28 June 2008

Kinetic Productivity -- Part II -- Pockets of Productive

Conventional wisdom on productivity lists several reasons for productivity decline, including:

1. Distractions
2. Motivational issues
3. Lack of engery (including mental energy)
4. Lack of tools (spilt coffee on your laptop)

The kinetic productivity analogy goes a long way to unifying these reasons. Unification is valuable because it gives the worker the most leeway in choosing a productivity enhancement plan. For some, motivation is always an issue because they hate their job, for others they get easily distracted by RIF (RSS, IM, Facebook).

So back to the analogy. When in a productivity slump, the analogy suggests that we must do enough work to generate the potential energy to crest the productivity hill. Fine, but how?

There are two ways to get over the hill. One is to build up potential energy by pushing the productivity ball up the hill. The other is to pick a different small hill to climb.

Question: But what energy is used to convert into potential energy (through work). Energy is conserved after all, right?
Answer: Yes, energy is conserved. But energy is constantly flowing back into you when you don't even know it. The problem is having an efficient tool to convert that energy into potential energy (the source of future productivity).

Basically what my theory suggests, is you just have to get out of the slump (whatever way you can) and then you can coast for a while at a high level of productivity. If this sounds like a bunch of hogwash, let me give you an example from my own experience.

One of my biggest productivity drains at night is sleepiness. Big surprise! What I didn't realize is that sleepiness wears off WITHOUT sleep. So the hill I have to climb is sleepiness. If I can get over the sleepiness, I can roll down the hill and be productive for another few hours. I've found that the best way to overcome sleepiness is to wait until your body wants to go to sleep and then and only then start working. Your body will fight you momentarily as you boot up your computer and bring up your spreadsheets, but what your body doesn't realize is that you are breaking down the sleep cycle barrier. You've essentially tricked you mind and body into think it is a new day and it resets a lot of stuff in your brain. Try to think what you did this morning... it will be hard to do!

Okay, so maybe it still sounds like hogwash. And maybe it is. My point is just that you have small burst of productivity and if you can figure out when they usually happen, you can trigger them.

Another example before I leave this pseudo-scientific post. Interestingly enough, I find I get flashes off mental acuity while going to the bathroom. Often this is where I plan much of my day. Don't waste time in the restroom, be productive!

26 June 2008

Kinetic Productivity: Part I -- The Analogy

I learned today that my former co-worker has created a website called PickTheBrain.com. I was browsing some of the articles and came about one on productivity. He suggests utilizing "surges of mental activity" as opposed to forcing our mental activity into a continuous 8 hour block.

This reminded me of an interesting passage by tech whiz Aaron Swartz:
"With all the time you spend watching TV," he tells me, "you could have written a novel by now." It's hard to disagree with the sentiment -- writing a novel is undoubtedly a better use of time than watching TV -- but what about the hidden assumption? Such comments imply that time is "fungible" -- that time spent watching TV can just as easily be spent writing a novel. And sadly, that's just not the case.
In addition to what these gentleman say, I believe I've discovered a little known productivity limiter; bear with me as I coin the phrase "kinetic productivity" with respect to working life. Think back to high school physics when you were working out how much work it would take to get a ball resting at the bottom of a hill up to the top. Once at the top, you can simply roll it down the other side; converting all its potential energy into kinetic energy.

Now think of the kinetic energy as productivity. As long as the ball has kinetic energy (productivty), it can move (get work done). As it rolls along, the forces of friction (work) eventually dissapate the kinetic energy and you are left at the bottom of another hill (low mental activity).

Stay tuned for Part II in which I decode analogy further--defining the hill and methods for climbing it.

16 June 2008

Win a new hard drive... or at least more space

What is the difference between getting a bigger hard drive and creating more space on the one you have. Creating space is cheaper, faster, easier, and more fun!

Windirstat is a free program I ran across today at work when the IT guy told me I should probably free up some space on my hard drive.

I've known for some time that I'd need to do some HD spring cleaning, but I didn't want to take hours searching through folders to find big files that I don't need. So I turned to Google. I Googled something to the effect of, "hard drive space management," and was presented with a most awesome tool (in the process I discovered a totally rad website chock full of other nifty Windows [and mac] utilities, Lifehacker.com).

Basically, windirstat produces a visualization of you hard drive which makes it easy to see what's eating up all that extra space. For me, at home it was a couple video files, duplicated music, and some video games. The easy-to-use interface let's you quickly delete old, dusty files by quickly drilling down into your biggest folders to find the biggest files each contains. So many of these files are unnecessary. With a fast Internet connection you could re-download in no time if you ever needed the file again.

Take a look at the visualization of my HD below:

08 June 2008

Chicken, the Other Green Meat

As human-induced global warming gains more sway on the moral conscience of consumers, you might expect vested interests to come up with sales pitches promising to stretch our greenbacks to their green limit. The "buy local" fad is just one of the "solutions" that help us feel like we are doing our part. Sure it is a little more expensive, but think about the external effects on the planet of the CO2 emissions from shipping strawberries from China -- the other side of the world!

The fact that buying local also supports local agriculture industry also soothes our irrational tribal-biased aversion to foreign competition, perhaps bruised by a recent Hi-Def TV purchase, only serves to raise the issue to the media forefront.

However, by its nature, not its distance to market, is the carbon footprint of food made. According to a recent study,

"A relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same greenhouse gas reduction as eating locally, Weber adds. Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year."

But red meat tastes so good! Of course, that is why we can expect green house gas emissions to continue to rise. As China grows richer, their demand for delicious red meat can be expected to rise (Indians, who are also getting richer, generally don't eat beef, though I'm not sure about other red meats).

Thanks to MR and Ezra Klein for the pointer.