I'm a warrior. A modern-day samurai. A Jedi of epic responsibility. You see, I'm in a constant battle. A battle that wages every day, every minute, every second, of my life.
I'm in a constant war against my own idiocy.
I came to the realization awhile ago that I do really dumb things sometimes. I've always done dumb things, but it's only recently I've been able to notice and catch myself doing something dumb. Instead of just living with my dumbness, I decided to try implementing some simple behaviors as a self-protective mechanism against my dumbness. Here's what I've come up with so far.
Dumb Thing I Do, #1: Stare at my task list because I'm too tired to actually decide what I should be doing.
Sometimes I do dumb things like not get enough sleep or think I can work for 10 hours straight. This means that sometimes I'm really, really, tired. Ideally, that would mean it's time for me to take a nap. While that's the best course of action you have to remember that I do dumb things. So, sometimes I decide to keep working even when I probably shouldn't (maybe that should actually be Dumb Thing I Do #1…). Anyway, when I'm too tired to be doing important and thoughtful work, it's nice if I've already figured out the not-so-difficult work I COULD be doing instead. I have lots of those tasks because I don't have a secretary to take care of administrative BS or errands or anything else that sucks to do but is necessary to running a business and life. The best time to do these tasks is when my mind is fried because even if I'm only working at 25% of capacity, they only require 10% to do. The problem is that if I haven't figured out what the tasks are ahead of time, I'm too tired and/or dumb to figure it out later on. To combat this, I add a simple tag to each of my tasks in my task management system; Easy, Medium, or Hard. The trick is to do this ahead of time, when I'm not tired. Basically, it's well-rested Sam taking care of tired and dumb Sam. Hard things require me to be on top of my game. Medium things are kind of difficult and I should probably be somewhat aware of what's going on when I tackle them. Easy things a monkey could do. Unfortunately, I have no monkey so the next best thing is to do them when I'm fried. Now I don't waste time, I get stupid/easy tasks out of the way without taking up my more productive time, and I can stop feeling so dumb.
Dumb Thing I Do, #2: Stare at my task list because I just woke up and don't want to do anything except eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the morning.
I like getting up early. I'm definitely a morning person. I'm not sure why I self-identify that way, though, because I'm an idiot in the morning. I'll wake up and putz around for hours trying to decide what I should try to do. Whatever part of my brain that looks at the things I have to do and makes the decision that it's something I'm capable of doing today doesn't seem to wake up with the rest of my body. The part of my brain that can do work if it has been clearly defined and laid out in front of it is always raring to go in the morning, though. So, to combat the dumbness of getting up super early and then not being able to decide what to do, I've started selecting the 1 or 2 tasks I want to do the next morning the day before. Now, the last thing I do before I wrap up work for the day is decide what I'm going to work on when I wake up. No more wasting time trying to figure it out in the morning and no more time feeling like an idiot for scrolling through my task list at 6 in the morning trying to figure out what strikes my fancy.
Dumb Thing I Do, #3: Have an awesome, earth-shattering, polio-vaccination, Wright-brothers' airplane, theory of relativity-esque idea that I'm convinced I'll never forget. And then forget it.
Sometimes I have good ideas. Not often, but sometimes. The tricky thing about a good idea is that it seems so obvious, "Of course I won't forget this idea -- it's basically the best thing that has happened to me!" Five minutes later I have a stupid song stuck in my head and I'm grasping at straws in my now vacuous brain. This is a dumb thing to do. Now, no matter where I am, I will write down a good idea the moment I have it. Front left pocket, pen. Back left pocket, notebook. Front right pocket, phone with note taking and voice recording capabilities. Sitting at a desk, computer with key combo that allows me to add a note to my inbox seamlessly. In my bed, notebook and pen on the nightstand. Brushing my teeth, scamper back to the bedroom and tap it out on my computer. In the car, repeat it endlessly to my passenger until I get somewhere I can safely dig out my notebook and pen. See? No more losing great ideas.
Dumb Thing I Do, #4: Getting interrupted by some piece of information and having to think deeply and thoughtfully about where to put it.
As a fairly dumb person, when I have too much going on I get overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed I get whiny and annoying. We live in a world where information is cheap and plentiful (and often hilarious, useful, vital, or interesting). I used to keep important pieces of information in lots of different places. When I had to find a specific piece of information there would be about 10 different places I had to look before I could find it. This is a dumb thing to do so I decided to fix it. The first thing I realized is that I have an Internet connection 95% of the time I'm at my computer. I also realized that about 95% of the information I'll ever have to look up I can find in about 3 minutes on Google. Anything I can find with Google doesn't need to be saved on my computer. Next, I had to decide what specific pieces of information I received most often and then decide where I'd keep it. Here's what it looks like for me right now:
- "I came across something on the Internet I want to read later!" --> Save to Instapaper. Read on iPhone or computer at my leisure.
- "This blog/website looks interesting. I want to know when this person writes something new!" --> Add to Google Reader (and if a new article comes up and I don't have time to read it right now, see above)
- "This email has important information but I can't deal with it right now!" --> Star the email in Gmail. Within 24 hours review the email and either respond, or enter a to-do in Things. Unstar email.
- "This email needs a response and it won't take me long to deal with!" --> Respond right now.
- "This email has important information in it and I don't have to respond to it." --> Archive it.
- "This email might be relevant at some point in the future. Maybe not, though." --> Archive it.
- "This person called, instant messaged, Facebook messaged, or Twitter DM'ed me with something I need to do." --> Add task to Things.
- "This reference "thing" is something I'll look at a lot (Weekly Review checklist, list of movies to watch, etc.)!" --> Stick it in Evernote.
- "This reference "thing" is something I probably won't ever look at again, but if I ended up needing it I won't be able to find it in Gmail or Google!" --> Stick it in Evernote.
- "I just had an incredible idea (or a mediocre idea) or remembered something I have to do later!" --> Add task to Things.
- "I just downloaded something I'll be using regularly for awhile!" --> Move it from Downloads folder to Dropbox if it's something I need to keep. Otherwise, Trash it after using it.
- "I just posted an article or turned in an assignment that had been sitting in Dropbox while I worked on it!" --> Move it to Evernote or Trash it.
- "I just created a new username and password for this website!" --> Click yes when 1Password asks if it should save it. Hit Command + \ the next time I need to log in to this website.
- "I just bought something with my credit card!" --> Cool. Mint will keep track of it automatically. Check it monthly to make sure nothing funky is going on.
- "I just got some information that I have no idea what to do with!" --> Create a new task in Things that says "figure out what to do about X."
There are probably other instances that I'm forgetting. This probably also looks very confusing but you have to remember that most of these things happen many times every day. It's gotten to the point where I immediately recognize where I keep any kind of information and I don't have to think about where I should stick it any longer. Plus, if you know the keyboard shortcuts for your various programs it ends up being super easy and quick to do all of this.
One of the biggest things that has moved my personal development and productivity forward is realizing that I do dumb things sometimes. Noticing immediately when I do dumb things and then figuring out ways to fix it has made a huge difference. Do you do dumb things? Have you changed your behavior or habits to take care of it? I'd love to hear about your methods in the comments.