The following are offered as actions to take to offset attention problems:
- Externalize important information at key points of
- Externalize time and time periods related to tasks
and important deadlines
- Break up lengthy tasks or ones spanning long
periods of time into many small steps
- Externalize sources of motivation
- Externalize mental problem-solving
- Replenish the SR Resource Pool (Willpower)
By 2020, I would like to have:
* built a [cabin in the woods]
* published a novel
[cabin in the woods]: http://imgur.com/a/5WRKk
Sometimes you need to get unstuck. Here are a few techniques known to work:
1. *Invert the problem*: what are the concrete things you could do to make the opposite result happen? Want to finish that book or article? What are the necessary steps to make sure you don’t finish it? (How many of those steps are you already undertaking?) Even if you end up with a depressing list of things you are already doing to undermine yourself, you can then begin to undo each of those things. Instead of whipping yourself for not getting the big thing done, focus on *not* doing one of the corrosive things. When you’ve stopped doing one, stop doing another. (It’s the opposite of creating a good habit: it’s eliminating bad habits. It seems silly, but what happens is you start finding yourself with time. If nothing else, maybe you’ll stare at the clouds more.)
2. *Eliminate the inessential*: there is, perhaps apocryphal, story of Warren Buffett guiding his pilot through three steps. In the first, he tells the pilot to write down his top 25 career goals. In the second step, he tells him to circle his top 5. Then he asks, in the third step, about the remaining 20. When the pilot says those are important, too, and he’ll try to get to them, Buffett responds that those 20 are to be avoided at all costs. The logic here is that we spread ourselves too thin, we either want to do more than we can or we want to please more people than we can. The result is that we end up paralyzed by too much. Don’t be paralyzed. Focus on the most important things and get them done. Who knows, once they’re done, you can re-assess things and maybe some of those top 20 contenders will be in the next five. (Honestly, five things may be too many.)
3. *Use Eisenhower’s Box*: Stephen Covey, so far as I can tell, adapted and refined the same box that Eisenhower used throughout his long and distinguished career. I’m guessing someone taught it to Ike, so it’s got some years on it. I could draw a diagram, but, honestly, you’ve seen this particular 2-by-2 grid so many times, you can imagine it for yourself — and that’s probably for the better:
* IMPORTANT & URGENT: Do it now.
* IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT: Schedule a time to do it.
* NOT IMPORTANT BUT URGENT: Delegate it.
* NOT IMPORTANT & NOT URGENT: Delete it.
The effectiveness is when you recognize that things like watching television or checking social media are probably in that last category. So, yeah, sorry about that.
James Clear is a big fan of the two-minute rule, which he divides into two parts. The first is taken from David Allen’s GTD methodology which dictates that anything that can be done in two minutes, that needs to get done, should get done right away. The second one is good: new habits should take less than two minutes to do. It’s one way to get them to stick.
One of these days, I am going to sit down, spend the time, and figure out some of these workflows over which power users celebrate. I don’t know that I have ever really mapped out the distinct workflows for research versus teaching versus personal interest. And, to be honest, those differences have led to what can only be described as *document sprawl*.
I’ve taken efforts to bound/tame the sprawl by putting an increasing amount of material in [Papers], and letting it manage things. It does a pretty good job now, especially, of letting you set up collections and letting you sync those collections to an iOS device — making sure everything in a collection is local to the device when you are about to leave the webosphere is not quite as convenient as I like, but I trust the developers to figure it out. (They release updates at a pretty impressive pace.)
Still, there are things I handle in GoodReader, if only because some of the electronics work in which I am interested or teaching myself linear algebra doesn’t strike me as “worthy” of Papers. (And that’s a weird thing to consider. Are research materials sacred in some fashion?)
In the mean time, I’d like to start collecting notes on workflows:
* Michael Schechter has written about [“Sending Files to Evernote While Creating Tasks in OmniFocus”][ms] using Hazel, an app about which I have only heard much but never tried.
Because, you never know when the urge to go analog will strike: [Bullet Journal]. The  is quite good. And people have taken this and run [many] [directions] with it. (It gets weird. Fast.)
[Bullet Journal]: http://bulletjournal.com/
Steven Johnson, author of _Where Good Ideas Come From_, keeps a [spark file]. It’s a version of the [“one Big Text File”] idea that circulated, as [one commenter] put it earlier this year, in the “mid-naughties.” There are plenty of [one-file] [approaches], and [rejections, and even variations like [one-directory] approaches. The canonical entry is probably [Doctorow’s].
[spark file]: https://medium.com/what-i-learned-building/8d6e7df7ae58
[“one Big Text File”]: http://www.43folders.com/2005/08/17/life-inside-one-big-text-file