Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to be Obsessed

So, the way to happiness is to slice everything into smaller and smaller chunks. That way, you'll get a lot of things done. And that means you'll be be a productive member of society, for which you will be rewarded with lots of money. And with that money, you can buy lots of material goods. And we all know that amassing material goods results in happiness. Right?

OK, so maybe your goal in Getting Things Done isn't to Acquire Material Goods but is, instead, to Overthrow Capitalist Society. The slice-n-dice technique will still get you there. It is just that your "to do" list might be a little different:

  1. Read chapter 3 from the Anti-Capitalist Manifesto
  2. Prepare snacks for Thursday's meeting of the Anarchist Club
But, with all this work to cut your work into two minute transactions, when exactly are you going to figure out whether you want to conquer capitalism or kill it? When do you do your thinking? How, in fact, do you become you if you're filling every beat with an action?

Merlin Mann's answer is obsession. A total and compulsive preoccupation with a single thing. He says, there should be no need to prioritize, to select between alternative things you could be doing now. You should always be doing the one thing that you need to be doing. You should always be thinking about your obsession. You should be obsessing about your passion.

This is a simple answer to a complex problem. And, when you have an overriding compulsion to do one thing, it works well. But does everyone have this? Perhaps, but certainly not all the time. We need to simulate obsession.

How to be Obsessed
What is it like being obsessed? If I remember right, when you are obsessed with something (someone):
  • You can't help thinking about it
  • Everything reminds you of it - songs on the radio, strangers on the street, doing the washing up
  • You speak of your obsession all the time
  • You form a circle of friends who are similarly obsessed
Clearly, then, you can make your self obsessed with something by the following the above path on purpose. Book time on your calendar to think about something. Look for links between the object of your obsession and your everyday experiences - what you're doing, where you are, what your are seeing and hearing. Find opportunities to talk (and perhaps even write blog posts) about your obsession. Seek out people who are similarly interested (intoxicated).

Maybe you pick something to simulate obsession with every month? Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Pomodoro Sketch

Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?

Actually, this is a technique that has a lot of different names and variations. But, simply put, it is this:

  1. Pick something to do
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Do the thing you've chosen to do
  4. Stop when the timer goes off
  5. Make a note of what you were doing when you stopped (I call these "BREADCRUMBS" as they help me find where I was when I stopped)
  6. Set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break - take a sip of water, stretch, etc.
  7. Go back to step 1

Simple, eh? But it is actually quite effective, I've found. Timeboxing things (to 25 minutes in this case) has gotten me to the "just start" point, that is often my personal bugbear. Also, knowing that I only have 25 minutes to work on something means I don't feel like putting something off. But that's often enough to get something done, particularly when it is a sketch, not an oil painting. (Another technique of mine to just do something is to avoid feeling it needs to be perfect - "it is just a sketch" I tell myself).

The variations I've used include:

Squeeze all your organizing or timesucking activities into your break
Things like shuffling your to do list or checking your email or looking at your feed reader or checking your twitter feed or checking your friends's facebook updatges. All of these are more (or less) useful that you want to do them sometime. However, timeboxing them to be no more than 5 minutes can really help to ensure that you're not spending too much time on your meta work (organizing or organizing your organizing or staying current). However, checking and processing your email can help relieve your anxiety about staying connected and free you up mentally to concentrate on getting something done.

I try to pick my three Most Important Things to focus on. Generally, this means I end up with four MITs. Sometimes, I will need to make progress on all of them, but not have too much time to do so. For those special moments of stress, I spend roughly 28 minutes, in which I do 5 minutes of work on MIT#1, then take a 2 minute break, five minutes on MIT #2 and so on.

2*30 sprint
Somtimes, I have an hour but a zillion things to do. In particular, a side effect of concentrating on my three or four (or five) MITs is that all the other things I have on my TTD list are not getting done. So, the "sprint" technique is to set the timer for 2 minutes and simply get through 30 items, spending no more than 2 minutes on them. It is amazing, but you can often get enough done in 2 minutes to count as progress. Do it often enough and you will chip away at stuff and eventually finish some things, only to have those items be replaced by other other stuff to do.

The hardest thing about this technique is...finding a good timer. No, really. On my Mac, I've used Mineteur, integrated with Growl. I've not really found a good equivalent on Windows. Suggestions? On my ipod touch, there is a countdown clock thing. Which is OK but I need a visual alert, not an audible one.

None of the above is original to me or that revolutionary. It is all about filling each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. And, like everything else, these "techniques" of slicing and dicing need to be balanced by the ability to step back and think, not just do. And it isn't bad to do the odd oil painting once in a while.

More about the other end of the spectrum another time, perhaps.