Thursday, June 30, 2011

Make some changes starting NOW: quick start resources

I know that most of you are eager  to make some changes that will improve your productivity.  You can't wait to for my blog posts to slowly appear over the next  few months!

If this is you, here are some "quick start" resources.

Materials I've created

Something to watch.  In 2009, I gave a presentation to a group of faculty, resident physicians, and other staff at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. Here is the YouTube slides-with-voice-over recording.  It lasts about an hour, and several of the core practices are covered.  This is my only YouTube appearance to date, and you don't even get to see me!

Something to read.  Two of the essays posted to my web page are aimed at getting started.  Try them both:  Code O: recovering from overwhelm, and The basics of organizing your work and time.

Pick one or two ideas from these sources, and give them a try.  You can add more later.

If you want to buy a book

Today's count of books on found using the search term "time management:" 7,988.

I will recommend two of these as great "starter" books.  Each presents a complete system for organizing your work and getting it done.  While the two systems are not identical, they are compatible.  I have used a blend of these two systems for over 10 years.  You can't go wrong starting with either one.  

I have not given a link to a specific bookseller;  you know where you like to buy your books.

1. David Allen (2001).  Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity,  Viking, New York.

     A modern classic. This is the book that started the current massive discussion of productivity. 

2. Kerry Gleeson (2009).  The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Win Back Control of Your Work, 4th edition, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.

     Gleeson is a contemporary of Allen's and his system is the first one that clicked for me.  I am particularly fond of his "do it now" philosophy - more on that in a later post.

If you have a favorite book in the genre, send it to me ( ) or add to the comments at the end of this post. I'm always on the lookout for new ideas, and I'll share a more complete list later.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to the Thriving Amidst Chaos blog: are you overwhelmed?

I'm pleased, albeit a little intimidated, to start this new blog about the concepts and practices related to personal productivity, organization, time management, and the like.  Dozens of wonderful blogs are available on these topics, but I believe I can offer a distinctive take:

First, I'm a scientist, interested in evidence.  How do we know if making lists really helps?  Is there a real difference between putting to do items on a list versus putting them on your calendar?  And so on.  Empirical evidence is currently scarce -  but my aim is to share with you whatever I find.  If you run across a study, I hope you'll send it to me.

Second, I'm a physician, interested in options.  My approach to clinical practice is to identify all the plausible options, lay out the risks and benefits of each, and then collaborate with my patient to choose a plan.  Every productivity problem has several possible solutions as well.  None is perfect for everyone, but one may be better for you.  I will never say "and you have to do it this way." 

You can read more about me here.

As I was thinking about this first post, I realized that when I encounter a new blog, nine times out of ten, after I read one post I never go back.

So I've decided to give you my most important advice now, in case you never come back: 

You must have an emergency plan for stopping "acute overwhelm."  

Acute overwhelm is that feeling of panic, breathlessness, paralysis when you have so much to do you don't know where to start.  It is a hopeless feeling, and does not lead to much good. 

You can get out of this state of mind using this three step plan:

Step One. Stop and take a deep breath
Bring your focus quickly back to this moment, using this method which has stood the test of time.

Step Two. Slow down.
This advice seems counter-intuitive. You are behind! You need to go faster! Help!   The problem with going faster is that you usually feel even more scattered, and then you feel worse. Slowing down is more effective. The effect is to block out everything past and future, and to help you focus on what you are doing right now.

Step Three. Complete a task - any task.
Randomly choose a task from your immediate environment and do it.  Then do another.  Soon you will be in rhythm, and you will almost naturally turn toward things that really do need to be done.

Next Steps.  Start using additional simple techniques that will help a prevent recurrence - read this essay Code O: Recovering from overwhelm for more.

If you come back, here is the productivity related content you'll find: 
  • Overviews of the "basics;"  calendars, to do lists, and so on
  • Links to advice from others
  • Book reviews
  • Evidence-based discussions of common recommendations.
  • Responses to your questions -- send them to  I'll do my best to include all questions, although I may create a composite if I get several on the same topic.
I hope to see you soon.