where do groceries etc. get stored in your domicile? How do you prepare and plan meals to use the groceries? Where do you store your dirty laundry? Where do you store “wear this again” clothing? How do you store and rotate seasonally changing clothes? How do you replace items that wear out? If it’s a process, you can optimize it and then you can spend less time on it.

Groceries and laundry are simply my examples. What other things do you do in your life that are processes which you haven’t considered at all? If you thought about them, and organized and optimized the process, how much time would it save you? Aren’t you always wishing you had more time? How much better would your mind work if it wasn’t trying to remember, and struggle through poorly-designed, (or worse, figured out on-the-fly each time,) processes?

What could you do with all that extra time?

Could you use that free time for things in your life that are not processes? Read a book… Spend a day relaxing on a beach… Have dinner with a friend…

To me, “life balance” is about how much time I spend on things which are processes versus things which are not processes.

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A bottom-up approach

When you’re feeling overwhelmed about how much you have to do (and who isn’t, really?), it’s difficult to focus on ensuring your life and work is moving in the direction you want to go. That’s why it’s important to get control of your daily tasks before working on your big-picture life planning.

GTD is a “bottom-up” approach to productivity. The goal is to establish a sense of comfort and control over the work that’s on your plate right now, so you can free up some mental energy and space to think about the big stuff.

~ Josh Kaufman from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2010/07/10-big-ideas-from-gtd/

I have a few posts tagged Getting things done if you want to learn more. But this little article—it’s almost a listicle—has a nice list of 10 key points about the Getting Things Done system.

You know those questions, “If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?” I used to say something trite like, “I wouldn’t because all my mistakes made me who I am.” I’m changing my tune: I wish someone had BEATEN me over the head with a copy of the GTD book the day it was published in 2001. I was long out of college, and well on the road to who I am now—granted I was still going downhill. But if I had found this stuff in 2001… There’s a reason this is one of the books I keep extra copies of on hand to give to people.

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Artificial constraints

A lot of my thinking, and sometimes even my problem solving, revolves around juxtaposition. What would the inverse of the current this be? Can I gain useful perspective from the other position? Big/small, loud/quiet, perfuse/sparse, etc.; there are many obvious qualities that create striking changes in perspective. However, I find particularly rewarding juxtapositions in unusual dimensions, and there’s one dimension in particular that pays off more than all others: Time.

Have a problem? …how would I solve it if I had 100 years? …what would have to be the case if I were going to solve it in 5 minutes?

It’s become common to talk about “minimum viable product” in the entrepreneurial space, and that’s a form of time constraint. (But it’s a useful idea because it also includes other constraints such as resources and people.)

The famous Getting Things Done system has many critical components. One in particular is paying attention to the next action for any given project. (And in GTD everything you do in your entire life is a ‘project’.) This too is a form of time constraint; it’s not, “I’ll move this project forward at some point in time,” (the perspective of unlimited time,) rather it’s, “if I was going to move this project forward in the next minute…”

Where in your life might a shift to expectation of greater or lesser time yield a huge benefit?

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Creating an administrative day

Once I reached a point where most of the administrative and maintenance things were under control, I found that I had a steady stream of small things to do every day. Certainly, having things organized saves time, but things still need to be done—I can’t organize and optimize everything to zero-time required. The next step was to grab a trick from time-blocking: Set aside a chunk of time to focus on those administrative and maintenance tasks in one long go.

I’m not going to bother you with which day of the week I picked. The point is simply that I have a day—the entire day—set aside to do all the things that must be done. Laundry, occasionally changing the house air filters, stacking firewood, scheduled appointments (if I can get them on that day), banking and bookkeeping, special errands and shopping trips for home repair items, and on and on. The point is that I’ve moved all the things which feel like they aren’t directly related to my goals and aspirations—although obviously they are directly related, they just don’t feel related—to one place; one big block of time; the admin day.

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Getting things done

GTD

The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It’s all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you’ve given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you’ve created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can’t do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of you psyche will continue to hold you accountable.

~ David Allen, from Getting Things Done

I talk often about David Allen’s, Getting Things Done. It’s one of a few books which I keep extra copies of on hand to give to people. There’s a Wikipedia article, Getting Things Done, but it talks more about it rather than describing what/how to do it.

I recently found a talk given by Allen which has been repurposed as a short podcast; Getting Things Done: 55 – Removing System Drag is well worth the few minutes it takes to listen.

Aside: Learning when and how to “go deep” is an important part of what you gain when you understand GTD. If the thought of spending five minutes listening to someone teach you something abhors you, you may need GTD more than you think. /preaching

If, however, what Allen said interests you, a fellow podcaster named Jey Jeyendran, (of Productivity Heaven,) is working on a mini series of podcasts on Allen’s GTD. They’re bite-sized, inspiring and you should check them out. https://productivity-heaven.simplecast.com.

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