Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Are You Going to Do First?

My Grandpa said to me once, when I was a child, "Don't try to decide what you're going to do. Just decide what you're going to do first."

I've mostly applied this on a large time-scale - not asking, for instance, what I'm going to do with my life, but what will I do first? But this post on lazy productivity reminded me that the concept can also be applied on a small scale - what will I do first today, in this hour, in this moment?

I now have two to-do lists. One is titled "All the Things I Could Do," and has long lists of projects, goals, and steps toward those goals, as well as the myriad small things that I need to get to eventually. The other is "Things To Do First," which is limited to 3-5 items - the things that are most important right now from my "Everything I Could Do" list.

It's amazing how picking a small number of the most important things from a long, overwhelming list can suddenly propel you from stagnation to action.

Brownies in the House

Ever since I was little, in the Brownies (the version of Girl Scouts for younger kids), and heard about elven brownies, I was fascinated by the idea. Little creatures that would sneak into your house and do things for you - cook, clean, chores, whatever. What a lovely thought! Once, when I was about 10, I even woke up in the middle of the night and cleaned my parents' kitchen... then in the morning I told them brownies did it... I'm sure they got a good laugh out of that.

Having things seem to be done for you is still a nice treat. Like setting my coffee maker at night so that I wake up to freshly brewed coffee in the morning - as though someone had made it for me! Same goes for anything prepared ahead of time - it makes life seem so much simpler. It's fanciful, and more than a bit silly, but thinking of these sorts of "done for you" tasks as being done by brownies does make life just a little more fun.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oh, We Prudish Americans

Since when are nude buttocks sexually offensive?

Apparently the FCC considers them so, as they have fined ABC $1.4 million for a scene in which a woman's nude behind is shown. Now, if it were a porn-like setting, I could see it, but in this NYPD blue scene, it was simply a boy walking in on a woman preparing to take a shower.

The agency said the show was indecent because "it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs — specifically an adult woman's buttocks."

The agency rejected the network's argument that "the buttocks are not a sexual organ."

Oh please. Get over it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Find Your Rhythm

What rhythm do your days have? Is it working for you?

I've been self employed, working from home, for 2 years now, and it took a while to find a rhythm that works for me. Having a schedule is good, but forcing yourself to work when your mind is elsewhere, or when you've become frustrated and unproductive, eliminates one of the best things about being self employed: Making Every Moment Count.

Not everyone has this degree of flexibility, but everyone does have some flexibility in determining the rhythm of their days. When do you get up in the morning? When do you check email? How do you schedule the tasks for your day that must be done?

Here's the rhythm I've found:

  • I check personal email, read one or two blogs, and do writing-type creative tasks first thing in the morning, while I'm having coffee. My mind is alert and fresh - uncluttered from all the events of the day. Then I spend a little time reading news and other blogs.
  • Before lunch, I try to quickly take care of a few tasks that have a discrete beginning and end (like paying bills), then start on a bigger, ongoing project. This makes me really feel productive, and gets my mind in gear for work. Do NOT check business email first thing in the morning.
  • I try to schedule meetings for mid-morning or lunchtime, so I can still have a couple normal hours of my "morning block" and have an uninterrupted "afternoon block."
  • After a mid-day break (lunch and sometimes a power nap) I'll either return to the big project or work on a different one, and I really pay attention to whether I'm making progress. If I'm really in a good "flow" state, I'll stay with it and find it hard to stop working (my "quitting time" is between 4 and 6, unless there's a good reason to stop earlier or later). If, however, I find that I'm not making progress, I switch gears completely and work on a different type of project. Depending how my day's gone, that might be a drawing-type creative project, researching a new idea, going out to buy supplies, or just taking care of filing and cleaning up my office.
  • I try to never schedule meetings between 2 and 5, because this is often my most productive time, and having a meeting then throws off my whole afternoon.
Find your own rhythm. As far as you're able, make your work productivity-based, not hours-based (you can probably do more in 4-6 focused hours than most people do in 8 typical hours). Pay attention to whether you're making progress, and if you're not, switch to something else for a while.

This post is an elaboration on my comment from today's Zen Habits post. (My name on that comment links to my other blog.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Music As Your Morning Muse

I like to put on a CD (yes, I still use them) in the morning while I'm having breakfast and coffee. It is, surprisingly, a difficult habit to get into, for one so pleasant. I mean, what better way to wake up than with something that makes your heart smile?

This morning's selection is The Indigo Girls, which harks back to my college days. Sometimes I listen to Bach, sometimes Billy Joel, sometimes Paul Simon - there's quite a long list. But I always choose something easy on my not-quite-awake ears that will also help set a positive tone for my day. Somehow, I always seem to take what I need from whatever I'm listening to.

This morning's theme seems to be "seize the day." Life is too short to live halfway or give less than your best and most sincere self.

So I'm "Not content to bow and bend to the whims of culture, that swoop like vultures," and I'm reminded that "Nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust, we're universal."

Today is the day.

Make it a great one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Slow Mornings

Alarm buzzing. Snooze. Groan. Snooze some more. Quick shower, iron the clothes, juggle kids if you have them. Scarf down your cold breakfast, or skip it altogether. Pay $4 for a grande latte or trans-fat-death-bomb biscuit from a drive-through on your way to work.

No wonder we don't want to wake up in the morning!

My mornings used to be something like that. I'd get up at the latest possible moment that would allow me to get to work on time. Now they're something like this:

Wake up naturally, just before sunrise. Get myself presentable at a relaxed pace. Hear the comforting burble and enticing aroma from my programmed coffee maker. Take the dog outside, and take a moment to breathe the fresh morning air, feel the world waking up. Enjoy the contrast between my hot coffee and the cool morning air. Make a real breakfast, then write this over my second cup of coffee, before I start my work day.

Second Cup is a place for my morning musings and thoughts on a slower, simpler life. A life where time is allowed for savoring the small things. For suburban simplicity, and bowing out of the rat race without bowing out of life.

Enjoy. Make today a great day.