Sunday, July 29, 2007

Productivity tips (or: Lifehack read my mind)

Lifehack (link via Lifehacker)has some tips for concentration. Some of them are a lot like what I stumbled upon as part of the Internet experiment (which I am still using on weekdays but not on weekends, as you can see by the time of this post). Among them:

# 1. Cut off the noise. Comment: Turning off the Internet until 5 has had a huge effect on this.
# 8. Isolate yourself (ha!). Comment: Too much of this isn't good, though.
# 9. Healthy body, sharper mind. Comment: All the early morning exercise really has helped with concentration.
# 10. Be patient. Comment: The writer says that when you sit there for 15-20 minutes before you start writing, you'll have an impulse to do something else instead, which you should resist. For me, checking e-mail and surfing the web was my go-to means of breaking that unbearable pause when you actually have to do the hard work of thinking before writing. Not allowing the Internet to be on at that time left me with nothing to do except think and write.

Other things I've observed:

  • One of the commenters on Lifehacker mentions that playing the same music when you work (if you work to music) can create an almost Pavlovian response so that when you hear the music, you get to work. Since I do listen to classical music when I work, I've found that this is true. If classical music is playing (especially Chopin or Mozart), I feel that I should be writing.

  • The Lifehack column suggests 60-90 minutes as the shortest period of time you should set for yourself. When I start a piece, I have to break it up a little more or else I start thinking in circles and so use shorter periods between breaks.

    What kind of system do you use?

    Dr. Medusa said...

    Hi undine. I also read the Lifehack piece on concentration and found it useful in similar ways. Most valuable to me was realizing that it was a matter of settling into a certain level of concentration. Just the exercise of saying, "ok, I am going to sit here without too much distraction until I can concentrate" has helped me immensely. I also ran across your no internet until after 5 p.m. tip a while back. I do a version of it--no personal internet (email, blogs) until after 5, and like you I find that my attention span has increased and my focus has improved. I actually have a huge post brewing about summer writing/work habits, with references to your recent posts. I especially want to write about one strategy I tried last week--working 9-5, complete with no phone and no personal internet during those hours. An extreme measure, I know, but I have had enormous luck with it.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful posts on this topic. They've helped me a great deal during this summer of too many projects and many scary deadlines.

    Sisyphus said...

    I have no system, per se. I've been trying working 9-5 on weekdays and not thinking about work/doing stuff that does not resemble work in evenings and weekends ... like watch movies and talk to people. If I spend the weekend pleasure reading it doesn't recharge me with using different mental muscles.

    However, I can barely get an hour of solid work out at a time, which means I need to do lots of errands and take breaks on my "9-5" schedule. I'd like to extend my actual productive time periods but don't know how. Except that I'm always more productive away from my internet and cozy couch.

    StyleyGeek said...

    Interesting tips. I have found a couple of those things incredibly useful as I finished up writing my dissertation. I only wished I had discovered them earlier!

    I had to take the no internet thing to extremes, though, since I find it really hard to just *not*. So I installed Linux on my office computer as a dual boot operating system, and made my husband the only administrator. He then blocked my internet access, and most email, allowing only emails to my university account to get through. Linux is the OS that boots up automatically when I start that computer, so when I am in my office, to get to the internet I either have to reboot and log in to Windows, or call my husband up and get him to log in remotely and regrant me access.

    Very very helpful. It defeats that surfing urge that you mention occurs in the first 15 or 20 minutes of each work period.

    The music thing was the other tip that worked for me. I set up a playlist of music that I only play when working on the dissertation. And it really is quite pavlovian.

    After that I tried to set up other pavlovian type responses. I started drinking one particular type of tea when working, and wearing a certain pair of gloves. Also, when I worked at home (rarely), I played the same music as at the office, and I always sat on the same couch. These practices were a bit too extreme, I think, but they still helped.

    Musey_Me said...

    I find avoiding the Internet to be nearly impossible. (If you have suggestions, I am wide open! I am getting better about not jumping at email, though.)The other new technique I've been using is to NOT try writing in my office at work. I just go in later or come home early to work on writing tasks. That is helping a lot.

    undine said...

    Dr. Medusa, I'll look forward to your post about this. I'm with you--it seems that only extreme measures will help, like no phone and no personal internet.

    Sisyphus, it's interesting that you mention that about reading for pleasure not recharging you. I feel the same way; it's as though any reading just reminds me of the work I should be doing.

    Styleygeek, you're lucky to have someone who could set up the linux/no internet thing. It sounds as though rebooting is enough of a pain in the neck to make the wait for those 15-20 minutes worthwhile. Do you wear gloves when you type?

    Musey, I couldn't get going on writing in my office either, unless I was finishing revisions or something. In the office, there's always a class or department-related thing to do that can be a distraction.

    ~Slackademic~ said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    ~Slackademic~ said...

    Thanks so much for posting this. I took some of the advice today, and I got more done in 1 day than I have all week!! This will definately revolutionize my work habits :)

    LumpenProf said...

    To do serious writing, I find I need to be away from online distractions too. That's why I go completely low-tech: I use a pad of paper and a pen. It's wireless, light-weight, portable, has unlimited battery-life, and no files ever get lost or accidentally deleted. Plus, it works in any coffee shop or library without the need of a plug or wifi.

    undine said...

    I'm glad it helped, slackademic. Part of the frustration is that I won't be able to keep it up entirely once school is in session, since I have to be available to students by e-mail.

    Lumpenprof, I think a pen would be best of all. Do you find that you write differently when you're writing with a pen? I end up scratching out more and wanting to reach for a keyboard (even a typewriter!) once my thoughts really get going because I'm so used to typing them.

    LumpenProf said...

    I do write differently with a pen. And I find I have to practice my pen and ink work or I get rusty at it too. Even though I also scratch things out on paper, I find I do much less re-writing and un-writing on paper than I do on my computer screen where the delete key is just too tempting. At the end of a session I usually wind up with a short stack of very messy handwritten pages which then get re-written and edited as I type them up. One of the happy side effects of pen and paper work for me is that it forces me to re-write everything at least once. Additional re-writes are still a struggle for me.