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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Wednesday (2/3/10) 10:19pm - ... wherein Peter talks about productivity.

This very flattering question came up on my formspring account:

You seem to get an awful lot of high-quality stuff actually done. What's your secret?[1]
I guess people can debate about the level of quality and the rate of output of my work, but I figured my answer might be of general interest in any case.

First, here are two old blogposts on the subject:  on writer's block, on unscheduled time.

To those I would add:
1.  I have a fair amount of free time.  My work commute is short, and most days I don't have much of a life.

2.  I find it helpful to take a large task, break it down to a series of sub-steps, estimate how long those steps take, double that estimate, and then make a big sheet of paper with checkboxes, where every checkbox represents an hour.  I am lousy at taking on a project that might never end.  I am very good at ticking another checkbox on a sheet of paper with a finite quantity of checkboxes.

3.  Lots of arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines.  (See:  all the various weekly blogposts.)

Dunno if any of this is helpful, but it's what's worked for me so far.

[1] I still eagerly await the "Peter:  being so awesome -- how do you do it?" question.

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[User Picture]
Date:Thursday (2/4/10) 4:20am
As a married guy with kids who has a lot of side projects, here are my tips to add:

(1) At the end of the work day, I was too tired from work to be motivated to do more work on a computer. So, I conditioned myself to get up very early in the morning (usually around 4:30 to 5 AM) to work on my own projects while the rest of my little world sleeps. Then, I get my evenings to relax, spend time with the kiddos, etc..

(2) Limit my play time on the internet. I mainly play two online games, and I used to play them daily. Now, I split the two and alternate playing one every other day (except weekends). Plus, I found a timer app for my Mac, so at the end of 15 minutes, I get a warning bell and a message that tells me to get back to work.

(3) Like Peter said, break it down. I don't think I could ever accomplish anything if it said something like, "Task - Take over the world". Nope. I'd have to break it down to more manageable tasks, like, "Task 1 - Get monkeys, Task 2 - Measure head for foil helmet, etc." Then, the project doesn't seem as daunting.

(4) Reward yourself - Even if it's a little thing, like going out for ice cream. You set a goal for yourself and say, "When I complete X tasks toward Project Y, I'll treat myself to Z."

(5) If you have multiple projects, and need to find a balance, keep track of how much you work on each project. I started this at the beginning of the year. Each day, with each portion of the projects I work on, I keep track in a spreadsheet. Over January, I could see that I worked more on my online game(s) than I did my fiction writing, but still managed to exercise at least a third of the days.

(6) If you can, find someone else who believes in what you do. I can tell some of my projects to my wife, and I get a small smile and an "Uh huh. That's nice." But, I have a couple of friends who think what I do is really cool. If you find someone besides yourself who appreciates the work you do, or if you work on a project with someone who shares the same enthusiasm for it, it builds a momentum that keeps you wanting to work on it towards completion.

Sorry... Didn't mean for this comment to be so long. Back to your regularly scheduled program.
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[User Picture]
Date:Thursday (2/4/10) 7:38am
To your point #6: YES YES YES YES YES!!!!

This is especially important if you are trying to do something VERY difficult, such as making a living in a field where some number of people very closely approximating zero ever actually manage to make a living at it. :) (Says the woman trying to be a director in New York City.) Two things that I have found that help me a LOT are to spend time around people who understand the problems I'm facing, and to spend time around people who think I do good work. The former allows me to spend less time thinking I'm crazy. (When I try to explain my theater problems to an accountant, I get a lot of, "Uh...okay, is that bad?" Which is less than helpful. Or, worse, I get the response of, "I don't get it, if it's so hard, why not just get a regular job?") The latter helps me to remember that not having made it doesn't necessarily mean I'm not good. Being around people who HAVE made it who say that I am good at what I do gives me hope to keep pressing forward.

Very good tips and tricks, both of you. Thanks. :)
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[User Picture]
Date:Thursday (2/4/10) 12:25pm
This was a timely post for me, thank you for sharing.

I have much more free time than you do, but I get much less done. Being relatively unproductive usually doesn't bother me, except for when it does. Then it really bothers me. :)
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[User Picture]
Date:Thursday (2/4/10) 12:45pm
*is glad to be of assistance*
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