I started this blog nine months ago with the intent of it being a place where I could publish thoughts about really nerdy shit, such as math, programming, and computer science related topics. I have managed to eke out one post every other month regardless of being a full time student, part time IT worker on campus, freelance web developer, and a less than loyal member of two bands whose members constantly worry if I’m slipping over to what they consider the dark side – a tech worker in Portland, Oregon. In this post I will reflect on what I have learned about staying productive throughout the last nine months. Which, at least frommy perspective I have done against all odds.
The Importance Of Looking Back
My first post turned out to be an awkwardly worded manifesto about productivity. The manifesto consisted of a small list of vague goals and ideas:
- Refine layouts (Consistent branding across all accounts)
- Create interesting content on regular basis
- Network, and meet other developers
- Create projects which build community through collaboration
I remember intentionally keeping the ideas vague. I knew that these main points would eventually become more fine-tuned in lengthy to-do lists – which they did. However, I quickly learned that big picture ideas can become dozens of small ideas which end up deviating from the original idea. This taught me how to prioritize, and teach myself not to become too attached to one particular idea. This led me to take a deeper look into why and how vague tasks tended to explode on me. Was it me being overly detailed? Did I not consider the complex nature of the tasks at hand? After looking at my to-do lists I noticed it was mainly the complexity of the tasks.
The Hidden Complexity Of Tasks
What I was thinking when I wrote down ‘Refine Layouts (Consistent branding across all accounts)’ was that I would finish my portfolio web site with ease, and the idea to start using my brand logo on my social media accounts crept in. I never ended up adding my brand logo to all of my accounts because I realized I use my personal accounts for things not related to btsource.net. The important point is that refining my web site layout turned into this:
After looking at the workflow diagram above you can easily see how simply worded tasks are actually monsters in disguise. I find that it is important to complete a task in the minimal amount of steps possible while still obtaining a positive result. This leads me to the next point. Being flexible and prioritizing tasks.
Flexibility and Priority
As task complexity grew, and I thought of more ideas things started to spiral out of control. I was running multiple lists with several items, and at times dozens of sub items. Naturally, I started using a color code system to give tasks priorities. Knowing a task will take 5 minutes, but can potentially bring you hundreds of new viewers or land a new job should be of high priority. Where something like inconsistent folder names that only bother you should have less priority. Prioritizing is a good skill to have, but sometimes leaves you shuffling tasks around a list without end. Which can slow progress. Another key skill I started to hone throughout 2015 is flexibility.
When dealing with productivity flexibility means feeling completely content with dropping ideas or projects which seem trivial. Use
strikeout if you’re not sure if the idea is total scrap. If found that some ideas don’t mature well. It took effort to accept that an idea that seemed amazing 2 months ago just doesn’t work anymore. Let it go. Re-think. Flexibility in productivity means having the ability to be spontaneous, while maintaining enough rigor to keep the final goal in perspective, and sometimes being able to accept that final goal simply won’t be reached.
When it all comes together:
Whenever you’re feeling that your productivity is stifled take a step back asses the complexity of the tasks you face, prioritize, and remain flexible in thought and action. Don’t let to-do lists get the best of you. Stay positive. Completing all those little tasks will come together to complete a big task if you stay on top of them. There is a certain feeling of satisfaction that comes from sitting back and saying to yourself ‘I actually stayed productive’. Go ahead try it next time you grind through a daunting to-do list.