Sometimes Productivity Means Working On Other Things

In my look ahead goal setting post at the start of the month I mentioned I might need a break writing for this site and I while offered some reasons in that post I thought I should explain in a little more detail.

The explanation includes some general productivity thoughts about how I’ve decided what I need to work on and why that might leave this site empty of new content for a time. This way if you aren’t too interested in the specifics of my situation, there should still be something here for you to take away.

One of the things I’ve said over the years in regards to using productivity systems for creative work is that for me the key to getting more done is matching the energy/focus level necessary to work on a task or project with how much energy/focus I typically have at the same times each day. No other criteria for the work I need to do has ever mattered much. For me it’s always about mental energy and focus and thinking long term about the projects I want to complete.

My Situation

Before I get to the solution, I should fill you in more on my current situation. I’ve committed myself to a lot of writing this year and I also need to work on a couple of non-writing projects as well.

Through much of the fall I tried to work several projects at the same time and found it wasn’t working well. I was putting in a lot of time, but I wasn’t getting as much accomplished as I thought I could. I needed to find a way to get more done this year, hence “efficiency” as the overall theme for all my goals in 2019.

I’ve talked about how most of my work involves tasks with fuzzy edges. Make notes for article X doesn’t have a definite end point. I’m done making notes when I have enough to write the draft. Sometimes that can be as little as an hour and other times it might take a week.

The way I’ve been able to be most productive is to set up habits and routines based on my typical flows of energy and focus. I build the routine around the work I need to complete over the next two months and go. Every day I work to bring projects one step closer to completion.

Working this way doesn’t always make it easy to shift gears a little and introduce something new into the existing routine. I find it hard to make the extra time in my day once I’m settled into habits. Sometimes the only way I can work a new project in is to break apart my whole routine, throw it into chaos for a few days, and work my way back to a new routine with a different set of priorities and focus.

One of the reasons I write goal setting and review posts at the end and start of the year is that it gets me thinking about my existing routines and how they need to change to move closer to my goals for the coming year.

The posts are only one part of it. I usually take time off throughout the year end holidays. This year I sandwiched a very light three days of work between a pair of four-day weekends. The entire week breaks my routine and it gives me time to think about what the next one should look like.

How I Organized and Prioritized My Work

One of the first things I did was to make a list of all the projects I want to complete in 2019 along with ongoing projects like writing for this site and for the newsletter for my soon to be site. I didn’t include one-off tasks, but I did include one project to account for them all that will serve as backfill in my weekly schedule.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I divide my day in half and I work on fiction writing between breakfast and dinner and I work on non-fiction writing and other projects between lunch and dinner.

My fiction routine is fine for the most part. It doesn’t require a huge shakeup, more a few tweaks that I think will allow me an extra writing session before calling it a day. It’s my non-fiction routine in the afternoon that needs the shakeup.

I looked over all my projects and divided them in two ways. First by domain, one being this domain (vanseodesign.com) and the other being the soon to be site (stevenbradley.me). This is how I’ve typically divided my work the last few years, albeit with different domains.

I also tagged the projects in terms of continuous (ongoing) and discrete (fixed end point) projects. Here’s what I came up with.

  • StevenBradley.me
  • Design/Develop site (discrete)
  • Content for Notebook (continuous)
  • Newsletter (continuous)
  • VanseoDesign.com
  • Content for Notebook (continuous)
  • Writing Design/Development Books (multiple discrete)
  • Marketing/Selling books (continuous)

I found the latter categorization, the tags for continuous and discrete, to be more useful as they play more to my energy and focus levels throughout the day.

Typically after lunch, I find it difficult to get back to work. I feel a little sluggish and I’m most productive when I can ease into the work for 15 or 20 minutes. I’ve found if I choose busy work or anything that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy and focus, I can quickly be working again and I realize I’ve been doing that to a certain extent by choosing parts of continuous projects to work on.

They aren’t necessarily easier tasks, but they’re easier for me to start working on them when I lack focus. The work leads to a build up of my focus and energy, which I can then put to use. I reworked the list and organized the projects around their continuous or discrete nature.

  • Continuous
  • Content for SB.me Notebook
  • Newsletter
  • Marketing/Selling books
  • Discrete
  • Design/Develop SB.me site
  • Writing Design/Development Books
  • Content for Vanseo Notebook

You might wonder why I’ve changed writing content for this site to discrete when I tagged it continuous above. The continuous tag was in thinking that I publish here on a regular basis, but I realized I’ve written the content in more discrete chunks the last few years. I’ll work on a series for a couple or three months and then switch to something else for a few months before working on the next series.

It’s also a little harder for me to jump into what I write for this site as it typically requires a little more energy and focus than I have in the after lunch hour so it doesn’t work as well for what I’m trying to accomplish.

In general the continuous projects work better as coming back from lunch work and I can save the discrete projects for the end of the day. I schedule a shorter time for the continuous projects and use them to build focus for the discrete projects which will usually get more of my time.

Sounds great, however…

My Current Productivity Conundrum

It’s difficult for me to focus on more than one of the discrete projects for any length of time. When I’ve tried to work several on the same day or switch between two from day to day, I don’t get as much done as I should and neither project turns out as well as I’d like.

I can work multiple discrete projects at times depending on the projects and their specific tasks, but I’ve learned not to schedule work that way for too long.

The best way for me to work on the discrete projects is to work them one at time until finished, take a few days off to refresh, and then dive into the next one until it is eventually finished.

That suggests my task to get more done is to prioritize my discrete projects and schedule the one with the highest priority after whatever ongoing project has my attention that week.

Therein lies the rub.

Here are the three discrete projects again:

  • Design/Develop SB.me site
  • Writing Design/Development Books
  • Content for Vanseo Notebook

They’re in order of my current priority. Launching the new site has to take precedence since I’m trying to have it mostly ready by the end of February or mid March when I should have or be soon to have the rest of the information I’ll need. I have to finish the editor certification before I’ll have all that info.

The books need to take priority over writing for the site as the books help pay the bills and the site doesn’t. Once the new StevenBradley.me site is launched, I should be able to bounce back and forth between the books and this site the way I have the last few years, but until the new site is done, I may have to sacrifice time writing here. It’s possible it’ll be a few months before I can find the time to write for this site the way I have been the last few years.

I have toyed around with trying to come up with different kinds of posts that I could write in a more continuous effort. I don’t think the in-depth how to posts fit that bill, but maybe if I mix in more content like this post you’re reading (posts that don’t require much additional research), I can still keep things going without much of a gap.

I may also switch the priority of writing books and writing here as once I can bounce back and forth between the two, it really doesn’t matter all that much which one comes first.

Another idea is that as I’m working on a book, I can be more conscious of topics that can be turned into a post quickly, having already done the research. For example, I’ll be working on several books about SVG next and I’m sure there are things that have improved since I last wrote about the subject and details I couldn’t quite figure out at the time, but likely will when I dig into the books. It would be a way to put the same effort to multiple purposes.

In any event, know I’m working to come up with new routines that will allow me to write as much of what I want to write as I can this year, but it could mean ignoring this site for a time in order to work in projects like the launch of another site that I have to make time for.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that explains why I might have to disappear for a time, though I’d prefer not to disappear at all. It’s likely it’ll have to relatively soon too. As I write this, I have nothing else anywhere close to being ready to publish so this could be the last one for a time, though again, hopefully not or not for too long.

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