I guess most would admit I am productive. I would not claim I am very successful, but at least the output part of my work world is covered. What really amuses me is the huge self help industry that seems to have little grasp on what helps people succeed or be productive. To me, the simplest advice for being productive is setting out a few goals in the morning and working till you make some sort of progress, no matter how small, towards those goals.
This article in the Business Insider, posted to the Glasgow graduate student network, amused me to no end. Of their six points, I absolutely reject every one of them and do the opposite. The points remind me of the various gurus who run around telling everyone productive people get up at 4am and that is good for you. For some reason this is a “productivity hack“, I will leave them the dawn while I wake up like a normal person when my internal clock tells me to.
1. “Manage your mood.” Not the most objectionable piece of advice but also a bit sanctimonious. Not everyone can manage their mood. Not everyone can get up in the morning and feel good with 30 minutes of meditation. For some, mood swings and highs/lows are important for the creative process. We would all like to manage our moods, but as I wrote about before, academia is the place where you have little control over this process given the dynamics of rejection.
2. “Don’t check email in the morning.” The first thing I do every morning? Check my email and facebook messages on my tablet. I don’t sit and read it, but I do see if there are any problems that developed overnight, especially important given the US-Europe time difference. In modern academia where students are complaining increasingly if you do not respond to an email within 8hrs, not checking email in the morning can be extremely problematic. It is all well and good to avoid distractions before work, but extremely impractical for those that are tethered to email.
3. “Before you try to do it faster, ask whether or not it should be done.” Sounds like great advice for academia. If your Dean, Head, Chair, Colleague, or a Student asks you to do something, ask yourself, are they right? Should you really do it? (sarcasm font) Is this article the six habits of annoying colleagues?
4. “Focus is nothing more that eliminating distractions.” A nice quite workplace might be great for some, but I sit writing this in a busy coffee shop with 9 Chrome windows open and loud music in my ear buds. Distractions are important. Writing for more than 3 hrs in one stop without distractions is impossible. I think this is unhealthy, but I am getting my data from the Shinning.
5. “Have a personal system.” I like the part in this section about how winging it is horrible, as if the author does not see the contradiction in telling someone to have a system and then is horrified when that system turns out to be just making it up as they go along. I gave a talk recently at a school in the Northeast and one of the Professors asked me if I needed time to prepare and compose myself before the talk. I said nah, I will just walk in and do it as I always do, just give me a room and a time to go before questions. He got excited and told me he calls this gripping it and ripping it. To each their own. Some prepare meticulously, some just wing it. Point is, there is no such thing are a real system. Just do what is best for you.
6. “Define your goals the night before.” This has to be the absolute worst part of the article. Defining your goals before sleep sounds like the best way to have nasty dreams, worry all night, and stay up watching Antiques Roadshow (or is that just me?). All I do is set out a few goals the morning when I get up. I look at my calendar, see what I have to do and go about my business. The night is for sleeping, not worrying about work.
The general point is there is no real formula for productivity. Most of the gurus are all hacks (I do have one favorite and I will just leave the link here). Some days are incredibly productive and others are spent seeing if you can stop a fire on email (invariably making the problem worse). These gurus who confidently tell you their secrets to success are bluffing. Do you own thing and figure it out the best you can.