Merlin Mann at 43Folders has given voice to a deep and guilty feeling that lives in the bowels of all those who love productivity pr0n:
My concern is that there‚Äôs a big difference between buying new running shoes and actually hitting the road every morning. Big difference. One is really fun and relaxing while the other requires a lot of hard work, diligence, and sacrifice.
No tool can save you from your own crap behavior, so as you approach these great new apps‚Äîand I hope you‚Äôll at least check them out if you haven‚Äôt‚Äîplease try to do it with a bit of perspective about how or why the old tools were not working for you. Consider the patterns that you can observe about how you do your best work and which tasks have benefitted from a certain tool or approach in the past.
And, finally, as you start to choose one new, dedicated tool to improve your productivity, be circumspect about the amount of pure ‚Äúdicking around‚Äù time that you spend. Yes: learn the tool well and understand its functions and limitations, but avoid the temptation to blow a week moving ‚Äúyour system‚Äù into the Next Shiny Product until you really understand how you‚Äôll be better off having used it. Don‚Äôt fiddle endlessly, just because it‚Äôs fun. That‚Äôs not running; that‚Äôs just playing with your shoes.
The comment discussion is worth looking through, as usual, with a lot of stories and examples of this king of failing. In the discussion, though, it seems people are conflating more than one issue in comments: I call these three issues wanking, rituals, and metawork (or “friction”).
Wanking is spending all your time playing with the shiny things that you know will get you into the prime time… as soon as you get it just right so you can finish. I’m at least as guilty as anyone else of this. The real bitch is, it’s difficult to distinguish from the other two from your own perspective, i.e. when your head is up your ass. It’s a particularly seductive form of procrastination.
Rituals serve to get your head into the right space to work. If you’ll forgive me blathering, think of your brain as being like a holograph: to get what you want out of it, you have to reproduce the conditions under which you originally stuffed it in. In a regular holograph, those conditions involve the right light. In your brain, it’s a lot of things, such as location, chemistry (caffeine, sugar, nicotine, or anything else you habitually dose yourself with), music, time of day, and a set of calming rituals. Think of this as the boot cycle. Or the stretches you always do before running. They’re part of the job. Do them. Or, in the case of nicotine, slowly retrain yourself. I speak from experience on that regard.
Metawork, or friction, is whatever amount of work has to be done in order to track and maintain your work. For GTD addicts, this is list maintenance, reviews (which count as a ritual, too, maybe?), processing your inbox, project planning, etc. (Passing thought… the amount of friction versus the amount of work you get out of it determines how well the tools you ore using do for you. And trying to determine that ratio is a seductive exercise that will eat all your work time before you notice it, because it’s wanking disguised as metawork.)
It’s a sad and guilty secret that I have spent more time over the last month dicking around with designing a better way to sort and track cards with less friction, than I have actually working. I have lots of excuses, of course. I wrenched hell out of my wrist (it’s doing better, thank you everyone who wished me well), I’m moving my office, my whole life has been disrupted, blah blah blah.
The excuses don’t matter. In the end, they’re just reasons why I failed to accomplish the goals I’d set for myself. And the point of the exercise is not to fail. It isn’t to spend energy making myself feel better about failing.
So, now I plan to use this blog and flickr to document the rituals I’m developing, slowly, painfully, to do the hard work of getting out there and running every day. And, also, to document the metawork necessary to get it all done. All while slowly recovering from repetitive strain injury. It’s going to be a rocky road, but the only way I can get it all done is to do it in public, where I’m accountable.
Bear with me.