I completely do not recognise any part of this in me at all. Nope. No. Not a bit. Noooo.
Listen, I don’t know what you’re working on – you could tell me, I’d so much like to know – but because it’s you, I can guess that you’re taking some chances here. You’re trying to write something you’re not quite sure about yet, you’re feeling your way, you’d exploring. And it’s a lot safer to not do any of those things. It’s a lot easier to just fire-fight the current job, the current problem. We all have current work problems and they are always urgent, nothing will change that. However.
Try that new thing and try it now. No waiting. Definitely no waiting for other people. You’re a writer, you’re a creator, go create, go write, go make. I’m all for being productive but there has to be a point: being productive just to get the cash in the door today is maybe enough for now, but you need more and unlike a giant number of people, you have the talent to get more. Hopefully to get more money: I’d like you to have enough that money isn’t a worry any more. But definitely to get more created, to grow in your field and in your heart.
That’s a bit arty-farty. Try this instead for harsh pragmatism: that thing you write is likely to be rubbish, that risk you take is likely to fail. If it is rubbish, if you do fail, you are still pretty close to infinitely further ahead than you were. You’re not still sitting there thinking next summer I’ll do this great thing, you’re standing there having done it. That’s even if it went wrong. Even then. Still ahead, still better, still taller.
Just fail fast so that you can get on to the next version or you get on to the new things you can only see from having gone through this process. Pixar got this “fail fast” rule for the same reason: they’re experimenting and they are rejecting. Samuel Beckett nailed it: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Mary Pickford nailed it better: “Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
Strictly speaking, you could wait as long as you like: it’s less that there was anything so compelling that you must wait for it, more that what was announced is much better than what you’d get in the shop yesterday.
You can’t get any of the new products today, nor really tomorrow either. But from Friday 9 September you can pre-order the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Usually I twitch if I don’t immediately tell you a price but with phones it’s complicated: many or most people buy them subsidised on a contract and not always predictably so. But as a quick guide, whatever you would’ve paid for an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus on Monday, that’s what you’ll pay for the 7 range from Friday.
From a productivity perspective, the significant improvements are in the battery life, performance and also capacity. In reverse order, the old small 16Gb model is no more and this can only be good. Then performance is fast. Faster than last time. Do you like the level of detail you’re getting here? And lastly the battery life is claimed to be two hours longer, on average, for the iPhone 7 and one hour longer on the iPhone 7 Plus.
There is also a radically improved camera which doesn’t happen to make much difference to what I work on but your mileage may be very improved.
Have a look at the official Apple site for all the details I’ve skimped on, all the other details I’ve skipped, and also the changes to the Apple Watch. I am placing a call to Ms Bank Manager and Mr Claus in order to get myself a jet black iPhone 7 Plus and a ceramic Apple Watch Series 2 but the big advantage in the new Watch is coming to the old one too. The Apple Watch on my wrist is already improved because I’ve been testing watchOS 3 which will be released in public shortly and genuinely makes the watch feel like new.
The new Series 2 Watch appears to be faster and to have a brighter screen: I’m not fussed about the screen, the old one is fine. But you know how it is with Apple gear: if it doesn’t look great in the demos, it does when you hold it in your hand.
Look, it’s been a long week. I have no clue why I just typed “productivity poetry” into Google but the apparent insanity of that is dwarfed by the fact that I got a result.
HelloPoetry.com, which I confess I hadn’t heard of before, has a whole slew of poems on the subject of productivity. I would say without the aid of any expertise that most I saw are rubbish. But there are smart ideas and wry ones too, including this which I rather like:
I stay up through the night
to make plans
that I sabotage by staying up through the night
That is the complete poem but try some of the others too on the full site.
I wonder if there are poems about OmniFocus.
This is really just about my sum total of knowledge about cars. I can drive and I can see when they have enough wheels, but otherwise, they are magical devices whose magicality is reduced every time you have to pay insurance or go for a service.
I also know what cars look like from underneath, but that’s just because I used to watch The A Team. It’s quite complicated under there, you know.
We’re now into March and while I am loathe to write you another piece about how gosh-hard it is to keep being productive, I need to talk to you and this is how I’ve managed to do it. About thirty times in the last few days I’ve started to write something serious but it turns out that I can only do serious by accident.
So let me take this one car fact and treat it with more seriousness than it warrants.
It is true, though. Starting to write to you got harder the longer I spent not doing it. Where I have not lacked for news or information to tell you, I have lacked the discipline. I will again say that, look, very bad cold, right, six weeks and I’m still snuffling, but I’ve lacked it and that’s that.
Except, you do of course know the phrase that what’s done is done. I reckon that in the same vein, what isn’t done, isn’t done. Somehow that sounds more defeatist but I hear it the same way: the past is the past and we can only change what comes next.
There is so much to tell you. Such gorgeous nuggets of news and details that will help you get more done and enjoy doing it. I’m going to be right here telling you it all – though I’ll understand with far more humanity now why you might sometimes just want to skip thinking about this stuff.
Okay, it’s 8am on Monday and clearly there is a problem. I am behind on everything, just everything, and there hasn’t been an article on The Blank Screen since 20 January. Equally clearly, I need to fix this.
Maybe slightly less clearly, I think I have to fix it in front of you.
It’s not that I imagine you’re riveted to details of what I’m up to but if you aren’t already struggling with getting more productive, you will be. You start this stuff and it’s great, you feel happier, but then it goes wrong and I’m realising you feel worse than you did back when you were just lurching through life and work.
Let me show you the fight and hopefully you’ll get something from it. Let me show you the fight and hopefully my knowing you’re there will help me stick at it.
A little bit of background, also known as an excuse. Just over three weeks ago, I got a cold. No question, it was just man flu but it knocked me off my feet. Or it should’ve done: I pressed on as well as I could and definitely that was a mistake. By chance I was mostly booked to be writing in my own office but I had four gigs outside and I vomited on the way to two of them.
Yesterday I thought this was all done, finally over, I felt recalled to life. And then mid-afternoon, bam. Desperately difficult to move. Appetite vanished. Increasingly ratty. In the end, I went to bed around 8pm and spent a very feverish night. Twelve hours later, the fever is gone, I have a what feels like a concussion headache and I’m unexpectedly snuffly. That was one thing I didn’t have during the main cold but I have it now.
I also have very obvious problems to do with getting work done.
First, I don’t look in OmniFocus.
That’s my usually beloved To Do app and every praise I’ve given it before is true, I just don’t dare look in it to see what I haven’t done yet.
The second was my email. I do the Inbox Zero thing where I deal with an email as soon as I see it: if I can reply there and then, I reply. If I can delete or archive it, wallop. If it needs a bit more work, I send it on to OmniFocus.
You can’t believe the pressure and the misery of seeing the emails build up after a couple of years of being on top of this stuff. At one point I had around 40 emails in that inbox and I would look at each of them, actually incapable of knowing what to do. Then a new one would come in from someone I just didn’t want to have to think about so I’d go away.
Early last week, I got those 40 down to 0 by doing the Inbox Zero lark and that’s great apart from how I’ve found it hard to keep it down. An email will come in that I know I need to reply to and I’m afraid I’ll forget but I haven’t the consciousness to do it now, so I’ve been leaving it there. And then we’re right back to the same problem.
Yesterday morning I replied to all the ones waiting and right now, this minute, I’m not looking at my emails at all.
I’m going to look at OmniFocus.
It’s going to be a mess.
I was re-organising my entire OmniFocus life when this hit so I know I have just the most gigantic mess of projects that I can abandon but haven’t, projects that are so late I will have to give up on them, just more and more projects. Actually, hang on, I can do this, let me check: right, OmniFocus tells me I have 76 projects and a current total of 2,993 tasks to do.
I’m going back to bed.
No, wait, get this done. Back in a sec.
Ha! Caught! If you just throw things in to OmniFocus they go into what’s called the inbox: just a growing list of things that you’ll think about later. Bung them in now when you think of them, later go back and decide what you’ll actually do. Decide that this is to do with your work and this for home, that this has a deadline and that doesn’t, all this sort of stuff. I am amazed and deeply relieved to find that I must’ve done this going back later.
For there were just seven things in the inbox. I tell you, face up to your fears, it works out. Especially as I’m not going to do three of the seven: they’re not needed now so I just deleted them. It also turns out that I’ve done two of what’s left so I tapped the Done button and felt good. That left two and one is a big job that’s going to take an hour. I admit I don’t feel up to that yet.
But the last of the seven was just that I meant to email thanks to someone. So I did it.
And that’s where I got caught: going in to email her meant that Mail got all the new emails that I’ve been avoiding looking at this morning.
I don’t know what I was afraid or of what exactly I was avoiding but there are – curiously – just seven emails in my inbox now. Brilliantly, six can be deleted immediately so they went to the trash with gusto. One was a thanks email to me so I read and enjoyed that but don’t need to reply so that’s now archived off.
An empty email inbox is a good thing.
OmniFocus is another. I’ve moved that hour-long job from the inbox and into today’s due tasks. I’ve ticked the thanks email as done, so I have an empty OmniFocus inbox too. But right now OmniFocus looks like this:
That doesn’t look awful at all: you can’t see the details but you can see I have five things to do today. Now, I know that doesn’t include one increasingly urgent problem though I admit I have no idea what to do about that. I feel I may look at that tomorrow.
But look toward the top left where it says Forecast. There’s 53 next to it. And just underneath, you can see I have 52 things I should’ve done in the past.
Now, actually I know I will have done a lot of that. Even in my worst moments I’ve kept on writing so I’m hopeful I’ll have done many of them and just need to tap Done. Okay, no, hang on, I’m being honest with you here so that I can be honest with myself. I feel like you’re holding my hand. Let me check the 52.
I’ve already done 33 of them.
I’m looking pretty smugly relieved here, aren’t I?
Some 16 of those 33 are repeating tasks and I’ve done them yet definitely haven’t done them every day or every week or whatever it is. Actually, I can’t work out how many I have and haven’t repeated.
The bigger number in every sense is further down that same OmniFocus column: do you see where it says 74 projects? I told you I had 76. But this means there are 74 that I haven’t reviewed.
Reviewing is a great thing. You take a minute to look at the whole picture, everything you’re doing, and you add more tasks, you tick off ones that are done, you delete others, you really just get that whole picture in your head. See where you are with everything, make decisions about it all – and then forget the lot. Trust that OmniFocus is tracking everything you need. And instead you just look at doing today’s five things.
The trouble is that reviews take more than a minute, especially when you have 74 projects to look at.
What I need to do is review them all once and then as I go through each one, decide when I want to review them next. Every project must be reviewed but you can say how often. So, for instance, there are certain financial things I review every second day. I keep my shopping list in OmniFocus but I’ve told it to make me review that once a year.
I must go through the rest so that they pop up as needing reviews in some more manageable way. A few a day, for instance. I’ll get on that.
But not today.
Today I am truly struggling so what I’ve just done is create a single To Do task called Monday. I’ve written in it the few things that I truly cannot leave plus some notes about them.
This is not how to use OmniFocus. But it will get me through today. See you tomorrow?
This isn’t an award show. There isn’t a single winner nor even a short list, really. Actually, as lists go it’s rubbish from the sense that to get on the list you just had to be named. But it’s also therefore comprehensive and you know that every app on Reddit’s selection is there through passion.
Maybe sometimes the passion of the manufacturers but usually the passion of a genuine Reddit user.
Take a look at the whole list – and yes, OmniFocus is right there.
There’s a new podcast from the productivity site Asian Efficiency which I had a listen to on my morning walk. (This is a new thing. A morning walk at 5am. This is a new stupid thing.) And the podcast is fine, I’ll listen to more before I know whether I want to urge you to try it, but the very first sentence made me stop in my tracks.
Frankly, anything can stop me in my tracks when I’m walking at that time of day.
But it was how they introduced the topic of productivity and pronounced the word as if it were pro-ductivity. And I realised then that I always say it as prod-uctivity.
Maybe that means they’re more professional about it and I’m the type who needs a good shove to get going. I’m okay with that.
I see his point, but.
Here’s the problem: you’re not Superman or -woman, and even if you are, you’ve got it backwards. Have you ever seen Superman embark on twenty adventures at once? Nope, he doesn’t. He only takes on the most badass thugs that nobody else can deal with and goes at them one-by-one. He’s not multitasking to fight one villain at 7 am, save a cat at noon and then yet another villain at 3 pm. Neither should you.
If you want to get more of the great stuff done in 2015, try doing less. That doesn’t necessarily mean working less hours (though that wouldn’t hurt), but spread yourself less thin across a gazillion different commitments. Focus only on those rare activities that really make you happy and truly move the needle, everything else is just noise and wears you out. Trying to do too much at once is what makes you fail at all your good intentions. It’s what throws you right back into your old habits, before you can say “merry Christmas and a happy new year”.
Read the full piece.