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How do you set your agenda for the day?

As you know from listening to my podcast, I keep my TO DO list on paper. It keeps me honest about keeping it a reasonable length, and ruthless pruning items that I’m never going to do.

But even so, my list has far more items on it than I can do in any given day. So each day, I only accomplish part of what’s on the list. Usually, my intention is set by looking over the list and choosing 3-5 “must do” things. My actual accomplishments, however, end up being a complicated mix of those “must do” things (sometimes none of them, sigh) and dealing with stuff that pops up during the day.

For example, the other day, I was planning on recording a CD product in a marathon 8-hour recording session. This was my first such session and I simply didn’t know that my voice and energy levels are only good for around 2-3 hours. So now, the recording is spilling into additional days, displacing other stuff I’d planned to do.

How do you decide what to do each day? Does your method work for you?

E-mail? Oy! What are your e-mail issues?

I’m seeking to understand the challenges of dealing with e-mail. It’s not as simple as it seems. Of the people who find e-mail a challenge, different people have different issues. For some, it’s keeping their inbox empty; they get stressed out from a large, unanswered inbox. For others, it’s treating e-mail as interruption (“I know it’s probably not important, but I can’t help checking when the little notification appears on my screen”).

What are your big e-mail challenges? What parts of dealing with e-mail would you like to streamline?

What is hard work?

“Work hard and you’ll be successful.” “You just need to put in a little hard work.” “Whew! I worked so hard today.”

We say things like this all the time without thinking about it. Recently, my bedframe broke and I needed the mattress moved. Despite my newly developed manly-man muscles (thank you, Trainer Tyler), decades of sitting zombie-like in front of a flickering computer monitor has left me unable to do stuff like, say, lift things in the real world.

My cleaning lady and her husband offered to move the mattress. As I was watching them haul it between rooms, it looked like awful hard work. I sipped my martini and pondered the thought. Hard work.
Hard work. To an outside observer, I sit in one place all day and think. Sometimes, it feels like very hard work. My cleaning lady hauls mattresses, which I’m almost physically incapable of doing. Does she experience that as hard work?

The more I thought, the more a pattern became clear as to what makes something “hard work” for me. I don’t want to give it away just yet, until I’ve heard your thoughts.

Please tell me: what are some things you consider hard work, and what is it about them that makes them “hard work” rather than just “work” or “random activities” or “play”

The joys of complaining

Ok, big epiphany today.

I was complaining. Then I noticed that somethings, I complain about. Others, I don’t. What’s the difference?

For me, complaints seem to be statements of where in my life doesn’t seem under my control. Even when complaining about myself (“Darn these love handles”), I only complain about the things I have trouble with and perceive as being something I can’t change.

Is this universal? Are your complaints expressions of control frustration?

What are your favorite complaints? Is there any pattern about what we all consider under/not under our control?

How big is your backlog?

I’m trying to get a sense of what kinds of things stay on our backlogs and clutter up our mental lives.

When you don’t get to something on your “to do” list on a given day, how long does it stick around before you finally do it or drop it from the list? What kind of things chronically stick around?

For me, it’s: people to call who I haven’t already talked to recently; books to read; low-priority changes to my web site to make; important-but-not-urgent household things (“find that leak in the roof”); financial stuff (“balance checkbook” “pay bills”).

What makes up your physical clutter?

Ok, my desk sometimes gets a tad messy. So now I’m working on techniques for whipping that desk back into shape. Looking around, there’s a clear pattern: I’ve got Books-I’ll-read-someday here, along with a bunch of incoming paper mail that needs attention (utility bills? I don’t need no stinking gas! … oh, wait. Yeah, I guess I do), etc.

Question for my friends out there who have messy desks:

What do the piles consist of? I’ll bet you have whole categories of stuff that never end up in piles (men: think back to your teenage years, when you had certain, er, magazines that never got accidentally left out in the room). But what kind of stuff actually does end up in piles?

What stops you from getting the pile clean? For example, some people won’t throw away books, but don’t know what else to do with them. In my case, seven evil gnomes live beneath my desk and threaten to lock me in a tower if I actually clean up the pile.


Help college students work less 🙂

I’ve been getting a lot of letters from college students asking for tips that are specific to them. I’m trying to get a sense of what the big issues are in college these days. In my Taking Killer Notes episode, I talked about my note-taking technique from college. What other issues/problems did you have in college?

  • What problems are unique to college students?
  • What problems do college students have that the rest of us have, but that require different solutions?

If you achieve alone in a forest, have you really achieved?

I’ve been exploring ideas around self-promoting at work, being recognized, and motivation as it relates to recognition and achievement.

What is the relationship for you between achievement and recognition? How do you know you’ve achieved something? What forms of recognition do you want for your achievements (from self? others?)? Is there a relationship? If you achieve something alone in a forest and no one ever knows about it, is it still an achievment? Are you motivated by achieving, by recognition, a combination, or something else altogether (e.g. power or relationship or family or …)?