Productivity and its discontents (1-6/n: the 80/20 rule)

Productivity and its discontents (1-6/n: the 80/20 rule) - student project

Productivity and its discontents (1-6/n: the 80/20 rule) - image 1 - student projectPrompt #1: Which do I struggle with most of all? The pilot, the plane, or the engineer? In what (specific) ways?

For me, as a high functioning adult with pretty severe ADHD, the personas of this model are linked in challenging ways. I often spend excessive time as the "plane" but without the guidance of the pilot or the support of the engineer. It's more like a passenger plane filled with hijackers who are fighting for control, so I keep getting repeatedly hijacked, and feeling compelled to go in the direction of the latest hijacker.

For example, on most days I do not set a time and place to plan my day (what Ali describes as his "pilot" mode), but I get involved in activities of the day immediately and without reflection. I might make progress, I might not, I might spend time meandering or puttering around things that don't make any sense or have any priority at all, but I become extremely engaged in those activities. I don't really have a good system for checking (the engineer).

Today I bought some things including a hook to hang my mandolin on the wall. But I didn't start doing it (and I don't think I would have done it) until H reminded me that it was a project that I had said I would do something about. Then I went ahead and did it.


Prompt #2: What am I avoiding with the phrase "I don't have time"? 

"Avoiding" is the key word in this. Continuing with the mental model of the first prompt, I think I avoid the work of planning ("piloting"), which is a reminder of the things I have not done or am behind on. It's easier for me (mentally, emotionally) to avoid that level of self-candor and reflection by appearing busy (in "plane" mode) even to myself.


Prompt #3 prompted a video 


Prompt #4.

  • What is one or more situations when I was in my "flow state"
  • What circumstances and mindset led to that
  • Can I manufacture those conditions?

 Flow state situation #1: graduate school, when I realised that I could solve a longstanding problem with heteronuclear cross-polarisation. I wanted to do the work, but in addition the air conditioning was not working and I was isolated for the weekend in the instrument centre at Yale. Peter Demou helped me get started and I just stayed up doing the work, cooling the components, and taking the data.

Flow state situation 2: In yoga or running, when I've had new research ideas. Not sure if this counts as a flow state, exactly.

Flow state situation 3: When setting up my new home after my separation. OK, that was a sad one.

What circumstances and mindset led to that? In all cases, I was undistracted. I was in some sense isolated. Other circumstances differ. In the first case I was inspired by a new idea and frustrated by my lack of progress on my old idea. In the second case, the good ideas came from mind wandering (sort of the opposite of flow, perhaps, but a creative moment). In the third case, the flow was born of grief and a desire not to lose myself.

Can I manufacture those conditions? Not the emotional ones, but some of the physical contexts, yes.


Prompt #5: decide on 3-4 long term tasks or goals. 

Q1: What if I only had ½ the time to do them?

Q2: What if I only had 24 hours?


Goal 1: Create a passive income stream from Higher Education Technology 

1/2 time

  • Create aggressive plan with > 5 playlists as themes 
  • Start immediately putting out videos 1x/week 

24 hours

Hire a producer; put out one great video 


Goal 2: Re-create a successful computational biology major program 

1/2 time 

  • Decide necessary new modules in first week 
  • Work with Maths, Stats, Biology, and CS to aggressively structure new programme. 
  • Establish working team of 3 people 

24 hours

Change the goal; focus on the existing minor 


Goal 3: Create and produce an album's worth of songs. 

1/2 time 

  • Determine studio for post production 
  • Record 1 song/week 
  • Hire side musicians on a per-song basis. Spend the money 

24 hours

Record every song exactly as it is now. Less than 1 hour total time per song 


Prompt #6

  • What 20% of my work is driving 80% of my "useful output"? 
    • Well-designed assessments 
    • Handing off completed work, in whatever condition 


  • What's taking up 80% of my time but not actually contributing 
    • Perfectionism 
    • Trying to tweak processes; letting my frustration with processes lead me to try to invent a better mousetrap at work