Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Life Management 101--Indecision, Incompletes, and Insufficient Focus

Chapter 4 of Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It--the current featured resource of our Life Management 101 Tuesdays--is entitled "Mastering the Fourth Pillar--Pests."  Stack's book is organized around her 8 "Pillars of Personal Productivity," which means we are now halfway through our time-finding journey.

In her consideration of "Pests," Stack is referring, not to Wikipedia-defined pests, as in 
an animal which is detrimental to humans or human concerns. . . .  a loosely defined term, often overlapping with the related terms vermin, weeds, parasites and pathogens. In its broadest sense, a pest is a competitor of humanity; 
but rather as
the time-wasters and robbers that keep you from being able to accomplish your goals. . . .the 'termites' that eat away at [the] foundations [of our productivity]. 
So who knew "Pests" would be my second best pillar?  (Which means I'm relatively good at dealing with them, not that I am good at having them.)  Maybe it's because I've had so much practice in this area.  My "Pests" score consisted of the numbers associated with my responses to ten related items within Stack's Productivity Quiz.  (If you're curious about your own productivity scores, the quiz in its entirety can be found on Stack's website.)  I rated each quiz item on the following scale:  1) to no extent; 2) to a little extent; 3) to some extent; 4) to a considerable extent; or 5) to a great extent.  My responses are in red.

To what extent do I . . . 
  • Confront problems head-on and make decisions quickly.  [2]
  • Complete tasks I start; don't let projects stall.  [3]
  • Keep interruptions from wasting my time.  [2]
  • Create shortcuts to get things done quickly.  [2]
  • Combine activities and routines.  [3]
  • Make good use of down time.  [3]
  • Turn off the technology when with my loved ones.  [3]
  • Know and avoid my biggest time wasters and distractions.  [3]
  • Make productive use of driving or commuting time.  [3]
  • Eliminate aggravation and save time when traveling or flying.  [3]
To be honest, I had some difficulty figuring out the classification scheme that led to these issues/behaviors being lumped together in the "Pests" category.  And once again, I did not encounter in Stack's elaborations any suggestions that were new to me.  I am beginning to think that the main value of this book is the opportunity to conduct its assessment, and to take a clear-eyed look at where my stumbling blocks are.  Like, all over the place, apparently.

The author describes herself as having been focused on efficiency and productivity since childhood, when her "Air Force brat" existence had her pulling up stakes every year or so.  She recounts the routines she developed for packing and unpacking, for making an instant home in each new bedroom.  She has taken this life-long learning and turned it into a business.  But while her lists and calendars and control mechanisms may work for her, it is starting to seem a bit too nervous-making for me.  

For example, in Chapter 4, Stack takes care to differentiate "combining tasks" (Good) from multitasking (Bad).  In her view, 
multitasking . . . is switching back and forth quickly from one task to the other.  Combining actually means you are doing two activities at the same time.
In my view, whatever you want to call them, both make it difficult to be in one present moment, both raise my blood pressure, and both lead to exhaustion.

Her list of time-wasting activities includes some of my own worst time-sinks, but also some things I consider extremely important to my overall quality of life.  (I'll let you guess which are which.)
  • Television
  • Hanging out around the refrigerator
  • Lolling through the dailynewspaper
  • Checking e-mail as it comes in
  • Surfing the Net
  • Staying in bed too long
  • Playing with your pet or a neighbor's (!) pet
  • Taking personal phone calls
  • Running for coffee
  • Taking naps
  • Dealing with home deliveries
  • Doing home chores while you should be working
  • Running errands one at a time
  • Reading junk mail
  • Socializing
  • Letting guests overstay their welcome
  • Working in your home office when you should be with your family
  • Scheduling too many personal appointments during work hours
  • Shopping
I did relate to what she had to say about ignoring one's family in favor of technological devices.  But I am particularly sensitized to this issue by an iPhone addict who has very recently (yesterday evening) returned home from a long absence, and who just this morning expected me to share his attention with his little hand-held friend.  (It is not escaping my notice that I am especially enamored of productivity advice that seems to apply more to my husband than to me!)

Halfway through Find More Time, I confess that I still haven't.  But I remain hopeful. 
Next week, Possessions--my lowest-scoring pillar.  Maybe I'll locate some extra hours lurking there. . . 

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