Born Off-Topic

A recent posting on time management (13 Tips for Increasing Productivity on the Internet) got me thinking, or self-justifying really—am I really so bad at managing my time?

Something of a“creative type,” I’ve always been famously off-topic. It is said that only women and dual-core computer processors can multi-task—not true! As a teenager I was famous for simultaneously having the television on, using the computer, listening to music and reading a book, and those formative habits continue today fully blown: dual monitors, a television—albeit now in an almost permanent off state, music, and instead of books or magazines, I kid you not up to fifty browser tabs open at a time.

Information overload or fingers in too many pies, I’m aware that, like your average recycling program or a bank, I take in rather more than I put out, and thus have been trying in recent years to rectify the situation, although certainly not as systematically, not mention whole-heartedly as the 13 tips above.

Recent refinements to my working method have included:

  • Turning my instant messaging (IM) status to busy most of the time, when not turning it off altogether. For a while IM was a novelty, and conversations with friends a welcome respite; now as I try to increase my productivity they seem more and more like a distraction. Unfortunately I don’t live alone or else I would take the phone off the hook as well.
  • Eating less, which is good for both weight control and control of tiredness—am I alone in wanting to disappear under the desk after a large lunch?
  • Giving up coffee. At first coffee seemed a necessary evil, fast an enjoyable pleasure when working two jobs and countless hours, but without its dark embrace I am seldom a gibbering, moaning wreck of tiredness in the early evening. Furthermore, that caffeinated, buzzing feeling of semi-excitement has some benefit in getting you working, but not always in working focussed. You can call me a girl, but six shots a day was probably a little too much;
  • Running more. While exercising may tire you out in the short-term, in the long-term it increases your energy levels, which in turn dramatically improves clarity, concentration and focus. It’s not for nothing that meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy calls running meditation for the physical body;
  • Meditation. Yes, I already do this, but it’s no secret I could do more. Meditation adds a whole lot of ticks to the positive column and not a single cross, improving concentration, mental strength, calmness and happiness—it’s perhaps little recognised that we work faster and smarter when in a positive frame of mind—not to mention improving the quality of your sleep and decreasing the amount you need. Particularly if in a profession that requires inspiration or creativity—essentially the same thing in my book—meditation is like an instant recharge of the creative juices, even five minutes replacing that empty, eviscerated feeling that comes when you are near the end of your tether, close to tendering your end.

My approach to increasing productivity had previously been, somewhat like an amateur athlete, to work harder rather than smarter, but I’m beginning to think that this donkey can not be whipped any harder—not to mention that I’m tired of being a donkey.

The aforementioned tips have been useful in upping my work-rate, not to mention raising the rating of my work—its overall quality, and even more importantly, its joy to produce.

Which may all seem rather obvious, but in truth most solutions are.

Related reading:
Experience Mocha: a coffee-addled impression of a Chinese coffee shop.

  • R.Pettinger
    Posted at 23:42h, 28 May

    Thanks John. I think these are all useful tips. Having said that, I do enjoy 1 coffee a day.

  • alf
    Posted at 00:18h, 29 May

    Hi John, I would submit that one of the biggest time savers would be tidying my desk as it totally helps to clear the mind for thinking. I am talking about my job now, although it takes about 5 minutes before it gets covered with papers again. Having a laptop at home means I never use a desk and that my home desk is a mess. Maybe using a desk would add to my productivity at home. Maybe haveing a product too.

    I do a lot of business writing at work and find that I am constantly printing things to better edit them which is such a waste of paper. I had a vision of a desktop that contained a monitor built in (a horizontal one) that was like A3 size and displayed a single page. Then I would use it to edit the document by rubbing things out on the screen, dragging words around and cutting and pasting words too. I imagine such a thing would be good for designers to drag page elements around too. I guess there are kind of things like this around but not so nifty exactly?

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 07:58h, 29 May

    Thanks for the comments Richard and Alf. I think I’d better go and tidy my desk. Mmm, coffee…

  • Camille Crawford
    Posted at 09:54h, 29 May

    Hey John… 1, 4, and 5 I do too. 2 and 3 I probably should do. I’m happy to hear you point out that ‘taking in’ can become out of balance. I’m a sponge at times. Then, when it gets to be too much I have to start ‘doing’ something to give it back. The blog helps with a little of that and ‘reapplying’ myself to being good at my job or expressing myself creatively does too.
    Someone commented recently on my blog that my ideas were like ‘orchids and butterflies… i should chase down hard just one of them for a while’. It’s still sitting with me and here you are ‘born off-topic’, sweetly related in theory.

    Enjoyed this post 🙂

  • savannah
    Posted at 09:21h, 29 May

    inspiring, john! seriously. today has been a total and complete over the edge downer and once again i’m reminded of how remiss i have been for the last 2 weeks in truly caring for myself…

    in this world, we touch people in ways we sometimes never know…be well, sugar.

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 15:04h, 29 May

    Thank-you very much Savannah. Believe it or not it is comments—sentiments really—like yours for which I am writing this blog. I myself may not always feel inspired, but I do intend on occasion to write things that might be, and while yes my pen is somewhat stuck in a groove on this point, meditation is, for me at least, an in-exhaustively inspiring topic.

    Thanks also Camille—glad to be acquainted with a fellow runner and meditator! Yes it’s true—the always just over the horizon lustre of the world ideas has its allure, but it is hard to beat the satisfaction of turning them into hold-in-your hand accomplishments. I’ll get there one day myself…

  • Damion Kutaeff
    Posted at 09:23h, 23 March

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your community, and wish to assist as far as possible.

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 09:34h, 23 March

    Well that’s a little off-topic Damion.

  • pavitrata
    Posted at 12:07h, 17 June

    A worthy topic, born off topic! I spend my life in this loka. Alas, I have gone the other way, and have become so obsessed with maximising this short time on earth that I have…that I have….got a second PC monitor. Now I am psychotic off-topic, and can multi-task within multi-task, watch YouTube while waiting for that monster layered Photoshop file to save. This tragic descent into cyberswamp has also seen me this week work out how at the flip of a shortcut key I can switch the keyboard from English to Russian so I can be emailing in English on the one hand and working on a Russian web page on the other. This would actually be impressive if I spoke and wrote Russian. Don’t be fooled, I don’t, it is all copy and paste from a kindly soul in Moscow doing all the work for me. However, this frantic diversity has its advantages. I can now whip up a passable rocket and celery salad and pita bread with hummus, whilst microwaving soup and cueing up the latest edition of Seinfeld (Season 9 hit the shops last week) and settling in to my big armchair all set to munch/slurp and hit ‘play’ on the remote, all in the space of seven minutes. Dang, I forgot the Tabasco! I would give the world to be able to do one thing at a time well!

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 12:18h, 17 June

    Maximising our short time on Earth is good I say! To such ends, and to avoid as long as possible The End, I also have 2 monitors, burn CD’s and DVD’s while rendering videos while running a Virtual PC while working in InDesign and Illustrator and Photoshop and Dreamweaver simultaneously, not to mention uploading files via Transmit and listening to music on iTunes.

    And I will usually have several dozen webpages open in tabs in Firefox: some story ideas tagged for future blog posts, others just permanent distractions, while simultaneously boiling the kettle for a cup of tea and waiting for the toast to pop.

    All of the above can also occur while I head out the door for a run.

    And I haven’t mentioned my writing folder, where several dozen stories sit in states near to not at all finished, all awaiting my ever procrastinating attention…

  • pavitrata
    Posted at 12:12h, 18 June

    Yikes, a mere spratling, I! Your inner being must look like one of the ten armed Hindu deities, but instead of fruit, maces and conches swirling etc., it would be Macs, mice, discs, kettles and running shoes, and not forgetting bubbles containing the many worlds of blogs and posts and passing pipsqueaks such as I!! Now there’s an idea for a techno-collage in Illustrator or Photoshop, all in radiant sunburst colours!
    Your mistake was telling me about Dreamweaver, as I now have someone I can plague about cascading style sheets and other such mysteries of the universe that at the moment are unfathomable to me.
    But I digress: procrastinate no longer, start with one unfinished story, finish it, or put it on the blog for others to add to and your readers can have a go at finishing it. What say you, are you up for that?


  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 12:43h, 18 June

    Hi Pavitrata. I’d better not let on that I do print, web and video for living then had I? 😉 Here’s one example of my recent-ish handiwork: Sri Chinmoy Music.

    The look of my inner being? Ten arms maybe, but also with ten stomachs, perched atop a mountain of deep fried salty snacks, arising volcano like from an ocean of caffeine.

    Talking of unfinished stories, it is talk no longer—have you seen the frontpage today? A new story inspired and finished by a reader, and a cheerful one at that!

    Jaitra Gillespies last blog post..From Out of the Ether a Golden Egg

  • pavitrata
    Posted at 12:13h, 24 June

    Hey, thats a great looking page, (Sri Chinmoy Music) and good links. I really like the celestial colour palette and lofty view! Not sure about the big white borders either side. Is that some constraint of the format or template?

    I wouldn’t put much faith in that new front page Limey/Pom contributor…he has a reputation for being unreliable, evasive and unaccountable. He has caused me problems on more than a few occasions. Scurrilous chap.

    BTW do you know ANYONE in computerloka who actually snax out on healthy food? When you are dealing with all that cyberstuff muesli and carrot juice just don’t do it!

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