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Paul Tevis

Entries in productivity (32)


9 Things, Part 1

This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.

Thing #1: Get Specific

When setting goals, it’s best be clear about what you’re trying achieve. Instead of being vague — with goals like “eat healthier” or “get ahead at work” — be as specific as possible. How will you know you’ve achieved what you wanted? What does success look like? Make those conditions your actual goals. (The book’s example for “lose some weight” is “fit into my old size-eight jeans.”) This gives you less room to settle for less than what you want, and it helps your brain see the differences between that and where you are now. Research has shown that this last bit is particularly important in getting your brain to figure out what you need to do to achieve your goals and to help you along the way.

How have I seen this work? At the beginning of this year, I wanted to “get back in shape” and “run more.” I got back into running last year, but I didn’t do a race longer than 4 miles or a training run longer than 6 miles. My experience has been that my body responds pretty well to distance running, and in 2005, when I felt like I was in reasonable condition, I ran a couple of half-marathons. Getting back to that point seemed like a good benchmark, so I set myself the goal of running a half-marathon before the end of the year. That made me look at what races there were and what training I would need to do to get myself to that point. I found a great “bridge distance” 15K race in the middle of the year and trained for that before turning my attention to the full distance in October. As the race approached, I refined my goal: I wasn’t just going to run a half-marathon, I was going to run it faster than I’d ever run one before. And I did.

This is just one example of how I’ve experienced the benefits of being specific in setting goals. By being precise, I understood how far I needed to go to achieve what I wanted. I saw what steps I needed to take to get there. And I knew exactly when I had succeeded.


9 Things, Part 0

In February, Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote a blog post for the Harvard Business Review entitled 9 Things Successful People Do Differently that ended up being their most-read article ever. That led to an expanded version of it as an e-book, which is, from what I can tell, a boiled-down version of her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. That e-book — which you can hear more about on this episode of the HBR Ideacast — is without a doubt the most important writing on productivity and effectiveness I’ve read this year. I say that because it is (a) tremendously practical, and (b) extremely short.

Dr. Grant Halvorson is a motivational psychologist whose research digs into the question “Why do some people succeed at reaching their goals while others fail?” The answer, as it turns out, has little to do with talent. Instead, it’s largely a matter of little differences in the way people make their goals and how they plan to achieve them. The e-book lays out nine specific you can do to take advantage of what this research tells us. It’s simple and profound stuff, and as I read it, I found a lot of resonance with my own experience. I’ve discovered most of them in one form another on my own and seen firsthand that they work; the book gave me the framework to understand why. I knew they worked for me, and the book gives me good reason to believe they’ll work for other people, too. So, for the next nine days, I’m going to take a look at each of the ideas in turn and show how they helped me succeed at my goals. Sound good?


Watching and Learning

On Tuesday someone asked me, “You doing anything this weekend?” My response: “Improv show on Friday, driving down to LA for a gaming event on Saturday, recording a story for PodCastle on Sunday, and going for a nine-mile run at some point.” So, yeah.

I wrote a few days back about how I saw my emphasis on getting thing done was affecting me. To put it in slightly different terms, I’ve been focusing on Doing and not leaving much time for Being. Over the last few days, I’ve realized that I’ve been close to putting myself over capacity. As a result, I’ve delayed a few things I had told myself I was going to right at the beginning of the month — notably, watching the second season of Rome and starting the revisions on Sun, Moon, and Stars — so that I could finish off some work in progress. Do I like having to do that? No. Is it the end of the world? No. Can I accept it? Yes. Am I enjoying the things that I am doing without worrying about the things that I’m not? Absolutely. And more and more I’m realizing that watching my capacity and scaling back when I need to is one of the most important things I can do for myself.


Fitness: 100-Ups, Minor (60)

Listen and Learn

On Twitter today I said:

Right now the value of my to-do list is that it tells me not what to do but what I didn’t get done. That’s surprisingly useful to know.

It shouldn’t be that surprising to me. After all, I’ve written about limiting work to capacity and learning to live with those limits. But when I’m busiest is when I need to be reminded of these things. For me, productivity is about admitting what I’m not going to do and focusing my efforts on the rest. When something keeps slipping from one day’s to do list to the next, it’s telling me something. When there are twelve things crossed off my list but two of the most important things aren’t, it’s telling me something. When I look at the undone things and think “that’s not a big deal,” it’s telling me something.

Good productivity tools tell you things. It’s your job to listen to them.


Fitness: Ran 4 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 303 words, 372 seven-day average, 264 average, 36691 total, 1309 to go for the week; 6-day streak

As Simply As Possible

Rob Donoghue asks:

How many platforms do you need to keep organized across (phone, computer, home, office, whatever)? How do you manage it?

My to-do list is a steno notebook. I write it by hand every day. The inputs to it are an iPhone app that handles periodic reminders for me, my email inbox and my Google Calendar — both of which I can access from my phone — and a spreadsheet I keep in Dropbox that I use to track where I’m spending my time and where I intend to spend it. That means that if I have my phone and any computer that I use regularly — my work machine, my home computer, or my laptop — I can keep up to date. Every day, I spend fifteen minutes going over the previous day’s list, updating my spreadsheet, and making the next day’s list. I call it the Scrub. And then I’m good for the day. When things come up, I write them down. If I don’t get things done by the end of the day, I deal with them in the next Scrub, Getting Things Done-style.

That’s the broad strokes. Did you have questions about specifics, Rob (or anyone else)?


Fitness: Ran 4 miles
Writing: 353 words, 270 average
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