“Digital” Productivity Tool

Yesterday, I got a robo-call about something I had to act on this morning.

The task was low-effort, but an irregular one, thus had a high risk of  slipping my mind.

I considered all my reminder aids:

  • Whiteboard
  • A planner full of paper
  • Phone and laptop software (‘apps’ as the kids are saying today)
  • An array of online tools from…(well just about everybody offers tools like this)

Then I remembered an organizational technique – perhaps the most effective ever developed – that was often employed  by my  former company’s Executive Creative Director many years ago.

Then I  grabbed a pen (not a mouse, a stylus, or a dry-erase marker) and I wrote  “Call  attendance office,” along my thumb (technically this IS  a “digital” solution).

Man's thumb, with "Call Attendance Office"

Thumb’s Up To Productivity

Well, as you can see, I actually wrote “Call  ‘attendace’ office.” The single downside to this technique is that there is no spell-check. Though the spelling was good enough to jog my memory.

Though I suppose if you’re particular about spelling, then a proofreader’s mark calling for the ‘n’ to be inserted is an option if you have a red Sharpie nearby.

After a few moments at my desk this morning, I looked down at my keyboard and saw the not-so-subtle reminder that I needed to make a call. I grabbed my phone and 90 seconds later: tardy excused.

Mission accomplished.

What are some of your 20th century productivity hacks?

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Time Has Come Today

Please Don’t Make Me Shop

Frequently,  before Christmas or my birthday, people (my wife, my sisters, etc) tell me that I’m hard to buy for.

My response is always “I am not. I don’t want anybody to  buy me ANYTHING.”

I don’t like people spending money on things for me because I don’t like things in general.

I don’t like being on the hook to return an item–if it’s the wrong size, a non-flattering cut, or a hideous color–because I really hate being in stores. Then if I am successful in returning the item, I’m in a position where I’m expected to actually….SHOP.

Other than a few trips for groceries per week, I go to great lengths to avoid stores. Just being in a big box store is exhausting for me. The lighting bothers me, I hate weaving through crowds, the noise if it’s busy. 

I hate spending money. I hate contributing to clutter to  my house.

If I shop at all, I shop at smaller, or at least, less-busy stores. If I need hardware, light fixtures or tools, I prefer the store that is within walking distance. If they don’t have what I need, I’ll grit my teeth and drive to one of the national chains, that have a larger inventory.

Every few decades, I am forced to shop for clothes. Usually, I don’t mind a few holes in my shirts, or socks, though I worry about the threadbare jeans. Because eventually somebody might  shout:

“I see London, I see France, I see Scott Smith’s underpants!”

“Don’t Ruin It For Him”

Last spring, a few weeks before my birthday, my wife told me that our teenage son was pretty excited about his gift idea. I was then placed under orders to not “ruin it for him” by groaning about how much money was spent, or if it was something that I wasn’t interested in.

“Oh….kay…” I meekly replied.

It turned out it was a pretty cool gift.

Wrist watch on Mans Arm

Wrist watch on Man’s Arm

It was a watch. And a Timex watch at that. Not a digital, internet-connected, steps-counting watch, with a minuscule movie screen. It was an analogue watch, with big numbers and a needle-width  hand that rotated around the entire watch face.

When I put it on, I happily sang the refrain from the psychedelic rock song Time Has Come Today. 

In my childhood, I was fascinated by watches. Neither of my parents wore one.  Though I can remember staring at the wristwatches worn by my older cousins and brothers-in-law, my neighbors, and strangers that I’d see in the grocery store. 

A wristwatch become one of the items on my “When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna….” list.

TV commercials from my early youth, featuring John Cameron Swayze trying to torture a Timex watch, helped to cultivate  a brand loyalty in me (though I couldn’t name any other brands):

Timex Watch Commercial Featuring John Cameron Swayze

The watch my son bought me is not a single-use device, either. Not only can I tell time anytime, anywhere, but I can also check the date (Full disclosure: I have to reset the date each time the month has fewer than 31 days). 

Furthermore, it has a light switch, so I can tell time in the dark. It has the added value of providing enough light that I can find my phone during a power failure, and the phone has an app that provides enough illumination that I can find a flashlight  in the utility closet.

So, my watch can do at least three things.

I hadn’t worn a watch in years. My previous watch met its end after I already had a mobile phone, which had a clock on it. “Who needs a watch?” I thought.

Productivity Hacker

Eventually, I realized that by living without a watch I was losing time (as always my pun was intended).

A common  fidget behavior for modern humans, and certainly me, is to check the time. With a wristwatch, it was quick, easy and provided immediate gratification. In that respect,  a watch is pretty much a pacifier to me, except I don’t have to remove it from my mouth to eat or speak. 

It took me time to acknowledge that relying on a phone as a clock (or for fidgeting)  was cumbersome. It wasn’t always convenient to pull it out of my pocket.

Furthermore, it was rare that when I looked at the clock, that I limited my interaction to just a  time check.

Often, I checked e-mail (and sometimes responded to email,)  looked at news, occasionally social media….Checking the time, sure was time-consuming.

When I periodically said  that I was considering buying a watch, people  would say things like “Those are handy for tracking your steps checking messages and updating your social media…” Or “You should try the Apple Store.”

Uh..those are things I DIDN’T want to do with a watch.  I just wanted to the tell time.  A traditional wristwatch would help to seal my productivity leaks.

The fact that I got a watch without having to shop for a watch is gravy. 

I don’t know if my son ever heard me discuss my longing for a traditional wristwatch  or not. Perhaps he did. He knows I’m not big on shopping.  

In any case, I’m glad that he got it for me.

Because he gets me. 

Video: Time Has Come Today (by The Chambers Brothers)

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The Closer

Talking Baseball

Last Saturday, a neighbor and I were discussing baseball at a block party, when he brought up modern-day managerial strategy for relief pitchers. 

I don’t follow baseball to anywhere the extent that I did as a kid. I’m confident that I can name more players from the 1975 World Series, than I can name current players in all of Major League Baseball:

(Carton Fisk Homers, Invents The Wave)

Still, I find it interesting that there are pitchers that might enter the game for a very short time. “Setup Relievers” may pitch for an inning, or less, prior to the when the managers calls for “The Closer.” to finish a game by preserving a lead.

There are even some contexts in which a relief pitcher might be sent in to pitch to one batter. One freaking, batter! The outcome of that matchup might determine who the next reliever is.

Under current market conditions, some relievers make over $10 million per year.

Popeye Takes The Mound (via GIPHY)

Where’s MY Closer?

I said to the neighbor, “It would be cool if we had similar role players in other professions. Imagine if an editor sent a reporter, working on an investigative article, to the bench, so that a closer could write the concluding paragraph. Or if a software architect benched a programmer before project completion, just so a closer could compile and debug the code.”

That made me think of a recurring source of pain, some unfinished tasks. To myself, I said, “I wish that I could hire a closer to finish my blog posts.”

It’s now Thursday and since Saturday I’ve been been thinking about all those blog post (dozens of them) sitting in a “Draft” state. Sometimes, I think I hear them whimpering about having been ignored for so long.

Having a bunch of blog posts in an unfinished state is nothing new, though as the problem seems to grows larger, so does my anxiety about not completing, or publishing, them.

Though having to face them that day, I felt like it weighed a little heavier. Perhaps it was the realization that no closer was going to finish, or delete them, for me.

After some Major League-caliber fretting, I decided to practice what I’ve long pitched (pun intended) to clients, and employers. I did a content inventory, and then, content audit on myself.

Practicing What I Pitch

I had nearly 40 posts that were in a draft state and developed a quick cleanup framework:

First of all, drafts that were about “current” events were axed if they had no relevance to today’s reality. I had one that contained the phrase “A few days ago…” It was from 2012. It no longer sparked joy.

Next, if I didn’t recognize the topic of the post from the working title, it got a new, meaningful, working title. I can change it to something clever, and meaningful, when I publish it.

Then, if I felt a previous attempt at a topic was overly wordy and reading it evoked memories of tedium and frustration, I axed most of it, except for a few key phrases, or all of it some cases.

Finally, I allowed myself 45 minutes to complete this task to avoid being seduced by Parkinson’s Law – the principle that the amount of time required to complete a task grows in accordance with the amount of time that is available to complete it.

Well, before the bell went off, I had reduced my inventory to about a dozen drafts.

Today (Thursday), a scant 20 hours later, I don’t know what effect my cleanup efforts will have long term.

But hell, I felt leaner and motivated enough to write this post; and have renewed enthusiasm about the topics (Apollo 13, obscure DC Superheroes, my first puppy…) lingering in some of my unfinished work.

At long last, it feels good, rather than painful to be sitting at about my keyboard.

I will be my own setup reliever and my own closer, and save over $10-30 million/year.

Several drafts, representing multiple genres are in queue, and I’m ready to face them.

Batter up!

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Tell Me Where It Hurts

In my years in creative operations, IT and content strategy, there are three content pain points that I keep encountering, over and over again.

First, “I can’t find it”. This can occur if the content is insufficiently described, has multiple derivatives, or has not been assigned the correct permissions.

Next, “I created the content, but I don’t know where to put it.” This is a problem when an organization has multiple, disparate, storage repositories and there is no authoritative content source.

Finally “We need to re-shoot this photo, because the model doesn’t look like she’s thinking about cheese.”

OK, that last one only happened one time, but it’s still my favorite.

What are your pain points?

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