Sunday, September 05, 2010

Productivity tips for entrepreneurs and, well, everyone

We all know time is precious. Thankfully, compared to the other core skills that successful entrepreneurs must master—i.e., their own self-care, skills development and knowledge—personal productivity is the easiest and quickest to learn. For me, the following tools and resources have been invaluable:
  • Million Dollar Consulting - My friend Udaya Patnaik recommended this book to me when I was first starting my own business, and I've recommended it myself dozens of times since. Essential reading not just for consultants, but for any small business owner.

  • Getting Things Done - I've always been well-organized by nature, but by following productivity guru David Allen's advice for the last five years, I have easily boosted my productivity 10-20%. Allen's productivity workout program is a tough, but rewarding one -- following his advice will not only decrease your time on task, but also make sure that you get to those gnarly, high-priority items that for whatever reason never seem to get done.

  • Evernote - Oh, how I love Evernote. A delightful, light-weight note-taking system, optimized beautifully for the web, iPhone, iPad, and desktop. I'm still looking for the ideal app for time-sensitive to-do list management -- I'm using MacMail for now and intend to check out Remember the Milk and Things -- but in the meantime, Evernote meets many, many of my needs.

  • Google Reader - Most of us need to keep up with the latest news related to our industry and our craft. But finding the super-best content, and then keeping track of it all can become a job unto itself. Google Reader makes scanning, reading, and sharing posts from blogs and traditional news sources a snap. As part of an iGoogle digital blotter including Mail, Docs, Bookmarks, etc., it's even more powerful.

  • - I'm a new convert to Mint, and now I'm kicking myself for being late to the party. A terrific service.

  • SF Wash - I love my apartment, but one unfixable problem is a lack of laundry hookups. I used to dread the days of going to the local laundromat -- a 3-hour affair, start to finish -- but SF Wash is like reliving the glory days of the Web 1.0 economy when services like Kozmo would bring insanely great services right to your door. I put out my laundry for pick-up each week, SF Wash cleans my clothes using green detergents, and returns them the next day. Clothes I used to have dry cleaned, I now wash gentle and drip dry -- they last longer, and I save money. In a shifting economy, smart urban services like this are popping up all over -- keep an eye out for your biggest time sinks, and see if there are ways you can address or side-step them completely.
Enough about me. What tools and services have helped you use your time wisely?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crude drawings

"In the first half of our life, we build and inflate our ego, and in the second half we dismantle it and build a bridge between our healthy ego and our Self. The first half of life is about power, because that is what it takes to develop our ego. . . The second half of life is about meaning, because that is the focus it takes to go beyond ego. In the great synthesis, power and meaning are united in the interest of service to the world." - David Richo, Shadow Dance

This past December, I spent a wonderful day at the Rubin Museum in NYC taking in their exhibit of Carl Jung's Red Book. As the curators intended, I was struck by the similarities between Jung's brave explorations of his unconscious mind and the Himalayan mandalas on the floors above showing battles between positive and negative energies and the integration of cognitive, emotional, and embodied intelligence. Perusing the exhibit, I felt both elated and sad, as it was clear Jung did not pioneer a new view of human nature, but rather recreate wisdom that had been lost and rediscovered countless times. The quiet, cocoon-like space of the Rubin enhanced this sense of timelessness, of an endless now.

That night, I went to see the musical Next to Normal, and although my night at the theater was obviously colored by my afternoon at the museum, the play surprised me by telling a remarkably similar story. Next to Normal concerns a contemporary family of four whose matriarch is battling mental illness. Critics have conspired to not give away too much about the show, so I didn't expect the deep empathy the play's creators would show for all the characters. In Next to Normal, each member of the family takes on -- as in a mandala -- specific positive and negative energies, elements of chaos and order. Because all the artists behind the production grasped the concept so completely, the story is relatable and moving, even for those who don't have direct experience with its subject matter. Within this very specific story, there is a cosmic story; within every self, a family of voices negotiating for power; and also within a self, the world.

I created the above diagram last year, and have been using it in some of my business strategy engagements. Like many of my frameworks, it's a crude distillation—meant to provoke effective conversation, not express a blinding new insight. (In workshops, I ask clients to identify where they are on this map, and where they would like to pull energy from.) But it's only been recently that I've noticed that this story of the fight between power and meaning is one I've been seeing everywhere and that it looks similar at every level of scale. At a macro level, as in the diagram, we talk about existing vs. emerging systems; within an organization, sustaining vs. breakthrough innovation; within an individual, the directive "cursor" of the ego versus the endless, untapped resources of the Self.

All the zones across these two triangles are interesting, but lately I've been increasingly interested in building, in the synthesis of emergent possibilities and existing structures—and the platforms, new social entities, and inner skills required to connect the two. 

Keats asked: "Call the world if you please 'the vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the world." If we have the courage to build a new world, who will we in turn become?

First image reprinted from The Red Book by C. G. Jung (c) Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Second image created by Mark Gibson and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.