Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘time’

The Passage of Time and productivity

Posted by shannonclark on May 13, 2008

I have been too busy the past few weeks to blog as frequently as I would like, but as I sit this afternoon in a new cafe I just discovered (my Yelp Review of Coffee Bar) I have noticed that my perception of how time is passing varies. The past few days have been highly productive, lots of things to do, calls to take, emails to send, meetings to schedule (and reschedule) all as follow ups from many weeks of conferences and evening networking events.

Today time seems to be passing slowly, though I am thinking deeply, reading, writing, and researching, all things and modes which frequently involve me blinking and seemingly discovering that the day has passed me by and I’ve missed lunch and may not have budged from my computer for hours. Instead today I have found that I look at the time and though I expect it to be approaching evening, it is still only mid-afternoon and have lots of time to finish my other tasks of the day.

This got me to thinking about how we perceive time – and how this perception of time impacts our productivity – especially as an entrepreneur.

Like many tech people I have the ability to focus deeply on a topic that interests me, focus to the extent that I can skip meals, stay up all night, and avoid/procrastinate other important tasks. By no means is this a uniformly positive trait. I don’t, however, have Asperger’s Syndrome, but I have been know since childhood to at times forget about all else while deeply involved in a particular activity.

But in the interest of Getting Things Done (and yes, I’ve read the books) I have in the past few years learned a few tricks which appear to finally be paying off, at times in big way. In the past few weeks, I’ve been finding my productivity has been increasing (and in turn that feeds back on itself).

Here are a few of the tips and tricks which seem to be working, which are helping me get into that productive flow state where not only do I get a lot of work done, I do so without wasting a lot of time in the process.

  1. Dress for success. This may seem trite, but I have noticed that those days where I just wake up, toss on a t-shirt and sit at home very casually in front of my computer, often without shaving, though I do get work done, I’m not usually all that productive. In contrast, today I am well dressed, in a very nice (and in this case also expensive) designer shirt, good jeans, great shoes, even a matching belt. It is a small thing perhaps, but knowing that I at least look put together and at least reasonable successful helps me be, in fact, organized and successful. The key here is not purely outward perceptions of how you dress, rather it is finding a style that makes you feel confident and successful and comfortable at the same time.
  2. Stay hydrated. Another seriously basic tip, but one that I have noticed has a very real and deep impact on when I am very productive and when I am not. At home it is all too easy for me to sit down in front of my computer and five or six hours later get up, having neither eaten or drunk anything during that time. In contrast when I am out and about and pay attention, make sure that I am drinking many glasses of water at regular intervals over the course of the day, I find I am far more productive.
  3. Vary your posture and pay attention to your surroundings. At home I can sit mostly still and move only very little as I focus intently on my computer screen. Today at this cafe (and before getting here) my environment and posture has changed frequently. Every few minutes I have looked up, looked around, refilled my water glass, moved to the other side of the table and more. In short by giving my self mini-breaks every hour, I am more aware of the passage of time, am physically far more comfortable, and by being aware of my surroundings (more on this below) I am also considering myself in them.
  4. Surround yourself with others who are getting things done. This doesn’t have to be co-workers or even people who are working on the same things you are, but being around many people who are having meetings, closing deals, studying intently, writing rapidly and in short working and accomplishing things rubs off. It helps me, at least, focus on keeping up with the others around me. They are being productive, so I feel pressure on myself to also be productive.  This is a good form of pressure, not too intensive but enough that it keeps me from drifting into too many LOLcats or floundering at what to do next.
  5. Have to-do lists that you refer back to on a regular basis. A key aspect of GTD, at least for me in my rather casual practice of it, is in the keeping of task lists. The knowing that I have a list (or more usually multiple lists) on which I have braindumped all of the many, competing tasks that I have to accomplish. By knowing that I have these lists (and further that I have the lists with me, very important if rather basic) I know I can always refer to them if I find myself stuck for what to do next.
  6. Cross off at least something from your to-do lists every day. The difference between a productive week and an unproductive week can be as simple as going for many days without crossing anything off your lists. For one, this suggests that your to-do items are too broad, require too much time and work to complete. Consider breaking down big tasks into the incremental steps that it takes to get them done – if before you can clean your house you have to replenish missing cleaning supplies, that shopping task should be on your list ahead of the cleaning task. Knowing that you have accomplished something, even as “small” a task as getting to the post office and buying stamps, starts you down a positive trend of getting tasks done. I have a list which I generated after an event last week on which I wrote down everyone from that event with whom I need to follow up, in the past couple of days I have crossed most of those names off that list – have followed up with them and have meetings with most later this week. That continual progress inspires me to finish those tasks, to follow up and track down everyone else on that list as well.
  7. Snack and eat healthily. Again, rather basic, but it is very true that you are what you eat. When I find myself stuck at home eating fast but not very good for me foods, often with lots of carbs (cereals, candy, etc) while I may get a short term boost of energy I find myself later that day crashing and seriously unproductive. In contrast, today I have eaten quite healthily with meals that have a good balance of carbs and proteins, with very little sugars and a good balance of foods. As a result going into the time I am usually crashing (3pm-5pm) I am being highly productive and alert.
  8. Get some physical exercise every day. This is advice I do not keep enough myself, but today, for example, I walked about 2 miles after lunch to get to the cafe where I am at the moment. On my way here I made a lot of phone calls, replied to emails via my iPhone, and caught up with many other emails and news, so it was not “wasted” time (I also listened to some great podcasts) but the seemingly simple act of getting even that light amount of physical activity was energizing. I really should do more and more intensive physical activity on a daily basis (a long swim, rock climbing or the like) but even just walking a few miles every day is very helpful.

As I noted, many of these tips are rather basic and all might be helpful for everyone. My perspective is that of an entrepreneur, working a job which does not require me to be in the same office every day, a job that I could (perhaps) equally do from home, from an office, or from cafes. My personal choice is to spend much of my time in cafes, I like the buzz of people around me also working and accomplishing great things. As my company grows I do anticipate having an office of our own and that I will spend more time in that office.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, personal, time, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Who we are is what we follow

Posted by shannonclark on March 26, 2008

Robert Scoble says the secret to Twitter success is who you follow.

And I agree with him (though I only follow a fairly carefully selected ~170 people on twitter at the moment, that is growing every week.

But this post is not about that meaning of “follow”, rather I have a theory that is a bit broader, related to a past post of mine about Time & Attention.

This afternoon as I left my apartment and picked up my mail on my way out the door, I had a new issue of the New Yorker magazine waiting for me, as I took it out to take with me I had the thought “now I’m three weeks behind on my New Yorker reading” in short in the unit of time “unread New Yorker magazines” my count went up one to three (or four if you count an issue I “only” haven’t yet read the fiction story. I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college, reading almost every issue cover to cover, skipping only the event listings and for the most part the poems. And yes, that’s a lot of words and a fairly significant amount of time I’ve invested into appreciating the magazine.

Which got me to thinking – there is a group of fellow subscribers and readers of the magazine with whom the unit of measure “how many weeks worth of the New Yorker you haven’t yet read” would be a common bond. A bond of a unit of measure which in turn, is a bond that reflects something important about us – namely one shared aspect of what we pay attention to, what we follow.

At the moment March Madness is in full swing here in the US, a few days ago my friends were buzzing about setting up their “brackets” today my friends at times are complaining about their partner’s obsessions with the games (or about the wins and losses of the teams they selected). In contrast, however, I have paid almost no attention at all to March Madness, I don’t know who is winning or losing, who made it in, who was favored, or what has been happening in the first series of games. Here is a place where I am not following what a large number of my friends are following – either directly or indirectly as a result of their partners (I use partners to be gender neutral here).

But I am deeply aware of the political calendar, in the past few months I’ve been paying active and close attention to each primary election, and likewise a fairly large portion of my circle of friends has been doing the same – some of us working directly for a campaign, some following actively via Huffington Post, some via DailyKos, some like myself via Andrew Sullivan and some by more mainstream news sources. All of us also using various social mediums – twitter, facebook, email, our own blogs and podcasts, to help raise awareness and share stories and bits of news or speculation which we find compelling. In short with the US presidential election there is a strong and common thing many of my friends and I are following. And yes, some of us at least are long time political junkies, we did much the same things the past few election cycles.

For many people in the US and more broadly in the “Western” world this past weekend was Easter and one set of my friends and family was paying attention to that, preparing for the Holy Week celebrations, buying hams for Easter Sunday dinner, painting eggs and hiding them for their children etc.

For another set of my family and friends last week was Purim, a Jewish holiday and occasion for fun and drinking and the baking of Hamentashen.

I’m not religious so I was caught a bit unaware this year by Easter and by Purim. Made aware of Easter in fact by the signs in my neighborhood butchers shop that they would be open on Easter Sunday. Shopping at a local Safeway (large supermarket chain) I also noticed that Safeway had set up as they do each year a section of kosher for Passover products and across the way had their Easter candies and products. So naturally I assumed that Passover was also soon to happen.

In a call last week to my business partner, who is also Jewish but more practicing than I am, he informed me however that Passover this year is not until April due to the once every seven years additional month which is added to the Jewish Calendar to keep the lunar calendar generally in sync with the seasons so major holidays don’t fall in the wrong seasons.

I suspect, however, that someone at Safeway had some fairly simple set of rules for the buyers – when you start putting out the Easter products also start stocking Kosher for Passover items.

Via Twitter, though also via my friends blogs, Facebook statuses, personal emails and other communications I am noting even more acutely what (and at times specifically who) they are following, what Holidays they are celebrating, what conferences they are preparing for, speaking at, planning, what albums they are waiting to be released, what performances musical or otherwise they are attending or at times what they have just bought tickets to in advance. In short I can see the many ways in which what we are paying attention to overlaps and as interestingly more and more I can see some of the multitude of ways in which it does not overlap.

And via tools such as Facebook,, and yes, Twitter, I can choose to start to follow, start to pay attention to some of the same things as my friends and I can signal out to them what I am following.

My shared stories on Google Reader, I suspect, paint a different picture of me than many people might assume. Via Google Reader for the past year I have, perhaps, mostly been signaling my political views – sharing a lot of stories from Andrew Sullivan, sprinkled with an occasional tech story. I do not, however, share everything that I am paying attention to, for instance, I don’t always share every story about advertising which I am reading and following – those instead I star for my own future reference, those I might share in a more manual fashion with my business partner or some trusted advisors.

At present I am a part of, following and paying attention to many different yet sometimes overlapping worlds. Professionally I am entering into the advertising world, so I am spending more and more time and attention following that world – and I need to find more and richer sources, subscribe to more print magazines and blogs, attend even more industry related events. I continue to be interested in the wider world of the Internet and “Web 2.0” and that too is a professional as well as personal interest, so I am aware of many of the upcoming conferences, read and subscribe to many related blogs, and frequently attend events. I’m also quite interested in the future of music and more broadly in the future of media and to that end I follow and participate in some industry discussions, attend events, read blogs, etc.

I’m also a science fiction fan of select TV shows, occasional movies but mostly of novels. So I’m also paying some attention to when various authors I like have books published, I attend a small set of science fiction conventions each year, and I am a fan of a few select TV shows (mostly Doctor Who and Torchwood). I am not, however, as tied into this world as many of my friends, friends who subscribe to monthly magazines (which in many cases they also publish and write for), friends who attend not the one or two conferences I attend but far more, friends who aren’t just fans of but are professionally engaged in the world of science fiction and fantasy.

And I could go on, I’m a foodie so I pay some attention to the weekly farmer’s markets, to restaurant openings and closings, to special events related to food, but I don’t follow it as closely as I might like. I missed, for example, that a major restaurant I had been told about a few months ago was finally opening this month in NYC, had I been paying closer attention I would have timed a trip to NYC in time to get to be there for the “friends and family” previews (my sister’s boyfriend is writing a cookbook with the chef so I’m fairly sure had I known to ask I could have gotten in, along with the “VIPs” for as one food blog called it the hottest ticket in town). Now I’ll have to try for a reservation along with everyone else each time I’m in NYC or might be.

My point with this post is to suggest that what and who we follow shapes us, it helps to define us in a very deep and powerful manner. Whether it is the calendar of events of our religion, or the publishing schedule of our favorite magazine, the rhythms of our lives are set by what we follow.

And in turn when our rhythm is in sync with that of another person the chance of our also being friends goes up. 

I would prefer, strongly prefer, to date a woman (and if you are reading this via a feed etc, I’m a man and yes, I’m single at the moment) with whom I had many overlapping rhythms. Though as well I would hope that we were not entirely in sync, that she would follow and pay attention to some things which would be new for me, and likewise that I might follow and introduce her to new events and sources. For that, I think, would be ideal – ongoing new discovery and mutual sharing of passions and interests. Over time we likely would overlap more and more – would schedule ourselves to do things together – but hopefully as well we would constantly be discovering the new as well – new people to suggest new ideas to us, new sources of information, even entire new fields of study.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, personal, politics, reading, time, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »