I had one of those mornings yesterday in which I needed to hire a productivity coach.
I got up late, which is always a signal that it’s going to be a rough day. My serious creative time happens from about 6:30am – 11:00, so whenever I get up at 9:30, I’m already behind the curve.
I’ve been practicing spending the first hour or so of my day in quiet reflection while I drink enough coffee to get the neurons firing and ready to go. Initially, it was hard to do because I felt like I needed to capture all of the ideas that had formed while I slept, but after a while, I started enjoying it. After letting my mind settle and deciding which idea to work on for the day, I find it easier to stay focused on that one idea rather than jump from idea to idea.
But when I get up late, that whole “I’ve got to catch up!” thing pops up, and the first thing to go is my morning reflection. So yesterday I was already off to the races.
Let’s start the timer at 9:30am.
Instead of jumping right into writing, I checked email, quite unintentionally. I was thinking about a call I needed to make today (Friday), and I think I was checking to see if I had more details in my Inbox. Little did I know that my Inbox contained a goodie that would keep me running around on the Internet for a few hours.
I emailed a friend of mine about some differences between Backpack and Basecamp, and how I prefer one over the other for different reasons, wherein I wrote that the calendar and reminders are the critical feature of Backpack that keep me using the service. And that stuck with me: I’m paying $12 a month for shared calendars and reminders!
Knowing that Google has their own free Google Calendar service, and hearing people rave about it, I decided to give it another shot. Upon checking it out, I saw that they’d finally fixed the one thing I don’t like about Backpack’s calendars – Google Calendar actually gave a graphical representation of the day. Eureka!
So I spent about 20 minutes playing around with Google Calendar to get to a position in which I felt comfortable moving on and giving it a shot. Then I remembered the iGoogle page, in which you can pull all your different Google apps into one spot. If I can get all my information in one spot for free, then I wouldn’t have to pay $12 a month to 37Signals – the cheap ass in me was stoked!
The money thing has come back up recently for me as I’m looking to trim business and personal overheads. After the insanity that was May and June, we took a look at how much money slid out the door, and it has been our intention to be more present about that, especially since the next few months will be both tight and chaotic. June 30th was also the end of the quarter, and I do a pretty thorough money review at the end of each quarter.
I started configuring my iGoogle page to include my new Google Calendar, Gmail, our investments, RSS feeds, and everything into one place. After about an hour of tinkering around with my iGoogle page, I ran into a “problem” – I use two active gmail accounts. One is more or less personal, and the other is more or less business. (Yes, I know I can send email from one Gmail account, but I don’t like the way it routes the domain.)
But before I talk about that problem, it’s interesting to see why it took me an hour to get to it. My iGoogle page contained a lot of dynamic information that kept changing. I’d get all of my blocks configured only to have some email show up in the meantime. Since the email had my attention, I’d process it. Then I noticed that my investment portfolio was wrong, so I went to fix that, which took me to another full-page screen. By the time I had that figured out, more email came in, so I processed that.
And then while looking at what I could add, I noticed that there were celebrity iGoogle pages that I could check out. Ooh, neat! I wonder what Al Gore and Seth Godin have on their page? There went another 10 or 15 minutes.
By the time I got back around to my iGoogle page, more email had come in, and I noticed that the stock market was not particularly good yesterday. Between processing email, adding modules, tinkering with the calendar, checking investments, figuring out how to get back to my iGoogle page, and fidgeting with tasks, it started to feel like an endless cycle of data management and metawork.
Back to the problem: my business email account was the email account that I wanted to remain visible, but my iGoogle page was only looking at personal information. Was there a way I could add my other Gmail account to my iGoogle page? Did I need to set all that stuff up on my other account so that I could have it all in the right place? There went another 20-25 minutes of fiddling, researching, and such. In the meantime, I was processing email from both accounts, as I was bouncing between my business and personal accounts.
I finally gave up on adding my business email account to my iGoogle page and resolved just to check that separately. I settled into it.
I went from wasting my own time to figuring out how to waste Angela’s time, too. I knew that for me to stick to a new calendar option, Angela had to, as well. So I went back to Google Calendar and tried to look at it from her perspective. I dug through all the settings to make sure it could match what we had going in Backpack. I set up my phone and did a test reminder to see how it looked. I looked at the RSS functions to see how it would show that I’ve added something. Check, check, check.
Angela walked into the office to shred some paper, and I excitedly told her about Google Calendar and showed her my iGoogle page. I showed her the ins and outs of Google Calendar in a rough 3 minute tour. “Give it a try for a week and we’ll talk about it,” she said reservedly. Because I was still in Instant! mode, I didn’t notice the tone or the look on her face.
I did some final adjustments, did some actual correspondence and worthwhile Social Media stuff, and then unplugged around 12:30 and got ready to meet one of our friends for a late-ish lunch.
While driving the motorcycle to lunch, I started thinking about the morning. What in the hell was I doing? The last time I tried to find a better solution than Backpack, I wasted several hours before deciding to stick with Backpack. And it wasn’t because of the cost of switching – it was because I really didn’t need the additional features of different calendaring solutions. They encouraged me to do more fiddling, and since getting away from segmenting time, I’ve actually become more consistently productive. You’d think I would have read what I wrote about it last time, but no…
And why did I want all of my data in the same place when I’ve learned that I’m better off segmenting my information streams? When I cut off those streams, I can focus on the task at hand, instead of shuffling between tasks, projects, and information management. It’s especially bad when the information changes dynamically, as the change is what grabs my attention, and once it’s there, it’s there. I have to actively choose to ignore the new information or process it so that I’m not actively ignoring it, but either way, there’s some cognitive load there that I could have avoided.
There is a difference between something being neat and it being valuable. Knowing what Seth Godin and Al Gore have on their page is a neat idea – but it’s not valuable. What can I do with that information? How does it help me push along the things I need to push along?
I wasted three hours coming up with solutions to problems I really didn’t have. Three hours, when I look at what my creative time is worth, converts to at least $300. Furthermore, it’s not like it was just thirty minutes – there are a lot of things I could have completed in that three hours: a pillar post; a guest post; a few sections of the thing I’m working on; a new design; one of the books I’m most of the way through; that FAQ about my coaching service that I’ve been meaning to write. Any single one of those things would have been meaningful and effective. I spent $300 to save $144 – not the most brilliant use of my resources, to be sure.
The irony about all of this is that I know better – this is some of the stuff that I help clients with. Had I taken five minutes to think about what I was doing, I would have stopped and moved on to something more valuable. The motorcycle ride gave me that serendipitous moment to reflect on the morning, and after lunch I was able to regain some perspective and do some things that really mattered. The morning was lost, but that didn’t mean that the afternoon needed to follow suit.
I’m writing this post to pull some value from my folly and share it with you. I’m sure I’m not alone in being pulled in by the shiny baubles of technology, and I hope reading my story helps give some perspective on your story. The reason this is Episode 1 is because there will be other days like this, and I’d like to share them with you when they come up, so if you see “One of Those Days” in the title, it’s a story about one of those days – I invite you to laugh and learn with me.