Productivity Hack: Still Learning Edition

A few weeks ago, I set a goal for myself to finally get around to doing the handful of half-started personal projects I’ve promised various people I would finish. I called it Unbroken Promise Month. As you may have guessed from the lack of exciting posts recently, this hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. However, I’ve learned a lot about motivation and myself over the past few weeks, and I’m ready to make a few corrections and carry on. Let’s have a look at the things I tried to do this month that I thought would help keep me focused:

1. Wake up at sunrise every day.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that for the first 10 days of March, I posted a picture of the sunrise every morning (like this one). The idea was that I’m not very good at making productive decisions at night, so if I shifted my day by forcing myself to wake up earlier, that would boost my productivity overall. Sounds reasonable, right?

It turns out this sort of helps. I did actually do a few productive things before going to work in the morning some days. This was nice! What happened more often, though, is that I would rush to get to work earlier, and therefore leave work earlier, and have more time in my evenings. This was nice too. It didn’t quite bring in as much extra productivity as I’d hoped, but it did make me more conscious of how I spend my non-work time.

What didn’t work at all was waking up at sunrise on weekends. I’m glad I tried it, but this is simply incompatible with my lifestyle. The sleep deprivation gradually built up, and then I went off on a mini-vacation thinking that I would catch up on sleep and get back to my sunrise mornings upon my return. Of course, that’s not what happened: I actually slept less while out of town, and haven’t hit a sunrise since I left. I need my weekend sleep.

Overall, it looks like I’m going to keep getting up early on weekdays (maybe not at sunrise, but earlier than I woke up for most of 2010), and play it by ear on weekends; I know waking up early doesn’t work, so it’s time to find out what does.

2. No gaming.

I’m not a video game addict by any means, but I did go a bit overboard in February. I played way too much Fallout, and this had a predictably negative effect on me being productive in my spare time. So I figured to help keep me focused for March, I’d cut video games completely.

This sucked.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding pathetic, but I need that time for myself. It calms me down. It makes me a better person (or so the science says). Cutting it completely didn’t help anybody.

This one makes me wonder, though. Normally when I find something that I enjoy a little too much, I set some arbitrary limit and that works just fine. For example, after my job moved to Gatineau, I started eating way too much poutine. Poutine is delicious, but I can feel my heart beat slower while I eat it. A little is okay, but several times per week is absolutely not. So starting in January, I set my limit to one poutine per month, and that’s worked really well so far. I don’t crave it, or struggle to keep myself in line with my limit, and I don’t feel horribly unhealthy for eating a dozen poutines per year.

I don’t know what sort of magic number will work for gaming. It’s a vice. It’s normally not a problem, but every once in a while I decide that I need to cut back, and so I do. I’m still figuring this one out, but zero is definitely not the solution.

3. Dual-boot Linux.

The motivation here is based on that age-old adage re: the separation of work and play. By allowing my PC to boot to Linux in addition to Windows, I can do relaxing, non-productive things in Windows, and exclusively productive things in Linux.

This kind of works. I really do appreciate the separation, but some things have proven difficult to pigeon-hole. Skype is a great example; is that more of a productive tool or more of a slacking-off tool? Well that kind of depends on how you use it. At my day job, we would not be able to function without Skype or something similar. But it can also be a major distraction, interrupting flow and feeding me non-productive links and funny stories.

I’m going to keep it up, but I think I have to start being a bit more lenient on the everything-must-be-productive rule. Skype should be okay. I need to modify my system to allow for it and similar tools.

Carrying On

I knew it was a bit crazy to try to do all of these projects in the same month. I’m still going to try to get many of them done, or at least started, before April. And if I get that far, I’m still marking that down as a win.

Sure, it would have been great to have powered through all of March and caught up on everything I’ve ever wanted to do. But I’m even better off if in exchange for not getting everything done right away, I’ve developed a sustainable set of practices that I can use for the rest of my life.

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