Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Setting Aside Dedicated Time

A partial view of a clock face

After they’d recorded a couple of albums in the 1970s, the German band Kraftwerk decided to become more disciplined about their music. That meant a change in mindset.

That change? The core members of Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, started to see themselves as musical workers. Like workers in other areas of life and business, the pair decided to spend eight hours each day in their studio. During those eight hours, Kraftwerk would write. They’d record. They’d work on their instruments and stage rigs, rehearse, and hone their technique and craft.

I know more than a few people who say that kind of regimentation and scheduling stifles creativity. Far from it. Once Kraftwerk started that regimen, the band produced some of its strongest, best-know, and best-loved work. Music and albums that influenced a number of other musicians including the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Gary Numan, Bjork, and Aphex Twin.

Setting aside dedicated time worked for Kraftwerk. There’s no reason why you can’t do something similar to work on your side hustle or pet project. By setting aside some dedicated time, you can focus on what you want to do. You can put all of your thought and effort and energy into that task or project. You can, as Cal Newport discussed in his book Deep Work, enter a state of focus that lets you put all of your mental energy into the task at hand.

And, yes, it can work. When, for example, I lead a technical writing team a few years ago, I encouraged the members of my team to set aside an hour a day to learn new skills or hone existing ones. Doing that improved their work, made them happier, and allowed them to actually learn what they wanted to learn (at least as far as it related to the job).

You don’t need to set aside the full day — if you can, then by all means do so. Chances are, though, you’ll have to work around the day job, family, and all those other responsibilities and commitments that seem to pile up around all of us.

To set aside dedicated time each day, you need to figure out:

  • What you want or need to do
  • The best time of day at which to do it
  • How much time you can set aside each day

Then, schedule time each day to do whatever it is you want to do. Don’t expect to be productive from the get-go. You’ll probably need some time to adjust to this dedicated period of working, and to enter Cal Newport’s state of deep work. But once you do, you’ll be surprised with both the speed at which you’ll be able to work and with the quality of that work.

How to Quickly Create and Use a Plain Text Task List

A post it note, with 'To Do' spelled above it using Scrabble tiles

I can’t tell you how many task management applications there are out there. Dozens, if not hundreds. Everything from web-based and desktop to-do lists to mobile apps and probably a whole lot more.

Some of them are really good. Some aren’t. But they all do pretty much the same job. A job that I believe plain text can do just as well as any app or service.

Far too many people, though, discount the humble text file as a way to manage their tasks. But over the years, I’ve learned that you need to be flexible (and not just with your task list), due to either limitations of the technology you have at your fingertips or to circumstances beyond your control.

Links Roundup - May 23, 2017

On Giving Up Something You Think You Love

A chess board, with the white king condeding defeat

Many of us have too much on our plates. Work, family, side projects, hobbies, social commitments, and more. We don’t have time for all of those commitments. It’s no use fooling ourselves into believing that we can find or make that time.

It’s not going to happen.

To make space in your life, you sometimes need to give up something you love. Or something you think you love.

Finding the Balance Between Simple and Complex

A bunch of wires at the back of a device

Whether we realize it or not, we often need to find a balance between complex and simple. Too often though, many people err on the side of the complex.

To some, the complex choice in anything seems better value. Others fall into the contingency mindset when choosing between complex and simple — they figure they might need more at some hazy point in the future, and go with the more complex option.

If you’ve been reading the posts in this space for any length of time, you know that I tend to choose the simple path wherever and whenever possible. Why? Simple offers less drag on my efforts. Simple requires less maintenance. Simple cuts to the core of what I need to do, what I want to do, what I want to know.

Take, for example, a task management application called Remember the Milk. I started a year-long experiment with it in January, 2016. Over the 12 months that I used Remember the Milk, I found it had more features than I’d ever use. It has more features than I need. That doesn’t mean that Remember the Milk is a bad tool. Far from it. It became clear by the middle of 2016, though, that Remember the Milk wasn’t the right task manager for me.

That’s not to say I shun the complex. Complex does have its place. You can’t wrap everything that’s happening in the world today in a simple, straightforward package. Very little is black and white. There are too many shades of gray.

Some people, for example, need the advanced features of software like Photoshop or The GIMP. Something like PicMonkey just isn’t enough for their needs.

Balance comes when you understand when to go simple and when to go complex. That balance isn’t easy to find. It takes a bit of introspection. It takes you challenging your ideas about what you need. In the end, though, you can strike that balance. Your world might not radically change, but it could wind up being a bit better as a person.