Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Paul Tevis

Entries in productivity (32)


Topping Up the Batteries

Rebecca asks:

You’re busy busy busy and organizing your time… what do you do to recharge? Or do you even have times where you’re just fed up with the list of things to be done?

Second things first: I’m a lot more likely to get fed up with the rate that I’m getting things done than I am with how many of them there are yet to do. The length of the road bothers me a lot less than the speed I’m heading down it. And as I’ve gotten better, I’m able to be satisfied with slower and slower progress. So long as it doesn’t drop to zero, I tend to be content.

But as to the issue of recharging… there are certainly points where I don’t feel like I’m getting anything done, or where I feel like I don’t know what to do next. I’ve discovered three things that work pretty well for me in these moments.

  1. Get organized. One of things on my “do every day” list is to spend fifteen to twenty minutes recording and reflecting on what I did yesterday and making priority decisions about what I want to do today. Writing it down and making it visual gives me power over it in a way that keeping it in my head or in an electronic form doesn’t. When I don’t know what to do next or I need to shift gears, I make a list or look at the one I’ve already made.
  2. Get physical. Often the best cure for a swirling brain is to take it out of the equation. Hopping on my bike, going for a run, or working out are all good for me when I get overwhelmed. As strange as it sounds, sometimes what I really need to do is wash the dishes. Doing something predominantly physical, where I can disconnect my brain and let it go chew on whatever it needs to chew on, is revitalizing for me, especially given how much most of things I do are thinking-heavy.
  3. Get present. There’s a train station next to my work. As often as I can, I get out out my office and take a long, slow walk down the platform. The goal is to notice every step, hear every car, feel every breeze. I try not to think about anything else except what I’m experiencing in that moment. Whenever my mind wanders I gently bring it back. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the end and come back, and if I’ve done it right, when I’m done I’m completely refreshed.

For me, recharging isn’t about doing big things infrequently, it’s about doing little things all the time to stay fresh. Remember that “do every day” list I mentioned? All three of these things are on it, along with writing something for the blog and spending quality time with Gwen. If I do all those things, I stay on top of my game and I’m ready for whatever the rest of my to-do list throws at me.


Fitness: Rest day
Writing: 0 words, 251 average

Accepting It Isn't the Same as Wanting It

Ten years ago I read something from Neil Gaiman that stuck with me. I’ve lost the exact quote, but it goes something like this: “Lots of people say they would like to write a book. That’s not true. They would like to have written a book. They don’t like the writing part.”

An important idea I’ve discovered in my exploration of coaching revolves around fulfillment.1 Fulfillment is not about someday. Fulfillment is about every day. It’s not about the thing that you one day want to have. It’s about the things that you do and feel today. It’s about the doing, not the having done.

Game design is on the list of things that I’m not doing today. A big reason is that I’m also not doing those activities which support game design: playing regularly and talking with other designers. I get my best results when things I’m doing reinforce each other, when they knit together into a web of ideas that cross-pollinate. Right now, though, game design would be an isolated part of my project list.

I’m not saying I’ll never come back to it, but today, designing games isn’t a priority for me. It’s not for lack of interest; I’ve got at least two designs I’ve started that I would love to finish. Right now, though, there are are other things that I’m doing that are more fulfilling. And I accept that my capacity is limited. So I’m going to do those other things instead.

1 This is from the Co-Active Coaching model, which has a lot of currency with me right now.


The Saturday I Needed

This week applied a shotgun to my routine.

Since we’ve adopted Scrum on our latest project at work, we’ve committed to getting our dispersed teams together as often as we can to do the sort of face-to-face work that makes the rest of the project easier. This week, four of the people from our Swiss office and one from our Wisconsin office were in town. That meant a week of 8AM-to-7PM days, and while that was extremely valuable, it was draining. It also meant that my normal pockets of productivity were non-existent and that many of good eating habits went out the window. I’m not worried, though, for two reasons.

First, I’ve been reminding myself of a saying from software project management that I heard almost a decade ago: “It’s ok to slip, so long as you don’t fall.” This week was a small roadblock, a tiny impediment. Yes, many of my productivity chains were broken. That doesn’t mean I should give up. It does mean it’s time to get back on the horse and start new ones. If having a bad week sets me back a month, I’m doing it wrong. And I’m determined not to let that happen.

Second, I somehow realized that the right thing to do was to give myself space. I didn’t leap out of bed at 7 AM to tackle the tasks that had been piling up all week. I somehow sensed that I needed a little bit of downtime to recover from feeling bad about letting them pile up. So this morning, Gwen and I sat in bed with our Kindles reading the adventures of Harry Dresden, me on Side Jobs, her on Blood Rites. And look: Here I am in the late afternoon finishing the last of the five things I really needed to do today. Are there other things I didn’t do today that I could have? Sure. Are they important? Not so much so that they can’t wait a day for me to get back into the swing of things.

It’s good to be back.


Knowing is Half the Battle

I’ve got five things that I try to do every day.1 They’re the first items that get added to my to-do list, and they’re my top priority. All together, they take about two to two and a half hours. What I’ve discovered is that getting them done is about more than just time.

I’ve basically got three times to work on stuff: before I go to work, over lunch, or in the early evening.2 I usually tackle one or two of these in the morning, two over lunch, and one or two after work. The last few days, however, I’ve had morning conference calls and I’ve haven’t had much time at lunch. Last night I came home still needing to do four of my five; tonight I got home with none of them accomplished. Both nights, though, I was home around 5 PM, with no other commitments. Should have been no problem, right? With two or three hours worth of work, I should be done by 8 PM. So why is it that I ended struggling to get both sets done?

One theory I’ve got is that it’s a focus limit. I have a hard time working on just about anything for two hours straight, even when I’m good about using Pomodoros. And it’s really the transitions from task to task that are hard; when I’m done with one it takes some doing to start working on the next one. It’s so much easier when I can break those five things up across the day.

It’s frustrating, but at least I understand it. How about you? What patterns for accomplishing your most important tasks do and don’t work for you?

1 Posting something here is one of them.

2 My later evenings tend have things scheduled, but even then I can usual squeeze out half an hour to an hour after work.


Logging Myself

I wrote yesterday about how my attitudes towards food and exercise had changed in the last nine months. Today, I’m going to take a more details look at how I gathered and visualized the data that nudged me towards those attitudinal changes.

As I said, the first step I took was logging what I ate. I don’t do anything fancy here. Every morning, I take a few minutes to write down everything I ate the previous day.1 Here’s what that looks like:

After a few weeks of doing this, I started paying more attention to what ate, knowing that if I ate it, I’d have to write it down. Nudge.

After a month or two, I made some concrete decisions about what I wanted to be eating what I wanted to be avoiding. So now, my second step each morning is looking at what I ate the previous day and seeing where I get to put an “X” on the checklist.


This gets me thinking about what I’m going to eat that day. Nudge again.

By now, I can hold the daily list in my head, so it’s easy for me to make mealtime choices based on where I do and don’t have Xs that day or week.2

The last thing I do is enter my weight. I weigh myself every morning when I’m at home. By and large, I ignore the reading. What I care about is the trend.


And that’s it. It takes me five minutes each day. Every so often, usually at the end of every month, I look at how I did. I can see easily what my eating habits were and what effect that had on my weight.3 Nudge, nudge, nudge.

1 I used to do this in a Google Spreadsheet, but I find it much easier to work with as an Excel document kept in my Dropbox.

2 It’s so uncommon that I want to eat the “no more than 1x monthly” foods that they almost don’t need to be there.

3 In prior months I looked at running mileage too, but since I’m not running much right now, I’m leaving that out.