Happy 4th: Celebrate Freedom from Busy-ness

I am back from the dead to send you an opinion piece from the NY Times, which is a far more eloquent, straightforward and thorough attack on busy-ness than I ever managed in all of the How to Act Productive posts:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Oh, so good.

(Yes it is pure delusion on my part that I might introduce a human being to a NYTimes article that was sitting atop its most-emailed list for days by posting it on a blog that hasn’t been updated in over a year. So be it.)

I can say this, though, to add some color: It’s been over a year since I’ve left grad school and entered the professional workforce in a field completely unrelated to grad school (My PhD involved nano-scale semiconductors. I am currently in a business and operations role at a biofuels company….completely unrelated to semiconductors or the physics of them.) And I can say this about my year-long observations of the (small segment of) professional workforce: The ‘busy trap’ continues at the office. People still act busy when, by most accounts, they really aren’t. This is the source of How to Act Productive.

Tim Kreider, though, goes one step farther and says, most people are busy, their lives packed with every possible obligation. Then asks his most important question: Is that necessary?

The psychological problem underlying both observances — people acting busy to act busy, or people being busy to be busy — seems to me to be the same: something in our culture and our minds says it’s not ok to not be busy.

The author suggests this is not necessary.

My question is: What sacrifices am I willing to make in order to live in the enviable way that he mentions doing in his article. Ambition? Impressing your boss? Getting promoted?

Or do I even need to sacrifice those things at all? I don’t know.

Nonetheless, enjoy the article, and enjoy fireworks and friends! (But make sure you bring your phone with you to check email while you have to wait for the fireworks to start…)

Article: The Busy Trap


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Grad School Extracurriculars

For the first post on observations on grad school after grad school, go here.

The idea of doing extracurricular activities during grad school is a touchy subject, and here’s why: On one hand, activities outside of your research are often the best way to run into interesting, new, out of the box opportunities. On the other hand, most grad students can easily point to a friend that is spending a lot of time doing anything but their research and is thus well on their way to the dreaded 10-year PhD.

I’m defining extracurricular activity here as anything that is not explicitly related to your PhD research.

I don’t have a definite answer to the above issue, but here are 4 observations I can make on the subject of extracurriculars from my experiences in grad school:

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Writing my Dissertation

So I have finally graduated. This is the first of a few posts on my experiences in grad school.

Some observations on writing my dissertation:

#1: I started early. And it was the best thing ever.

I should have bought myself a cake for doing this. Maybe I still will.

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Excuse me, it's Dr. Gradhacker

Clearly, the obnoxious title signifies that I have officially filed my thesis and finished grad school. Hooray. Although I have yet to receive my diploma, I did get a “receipt of filing” which literally has a gold star on it and, more notably, a See’s lollipop that says “Phinally Done” on it (with the Ph and D in bold just like that). Cute.

Now as for my lack of blogging, one may think it was because I was in a mad frenzy to finish my thesis and just didn’t have time for anything, in the spirit of How to Act Productive. I can honestly say, however, this was definitely not the case. I had plenty of time.

I just felt I didn’t have anything more to say.

I started this blog bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, suggesting this tip and that tip that would make you more productive. Then I realized some folks have these hilarious habits that make them seem productive, and are fun to make fun of, so I did — fully aware that I slip in and out of those characteristics all the time (e.g. bringing too much work on a plane and pretending I’ll do a lot over holidays, among others). Continue reading

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How to Act Productive is No Joke!

Some of you may have been quick to assume that my How to Act Productive series was some kind of comic relief to your otherwise boring day, that it was something to make light of and laugh with, that no one would do silly things like work on their computer or phones while running on a treadmill at the gym.

Alas, you’d be wrong! Continue reading

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The Case for One Simple Todo List

Humor me for a bit by engaging in this short exercise:

1. List all of your projects. Define a “project” as something most people would define it as, not the way David Allen would define it. If you’re confused, don’t worry, just go with your gut for now; step 4 will take care of things. I have 6 projects; in semi-cryptic shorthand: research, business1, business2, thesis, motorcycle, jobs, sidejob.

2. Put a line through occasional fun things. For me, “motorcycle” gets nixed here.

3. Put a line through things you can automate. For me “thesis” gets nixed here. In my field, we publish small papers along the way and assembling them into a thesis is easily automate-able work. For others this may not be the case.

4.Put a line through anything requiring less than 5 tasks to complete. This is definitely distinct from a lot of time management web-apps and GTD. Let’s be honest, “get an oil change” is not a project for normal people. Yes, technically it takes more than 1 task to complete, but get real, it doesn’t need a “project folder”, it doesn’t need it’s own list, it simply just needs to get done. Call the place to arrange a time and take your car there. It’s not that hard. I didn’t list any “projects” like this in my original list so nothing gets nixed here.

How many projects do you have left?

I have 5 left. Continue reading

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What do you do with a Ph.D.? Marilyn Garcia Part 2

One of the biggest concerns of grad students is what to do after grad school. This is especially true of Ph.D. students who know they don’t want to continue in academia, don’t want to be professors or post-docs, but aren’t sure what other options are out there.  This post is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts interviewing people that have gotten their Ph.D. and done something unexpected with it.

Here we continue with Part 2 of my conversation with Marilyn Garcia.

Read Part 1 here.

How She Made the Switch

Of course, the next question is: How do you make that switch when you’re busy being a professor? As it turns out, “I bought a house and basically never stopped looking at houses, never stopped following the market, it became a hobby. So the idea of being able to make this hobby my profession was just…an immediate shift, and I was excited about it.”

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What do you do with a Ph.D.? Marilyn Garcia

One of the biggest concerns of grad students is what to do after grad school. This is especially true of Ph.D. students who know they don’t want to continue in academia, don’t want to be professors or post-docs, but aren’t sure what other options are out there.  This post is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts interviewing people that have gotten their Ph.D. and done something unexpected with it.

People don’t really think of real estate as being artistic.”

Neither did I, until I spoke with Marilyn Garcia. Marilyn got her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in Economics, taught economics at the University of San Francisco for five years, and is now a realtor, and loves her job. This may strike you as an unusual path, it certainly did to me. But it was also just the sort of unconventional post-Ph.D. career path I was curious about, so I had to talk with her, and Marilyn was nice enough to have a conversation with me. We spoke about why she decided to move from academic economics to real estate, what she loves about being a realtor, what she didn’t like about being a professor, and how her Ph.D. still gives her an edge in her new career. Continue reading

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How to Act Productive Tip #16: Walking while Texting

Photo by: moriza

In life, sometimes no matter how hard you try to do good, there are those that try to undermine your efforts. Today’s culprit: The New York Times.

Since March 2008, when I originally advised people that walking fast would improve their efforts to act productive, I have been on a tireless mission to coach people on how to not only be productive, but how to also act productive. That is, put their productive habits on show so as to both inspire people and improve your perceived value.

But today, in a dirty-handed move to discourage people from such a basic display of productive multitasking, the New York Times has published a seemingly serious and scientific-study-filled article on how cell phones and walking don’t mix.  Those bastards. They put the “ir” in irresponsible; trying to prevent people from being productive with scare tactics like a shameless story of an innocent 16-year-old boy who “walked into a telephone pole while texting and suffered a concussion.” Have a heart.

It doesn’t stop there, however,   Continue reading

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Make Lists. Not Too Much. Mostly Do.

Recently, I read Michael Pollan’s new book “In Defense of Food”, which was #1 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for six weeks. It’s about eating good things, things that keep you healthy, and things that are good for the earth. The most famous line from the entire book are its first seven words, which, he says, sums up his whole philosophy: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He goes on for an entire book to elaborate, but does, in fact sum up his advice.

I liked this simple approach to a subject (eating food) so overdone it makes me want to vomit (the opposite of eating food). While repeating this catchy phrase over and over in my head one day, I thought: time managment is another totally overdone subject, wouldn’t it be great to have a similar credo to simplify all this hackneyed advice on to do lists, productivity, time management systems, and the like? Then, sent from the productivity heavens, it came to me:

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