Since the beginning of the year, work has been busy, very busy, and I find myself in something of a how-do-I-work transformation. I am getting stuff done, and I do mean happily cranking away. And I’m doing it all by scribbling on an array of sticky notes and a couple of pages in a notebook. No “system,” no “toolset,” no “workflow,” just a pencil. It doesn’t even sync!
I know, right? Like a barbarian. A productive-as-heck barbarian. In the office I had a long-running org-mode scheme that was falling into disrepair, and yet it’s hard to leave a system behind. The couple of weeks of being mostly away from work over the Christmas holiday gave me the mind-space I needed to just … walk away from the list of tasks and projects I was not-usefully maintaining and which was not helping me feel effective or organized in my work.
I’ve thought plenty before about this kind of retooling, but almost exclusively in the context of tooling up — adding sophistication, building workflow:
This matters because I get a lot of reward from using tools that are interesting, effective, and sophisticated. Doing one’s work is about more than the end deliverable, right? The process matters, too, and if I like doing the work then the product is better for it (not to mention I’ll do it again).
I suppose that all the same thinking still applies: The process still matters; right now that process is just very, very simple. Unlike the recent past, it’s not in my way in the slightest, which makes me quite happy.
But let’s differentiate the productivity-tools-urge from the tinkering-with-stuff urge: While at work I have reverted largely to the bronze age, I remain cheerfully hackerful at home, and spent a couple of happy hours yesterday experimenting with MailMate keybindings (yes, knowing I will be inevitably disappointed when I return to work and lose all of that capability). I expect this back and forth will continue, as I fit tools to current needs and ways of thinking.
Not too long ago, Seth Clifford wrote about a similar productivity revision:
This is about my brain, understanding how it works, and more importantly, coming to grips with the fact that my brain will work differently depending on a variety of ever-shifting factors in my life. I’ve written before about giving up and settling on a trusted system, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my trusted system is me, and I need to allow myself the flexibility to use the right tool at the right time.
Perhaps this doesn’t mark a long-term shift in how I work, but it’s an interesting and good place to be, at the moment. For now, as long as I have a pencil sharpener and a pile of sticky notes, I’m good to go.