"A Productive Argument with Matt Alexander"

Mikes on Mics, 70Decibels:

“The Mikes” are joined by Matt Alexander of OneThirtySeven and the Bionic podcast podcast for a bit of back and forth about productivity immediately following The OmniFocus Setup.
Note: This was recorded live at Macworld at a coffee shop, so please forgive the audio, especially the coffee grinding during the intro.

Fresh out of last week's OmniFocus Setup event in San Francisco, Michael Schechter and Mike Vardy were kind enough to invite me to join them for episode 53 of 'Mikes On Mics.'

For those who aren't aware, I have a rather serious aversion to the cult of productivity that's so common on the Internet. I believe in a more organic and failure-prone method of self-education and improvement. Accordingly, following a lengthy and intricate look into the exhaustive world of OmniFocus nerdery, I was ripe with some serious opinions.

It's worth noting that, as I emphasized on the show, I more than appreciate the necessity and importance of apps like OmniFocus. I use it myself. The trouble I have lies with people who, in the words of Mike Vardy, "do productivity" rather than behave productively. So, please don't be offended if I walk all over your "workflows" and what have you.

My thanks to Michael and Mike for having me on. It was an absolute pleasure to record, particularly in person. If you haven't experimented with their show before, it's very much worth a listen.

Mikes On Mics 53 is available from 70Decibels.

Innocuous Resolutions

Before I begin with this unbelievably trite post, let me first offer a brief disclaimer: I know you don't care.

Each and every year, we're collectively subjected to self-indulgent posts explaining how much work is going to be done, weight lost, coffee made, keyboards purchased, Internet time reduced, Tweets improved, and so on. And, through all of it, none of us realistically care.

It's vaguely interesting (in a strangely voyeuristic way) to see what people intend to do with their year, but, more often than not, these intentions tend to dissipate by the closing days of January. And, regardless of any promises otherwise, we all simply read and watch so that we can collectively fail together. We make declarative pronouncements of change and self-improvement for the strange purpose of being self-deprecating in public, each of us fully aware of the fact that these loose commitments are not binding, meaningful, or of any real consequence to our day-to-day lives.

Although it's certainly positive that we've all announced our intentions to "work harder" in 2013, I cannot help but wonder why this is such a remarkable feat. I appreciate our collective candor, but surely working harder should be a progressive act that continues without any particular acknowledgment. (Whilst we're at it, I consider getting in shape, improving Internet etiquette, and generally lending some semblance of responsibility to our lives in the same light. These shouldn't be remarkable things.)

So, you know, shame on us.

Honing schedules, calendars, routines, and habits is all well and good, but without fundamental accountability and character adoption, we're essentially just saying that we'll continue to re-arrange our days until we happen to find a productive formula. It's pseudo-science, at best.

Far better than any vague claim toward "working harder" is the intention to do one simple, achievable thing in an area that does not necessarily require it. Rather than examining the schedule of Benjamin Franklin (who lived in a pre-light bulb age, by the way), why not reflect upon your personal circumstance and attempt to make an active improvement. The change need not be drastic. In fact, I suspect it's far better if it's a relatively innocuous change — one that you can truly abide by and engrain into your routine. Oh, it should definitely not be anything to do with work.

I say that because, in most minds, work bears negative connotations. Although that makes for a simple target (i.e., improve upon a bad thing), it's far easier to improve upon something that's already good. And, considering our collective resolution track record, I think we could all use an easy win.

For any long-term reader of this weblog, particularly those who've read my articles in the Read & Trust Magazine, you'll know that I'm an outspoken critic of the self-improvement, productivity, and GTD movements. I appreciate the value of improving upon oneself, but I'm highly skeptical over the value of prescribing contextually agnostic solutions for broad swathes of the community. Moreover, when it comes to workarounds, scripts, and minor hacks, I can only see great effort being poured into a workflow steeped in fragility.

So, I suppose it sounds hypocritical for me to be arguing for any semblance of lifestyle change. I assure you, though, we're discussing fundamentally different things.

In my case, I'm suggesting that you make one innocuous, positive change to an element of your life that does not require any improvement. I'm suggesting that, with even the lightest of touches, you might find yourself snowballing toward something much larger. Then again, you might not. The point is that I'm not prescribing a resolution for your lifestyle, I'm simply suggesting that you do one of the easiest and most rewarding things available to you — something that might bring more smiles to your face each week, rather than something more specific like more dollars into your bank or more minutes in your gym.

For me, I could prescribe myself with more consistency in my writing, increased accountability in my scheduling, improved workflows, a strict gym and dietary regiment, or a promise to meet with more people each week. All of those would be extremely useful and positive things.

The trouble is that any prescription in these areas cheats the organic process of learning and self-improvement. On my current trajectory, I will improve at each of these things. I will grow to be more responsible in my diet, scheduling, and etiquette. If I don't, I'd be a bit of a derelict as a maturing adult. But I must improve in these areas naturally. Without recognizing why these are faults or why they should be fixed or why it's worth improvement, I'd be simply noting a problem and knowing that — based upon perceived societal norms — I could be better.

Hacks — including resolutions — are fleeting. Applying a hack to your life is the equivalent of slapping some duct-tape over a fractured car bumper. The fact is one of those broken pieces will invariably fall off and applying a half-baked solution originally designed for different purposes will simply prolong the inevitable. (This is probably a poor example, but I'm sure you recognize my point.)

On the Internet, there's a huge propensity toward generalizing problems (I'm doing it right now) and this is at its most dangerous when we begin to prescribe fleeting resolutions to immature problems. We spend hours upon hours repeatedly developing new solutions to continuing problems, all the time blinding ourselves to the true reality of the situation.

For instance, online, hundreds of thousands of words have been committed to the topic of solving the problems associated with over-stuffed email inboxes. Each week, someone suggests a new solution to email, a new client is released, a new receptive method is introduced, and so on. And, as this process continues, no one recognizes that email — for the time being, at least — is an inescapable reality. Rather than prescribing complex rules and philosophies, why not just commit yourself to answering the email that's deserving of reply? I'm sure you're very important and get a lot of email, but I'm sure there's stuff in your inbox deserving of a response and unwarranted of these cries of self-pity.

For 2013 — and years to come, for that matter — let's stop prescribing solutions to broad swathes of people. Let's simply face facts and proceed with our lives with a smile, when possible. Do something innocuous, pointless, and without due cause for the sake of making yourself slightly happier. Rather than making broad pronouncements of self-improvement on your respective platforms, why not tell yourself — and the world, if you really feel like it — that you're going to commit to doing something ridiculously and embarrassingly easy for the new year.

I don't know what that might be and don't let anyone else tell you what they think, particularly those guilt-tripping people who coax you into donating to virtually every charity known to man or those who make you believe that email is some sort of fascist overlord that you must break free from. Just live and try to do something a little better than you did last year, regardless of what that might be. 

It's the most innocuous elements of our lives that make us our happiest. Whether that's a beer at the end of the day, a run in the morning, the sound of a clicky keyboard, or a heaping pile of meth, just make sure what you enjoy comes first. And, for God's sake, don't obscure a good thing with hacks, patches, and workarounds. Let something simple be simple. It's from those innocuous things in life from which we derive our drive toward success. Without them, we'd be boring workaholics loudly talking about how a new contextually-driven piece of software — that'll be forgotten within two weeks — has become the cornerstone of a newfound routine.

For what it's worth, my innocuous resolution is to continue loving and appreciating my day-to-day life. There's nothing more than that. No specific intention to change, improve, iterate, or re-schedule. Nor is there any specificity toward what it is that I love in my day-to-day. It could be as simple as sleeping with the curtains open so I can be woken up by natural light or going for a walk whenever the weather permits. It's just a  simple and uncomplicated psychological check to ensure I'm happy with my life.

All else will follow suit from there, I'm sure.

Read & Trust Magazine - October 2012

Aaron Mahnke:

This issue of Read & Trust Magazine is all about productivity as five of our members offer their perspective on a topic that so many people struggle with.

For this month's issue, I wrote about my rather controversial feelings regarding the productivity phenomenon apparent in the technology community today.

Of course, when writing my article, I was entirely unaware of the gentlemen that would also be submitting content for this month's issue: David Sparks, Brett Kelly, Brett Terpstra, and David Chartier. Or, in other words, some of the foremost personalities in the productivity realm.

So, I imagine I'm in for a barrage of emails and Tweets from productivityists over the coming days and weeks. My apologies in advance.

The magazine is, as always, available for $6 per issue or via a $5 monthly subscription. For those who have yet to check out the magazine, a free sample issue is still also available for your perusal.