Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Writing Resolutions is SO last year

Every year is kind of the same story for me regarding New Year's Resolutions. They get ignored just as easily as they get made and worse, resolution lists start converging to the same three or four staples: Eat healthier, exercise more, be more productive, yadda yadda yadda...

I think we all spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that we've failed at these lists and wondering what our problem is. We also spend a lot of time promising ourselves that "...this year will be different". All I know is that last year I received a video titled "How To Unleash Your Greatness in 2014" that I'm still getting around to watching.

After years of trying to "Be more motivated" with my resolutions, I've started to wonder about the practise itself; Maybe it's not all it's hyped up to be in terms of actually helping us grow as human beings.

Towards the end of 2014 though, I believe I've come across something that might be a bit more productive. But before I get to that, I'd like to talk about Browser Tabs for a minute.

Open tabs are the bane of my existence

At any given point, I might have anywhere from nine to thirty browser tabs open while I'm on my laptop. Also, if you use Firefox, you might be familiar with a function that shows you your previous pages if your browser crashes. What you might not know is that the feature itself allows nesting as well so at one point I probably had close to a hundred tabs open!

In addition to this being generally insane, what you might not get is that tabs are my own special kind of hell. In a way, each one represents some kind of unfinished business; Whether it's an opinion piece or buzzfeed list, the possibility exists that it could lead to something profound or useful. But this also means that now each tab is something that can't be lost lest all that potential greatness be un-unleashed (Leashed?).

And then one day... one fateful day... they were all gone! The restore function dropped every single one of almost a HUNDRED tabs!

Picking up the pieces

Now this kind of thing has happened before but never to this extent. I was absolutely mortified and even went through the five stages of grief:
  • Denial
    • "There must be some way to recover them, they must be stored somewhere"
  • Anger
    • "Stupid Firefox, can't even store some freaking tabs"
  • Bargaining
    • "I swear I won't let so many tabs accumulate next time..."
  • Depression
    • "Myyy taaabbbss... Whaaiii!"
  • Acceptance
    • Here's where things got interesting...

For one thing, I realized that nothing really important had been forgotten (and how would I have known even if it did). Additionally, one of the comments put me on to this Browser extension called OneTab which converts all your open tabs into a list and keeps them from getting lost. (Never Again!)

Weirdly though, I initially thought OneTab would just be a more robust version of the Firefox restore function but oddly enough, my productivity started to go waay up after just a few days!

Over the next few weeks, I've come to believe that OneTab offers a completely different way to think about dealing with "Resets" (of which New Year's day is probably the most significant).

Embracing a Fresh Start

While New Years and Birthdays are common resets we don't recognize the amount of people that have to deal with a forced reset like a natural disaster or some other tragedy.

I think the trick is to take lessons from the Forced resets and use them to enrich the naturally occurring resets. My experience with my browser crashing might have completely eliminated my backlog but I wasn't too happy about it. Where OneTab comes in is by dealing with everything super quickly, but in a way that still feels like everything is handled. If I ever need to work, I can just get to it without the open tabs eating at my (very) limited mindspace.

What I've been thinking about for a while now is how to extend the scope of the OneTab approach.  It's a common experience to be unable to focus on any one thing because of all the other stuff crowding in your mind. If there was a way to tangibly clear things away and make a little space, that could potentially be very empowering in a way that writing Resolutions simply don't provide.


Dare I say it, you only live once. And it's too tragic to constantly be thrashing just to keep from drowning.

More radical (and braver) people than I talk about something called declaring Task Bankruptcy or ToDo Bankruptcy. Basically the steps are:
  1. File everything under 'Pending'.
  2. Setup some kind of system to handle new tasks.
  3. Follow it in a way that doesn't let you get overwhelmed again, and
  4. Make a dent in the 'Pending' folder whenever possible.
    If you're able to make do with just that then great, but I've been going years without any kind of cleanup so this sort of radical cleanse is a little intimidating. For me, I'd like to expand on the first step a little more.

    To-Do : Wipe the Slate Clean

    This is a list of some things I currently think would be a full reset of my life right now. Lemme know if any other items come to you:
    1. First off, slow down you crazy child. You're no use to anyone if you're stressed out.
      • Accept that your productivity is going to dip in the short term while this list gets done. 
      • See if you can give yourself the time you need, or else get it done in the time you have.
    2. Get every idea and pending project out of your head and written down somewhere.
      • Personally I highly recommend using Evernote in combination with the GTD system.
      • Btw, sign up here if you don't have Evernote yet pretty please? Evernote Referral.
    3. Save all passwords somewhere safe and password-protected.
      • (I'm still looking for a trustworthy solution, let me know if you find something useful)
    4. Setup Gmail Inactive Account Manager so you can designate nominees for your mail account.
      • This is super important because your email account is a pretty important part of your Estate.
      • If you're incapacitated for any reason it should be available for someone to handle.
      • I know it's a morbid thought but yea, it's just one of those things.
    5. Get a Last Will & Testament made.
      • Apparently as soon as you get your first job you should get a will made up.
    6. Make sure that the master passwords are included wherever someone will find them.
      Once these things are done, enjoy the peace of mind it brings you for as long as possible. That feeling of open space might trigger some new ideas of their own, but those should be filed back right away into step 2; now's not the time to dive back in.

      Rinse-n-Repeat step 2 until you're completely dry of pending tasks and half-formed ideas and mostly everything is written down. The mind is made for thinking, it isn't so great at the storage and retrieval bit.

      Some thoughts on getting back into the groove

      After putting in all this effort to extricate yourself from your commitments, it'd be madness to find yourself right back in the thick of things. Unfortunately old habits die hard and your brain was rather comfortable with the way things were till you decided to shake things up.

      This is the crucial point, you will need some kind of strategy to deal with the new things that are bound to come up. The easiest thing would be to handle new tasks as they arrive or dip into your archives to search for the really important stuff.

      One key thing to keep in mind is that "How" you work is not nearly as crucial as "What" you choose to work on.
      • Choose your tasks for maximum impact, 
      • Don't let the urgent crowd out the important, and
      • Remember to have fun with it.
      Eventually though, once you've gotten a sense of your priorities, a good system can help improve efficiency. One system I would recommend is the "Agile Results" system - Getting Started with Agile Results.
      • For the next day, week, month, year (whatever timescales you want to use), pick three things you want to accomplish.
      • Every Monday sit and review your tasks for the week, and 
      • Every Friday review your learning from the week.
      And if there's one thing I would impose onto your daily schedule, make a little time everyday for meditation. Your mind needs time to de-stress just as much as your body does and sadly, getting drunk doesn't count.