Friday, August 31, 2007

The Procrastinator's Creed

The Procrastinators Creed
(from a posting on the group

1.I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.

2.I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.

3.I will never rush into a job without a lifetime of consideration.

4.I shall meet all of my deadlines directly in proportion to the amount of bodily injury I could expect to receive from missing them.

5.I firmly believe that tomorrow holds the possibility for new technologies, astounding discoveries, and a reprieve from my obligations.

6.I truly believe that all deadlines are unreasonable regardless of the amount of time given.

7.I shall never forget that the probability of a miracle, though infinitesimally small, is not exactly zero.

8.If at first I don't succeed, there is always next year.

9.I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.

10.I shall always begin, start, initiate, take the first step, and/or write the first word, when I get around to it.

11.I obey the law of inverse excuses which demands that the greater the task to be done, the more insignificant the work that must be done prior to beginning the greater task.

13.I will never put off until tomorrow, what I can forget about forever.

14.I will become a member of the ancient Order of Two- Headed Turtles (the Procrastinator's Society) if they ever get it organized.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Priorities, Importance and the Value of Time

I'm not sure if there could be much more confusion than there is now about the use of the words 'priority' and 'importance' in personal productivity and time management. Much time management advice emphasizes determining goals and setting priorities.

Let me defer discussion of goals for another time.

The word 'priority' refers to two things, both of which are important in personal productivity. First, it can refer to the idea that things must be done in a certain order. The idea would be that first you would do things of the highest priority, then the next highest, etc. If something was of low priority it might never be done because there might always be other items of higher priority that were always 'jumping the queue' with their higher priority. These low priority tasks might be considered 'filler' work to do when there were no more important things to be done.

Second, 'priority' can be used synonymously with 'importance'. 'Importance' refers to something having high or situationally relevant value. For the most part we can have very intelligent discussions (possibly with ourselves) of the relative importance of tasks, without trouble. But the two senses of the word priority can cause lots of confusion.

The most potentially damaging one is the constant pressure to do the most important thing first. That is, because some task is 'high-priority' in the sense of 'high-importance', we treat it as if it automatically meant 'high priority' in the sense of first in the sequence of tasks to be performed. Sometimes the most important task really should be done first, of course. Emergencies or crises have to be dealt with immediately.

I would strongly that in your own thinking that you never use 'priority' as a synonym for 'importance'.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Horses for Courses

A productivity system is inherently, well, PERSONAL. It is personal in a a few different senses.

First, it takes the focus on a person and, in principle, all of the parts of a person's life that need some kind of systematic thought, discipline, and special planning and execution effort. That means it is not limited to busness, work, school, or occupational activities. It is easy to see why people would like to exclude leisure activities from a disciplining system, but it can be necessary for some to include leisure to make sure that their work activities don't swallow all of their time. Also, it can be very convenient while, say, running errands to do things that support leisure activities while doing things that support work activities.

Second, it is intimately involved with one's own habits, roles, family situation, motivations, emotional states, values, physical and cognitive capabilities, work- and living-spaces, job, and countless other matters large and small that, in combination, define a person.

Finally, it is personal in the sense of private. Our presentation of our selves to others usually does not involve full disclosure of all of our plans and intentions or all of our past and present activities and their results.

It is becaise these matters are personal that there is so much variety in the practices that people have followed, follow now, and will follow as long as mankind continues. I will be attempting to come up with some generalizatons about such systems that may help folks who are designing their own.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Time in the Middle Ages: An Early Personal Daily Schedule

Successful mechanical clocks were first installed some time before 1350AD in Europe. Before then there were water clocks and sand clocks used to record the passage of equal amounts of time and sundials to measure the passage of the hours of the day. Until the mechanical clock, hours were not uniform things, except within a day. An hour had been more or less defined as one-twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset at a given location. This would lead to some significant variation in the length of an hour in, say the cities of the Hanseatic League and other northern cities around the North Sea and the Baltic which were increasingly important to Christendom with the loss of so many lands around the eastern and southern Mediterranean to Islam.

In addition, sub-freezing weather made water clocks high-maintenance devices in these areas and in the mountains elsewhere. The long periods of cloudiness away from these Mediterranean also made sundials not very useful.

At the same time, keeping time was increasingly important in the monasteries where the monastic disciplines laid out in some detail how the monks' days were to be spent. That some of the day was to be spent in prayer gave religious import and the sanction of sin to departures from the disciplines. In a monastery a great deal of responsibility fell on the shoulders of the monk who was supposed to ring the morning bell that woke everyone else. Some ingenuity was devoted to water-clock driven alarm clocks for this purpose. The mechanisms of these alarm clocks were important models for components of the earliest meachanical clocks.

Once the mechanical clock was somewhat reliable, it became an important fixture in many towns, occupying a prominent place in watch towers, bell towers, or newly built clock towers. As the cost came down, it became nearly universal not just in large or rich towns, but in smaller and poorer towns and eventually in villages. At first it may just have been a low-labor cost means of signalling time, but it came to be used for measuring labor time. Sometimes the workers wanted regularization of pay and hours; sometimes it was employers who sought to impose time discipline.

Around this period 1300-1342AD, a famous preacher, Domenico Calva, devoted two chapters of his book on spiritual discipline to the "waste of time" and to ht duty to "save and take account of time." One of the earliest personal daily schedules ever found dates from around 1500AD setting out the ideal day of an Italian businessman/merchant of the time.

Some conclusions from all of this and on other points in my readings: A community standard of times (not just days) was of sufficient benefit to monastic communities and towns that bells had been rung to mark some of those times. The mechanical clock was soon used for community time. It led to the shift from seasonally varying hours to uniform hours. In turn, this seems to have led to the idea of working by the hour instead of by the day or half-day. Within 200 years of the mechanical clock in the West, at least some Western businessmen found it important to think about scheduling their time.

The Plan

I have been a fan of personal productivity systems ("PPS"s) and the associated books, blogs, groups, and industry for some time. Time management systems ("TMS"s), workspace organization, and tickler and calendar systems are included in my definition, as are systems for developing one's objectives, goals, intents, roles, visions, or purposes. I include Getting Things Done ("GTD"), Do It Tomorrow ("DIT"), the Deseret School (Franklin-Covey, Byrum Smith, Hobbs), the planner notebook publishers (filoFAX, Time/Design, At-A-Glance, etc.), as well as the independent web-published discussions that have originated the Hipster Personal Data Organizer ("hPDA").

There are quite a few things about PPSs that have made me curious. A partial list of questions I would like to address follows:

Why do the bibliographies of time management books written in the last 40 years include almost no books written before 1970?

Why is there so little interest among pschologists about PPSs and TMSs?

Why are PPSs usually not part of the curriculum in schools?

How do we know when a PPS is working?

What is the effect of having an external PPS on one's brain's executive functioning?

What is the capacity of human's to manage their tasks and projects without external aids?

How do humans manage their tasks without external aids?

What were the earliest external aids?

How do PPSs change over the user's lifetime and in different task environments?

What is the role of affirmations, inspirational quotations, and proverbs in a PPS?

My plan is to attempt to address these questions using a broad range of secondary research. I would welcome any suggestions. In fact, getting such suggestions is one of my prime purposes for using a blog format for expressing my thoughts on the subject. History; archaeology; anthropology; papyrology; psychology: evolutionary, cognitive, memory, attention, consciousness, motivational; paremiology (study of proverbs); secretarial and general education; the therapy of learning disabilities and ADHD; popular culture studies; and literacy studies are all of potential use.