An AskMe comment gets a mention in The Guardian March 12, 2016 2:25 AM   Subscribe

An AskMe comment by "blogger and libraries activist Jessamyn West" gets a mention in a Guardian column about getting things done.
posted by bjrn to MetaFilter-Related at 2:25 AM (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

This article is relevent to my interests, thank you. (Oliver Burkeman is also MeFi's own.)
posted by billiebee at 3:06 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mine too. I've been working on a somewhat similar KISS method for myself, but Jessamyn's structuring makes it easier to internalize (can I use "internalize" here?) the concept rather than attempting to remember certain plan points, which is excellent.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:13 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nice trick, which I missed here. Thanks for the MeTa.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:14 AM on March 12, 2016

considering that time I spent thinking about doing things and not doing them as part of the time it spent to do the thing
It's like including the mental tare weight in your costs.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:16 AM on March 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


"mental tare weight"

An excellent and helpful framing. Thanks.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:51 AM on March 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I love that comment. It's really helped me get a handle on the bad pattern of "sensible" procrastination where I overplan for things and then think that I should get credit for all of that wheel-spinning as productivity time. I know it's facile but thinking about how much time it takes to actually DO a thing and contrasting it with the time I spend planning the thing and learning to adjust that a little has been really helpful for me. Not spending a whole week and a half "working" on a talk when writing the talk is a few hours of work and even focused thinking about how the talk should go is maybe only two halves of two days. And research is another half day, maybe. So two full days, not five and certainly not eleven. At the same time, viewing careful planning as real work and "worth it" means there's a balancing act that needs to happen, a different sort of thinking about preparing vs doing.

Since then, the best habit I've gotten into is setting a timer for 45 minutes when I first wake up and doing nothing with a screen during that time. No email, no phones, no checking facebook, none of it. It opens some space for things like feeding birds, reading the newspaper and planning the things I'll need to do later. Making lists is allowed. It's really helped me prioritize my computer time as PART of what I do, not all of what I do. And the same at night. 30 min of reading time from nothing with a backlight.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:19 AM on March 12, 2016 [20 favorites]


Sounds very similar to David Allen's Two Minute Rule: If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.

Understanding that for some tasks it took longer to think about them than to do them was a big revelation to me. Now when I'm faced with a two minute task and I wonder what to do, I just remind myself that "doing gets it done" and do the task and move on.
posted by ralan at 9:21 AM on March 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was going to post this last night, but I was not sure if I should.

Seriously, the point Jessamyn made is excellent and I try to remember it when I start thinking about having to do some mundane task that snowballs into something much bigger but in the end is just the task that could have been accomplished in the 10 minutes right after I first thought about it.

To be honest too, when I actually do the task right away, when I finish I feel so much better and give myself the pat on the back of "So this is the way a responsible adult does things..." I marvel that there are folks out there that don't have these internal discussions and just do things because they need to be done. There are people out there like that right?

Not sure where I saw this quote or if it was here, but one definition of procrastination I look at for motivation is, "the action of screwing up your life for no apparent reason."
posted by AugustWest at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


there are folks out there that don't have these internal discussions and just do things because they need to be done. There are people out there like that right?

I refuse to believe so
posted by billiebee at 9:48 AM on March 12, 2016


Great tip. I am so guilty of dragging out the thinking and not getting to the doing. And it really messes with making reasonable estimates of the time it actually takes to do something - and it adds stress while you think about doing it.
posted by Miko at 11:04 AM on March 12, 2016


That is a great way to conceptualize the problem. It is also probably why it can feel so freeing to just write things down in a list -- once it is in a to-do list on paper, it can be out of your brain instead of trying to keep all the things present in your mind and in the correct prioritization.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 PM on March 12, 2016


Sure this sounds like a good system, until you start to take the next step: "Take the time spent thinking about reading every article on the internet or watching TV or movies and count it as the time spent reading the internet or watching TV or movies." Now it's really a lot less time wasted by watching TV now (thus spending 8 hours watching the last season of Downton Abbey) than to work for 5 hours thinking of Downton Abbey the whole time and then watch it (watching time + thinking time is now 13 hours of time wasted!).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:22 PM on March 12, 2016


There are some things I like that theory on. Usually they are more mindless things like housecleaning chores where there's nothing to figure out, I just have to DO it.

Other things, though, I work the exact opposite. I use a lot less "touch time" actively working if I sit down once and think about it, jot a few notes, don't really make any progress. Then, the magic part - I let my subconscious "sleep on it" while I'm doing other things. When I go back later to actually do the thing, it comes much more easily. Trying to sit down and get through it in one sitting the first time feels like trying to run in a swimming pool.

Or maybe it's only true because I believe it is. I don't know. I just know I can be paralyzed by a simple thing like writing a sentence in a greeting card, but if I put it down for a while and come back, no problem.
posted by ctmf at 7:24 PM on March 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


It is a great comment.

That said, I remain staunchly--and perhaps even constitutionally--anti-productivity, against efficiency and self-improvement.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:57 PM on March 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remain staunchly--and perhaps even constitutionally--anti-productivity, against efficiency and self-improvement.

I'm there with you in part, but when you do develop goals that you care about, and you want them to move forward despite personal habits that stymie them, this kind of thing really helps.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on March 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Heh, I am totally guilty of this. I write a to-do list for myself every morning, and on days I have my head screwed on somewhat straight I think, "why am I writing down this thing when I can literally do it right now in less time it will take to write it down?" When my mind is completely in order I stop in the middle of to-do list writing and do the thing. But there are often days that I don't even realize the folly of writing down these simple things, and those are the days I really need the to-do list to motivate me to do the small stuff.

And I really love the days I realize something similar to what jessamyn described: "This task has been hanging over my head and making me feel bad about it. If I do it now, I can stop thinking about it!" But again, it really depends on whether my brain is screwed on straight enough that day.
posted by phatkitten at 3:09 AM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


"why am I writing down this thing when I can literally do it right now in less time it will take to write it down?"

I have these realizations too. I actually have come up with what I think is a good rationalization for it though. Feel free to use it. See, the more I put on my list and the more I can cross off with my green pen, the more I feel I accomplished.
posted by AugustWest at 1:41 PM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


re "idea debt": see also "brain crack" from the show with ze frank (nsfw language)
posted by danb at 2:03 PM on March 13, 2016


Why put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:53 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of my own recent productivity realization, which is: don't consider changing your mind once you decide what to do for the next chunk of time. I noticed that making decisions is very tiring, and changing my mind involves making *three* decisions: the original choice, the decision to consider doing something different, and then the secondary choice. I was noticing and filling bird feeders all day long, thinking them quick easy things to take care of while I was right there, and never getting to the important stuff. So now I try to stick to the first choice a lot more, thanking my earlier-in-the-day self for not being so distractable. I get the same amount of stuff done but feel much less frazzled at the end of the day.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:44 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


tare weight

>I overplan for things and then think that I should get credit for all of that wheel-spinning as productivity time

Damn, you guys. Damn.

And see, even now while writing that, my fucking brain is like, "Wow, we should really ruminate on all this, and then, once it's good and chewed and digested, then we'll start working on the personal/emotional/professional productivity.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:10 PM on March 13, 2016


I struggle with some of this stuff too, weird cycles of wheel-spinning and yeah-but-firsting and the looming cloud of shame for not getting something taken care of.

And I've realized over the years that without coming up with a good general solution for the problem, I have at least managed to internalize a kind of bucketing system for Stuff That Just Can't Be Allowed To Get Fucked Up By That Bullshit, a handful of tasks/priorities that my brain sort of refuses to backslide on. (MetaFilter biz stuff, for example; I can let a creative project slide and feel bad about it and yadda yadda yadda, I can put off a home improvement task even though I know I ought to just get it done, but payroll's got to actually happen for sure because it's not just my own shit I'd be fucking up.)

I'm not good enough at list-making as a habit to refine my list-making to just-doing a lot of the time, so when shit works it's usually because I manage to skip straight to the just-doing part from the get go.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I noticed that making decisions is very tiring

It's starting to look like the "decision fatigue" concept is more fiction than fact (Baumeister's going down...).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:58 PM on March 14, 2016


If anything's starting to slide into the Arnold Rimmer school of planning and preparation, I know I need to get my arse into gear and actually do it. But this article and Jessamyn's advice generalises it more.
posted by Vortisaur at 4:53 AM on March 15, 2016


Very nice quote.

It took me embarrassingly long as a manager to recognize a pattern of me telling someone "That's a hard question, so let me think about it" and then, precisely because it was a hard question, not having a better answer a week later than the original idea. At least occasionally I can now make myself say "That's a hard question, so try it out and see how it goes."

Being slow on e-mails I can't get out of. I labor over most like they were going to be analyzed by a English Literature TA, understanding both subtext and text, or reading in things I didn't mean to say. Cause that's who taught me to write.
posted by mark k at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Relevant xkcd
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:07 PM on March 21, 2016


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