January 16, 2014
Recently, while writing a two-week email series on productivity hacks, I came across this XKCD.com web comic making fun of productivity writers.
In his usual fashion, artist Randall Munroe exposes an egregious yet overlooked irony of life -- one that felt particularly close to home for me in light of the project I was working on. I was caught on XKCD, by XKCD, while two tabs over I was trying to write about productivity.
Admittedly, the comic made me feel pretty bad at first. Then I realized that the blogger in the comic was actually a very good example of what I was trying to write about -- not the entirely hypocritical figure I was, unfortunately, relating to. His schedule was clear, specific, and task-driven. All I had was a mental to-do list of broad, nebulous projects. He was getting up early and getting to work right away, whereas I had checked my email for an hour first -- a virtual "snooze" button for the work day. And even if his rhetoric wasn't edifying, his focused attention to a time-limited task and deferred distraction time ("screw around" time, as he put it) were exemplary. In contrast, I was mixing work with play, and not doing either very well.
I don't admire everything about the satirical blogger. His advice isn't very good, even if his example is. Initially touting the "No substitute for hard work" mentality (a catchphrase by Thomas Edison, predating the computer era), he then proceeds to ignore spirit of his own advice. I'm not discounting the value of hard work, but from my experience, that sort of rhetoric just makes people feel bad about themselves, which won't help them accomplish more.
In short, productivity is not about working more, productivity is about getting more out of your time. In my Productivity Hacks, I suggest one or two actions you can take each day to do just that. Each one is relevant to the 21st century. Many of these hacks introduce a web service or feature that streamlines processes you already deal with every day. None of them require much time and energy to get started, or suggest that you go out of your way to use them. That sort of "productivity" service is, in my opinion, a total waste of time.
If you read through an email and still think you will have no use for that service or technique, then by all means, don't pursue it. One caveat to this is when a tool seems to do something related to the function of a tool you already have. Consider checking it out anyways. Nobody uses exclusively pencils, or only pens. Even though their functions overlap, we use each according to its strengths, and we should use online tools the same way.