Summer Productivity

Supported by Greenhaven Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Each season gives us a chance to pause and take stock. Thanksgiving and Christmas cover the end of the calendar year. The start of school helps parents mark changes in their children. Spring blooms, and cleanings, offer a chance as things get warm. Summer too has moments of reflection and chances for redirection.

On a trip to Michigan this summer, a friend and I both noted how much more we read during Ohio winters. There was something seasonal about plowing through books and traveling to distanct worlds and new points of view while winter settled in and surrounded us.

Productivity has been top-of-mind because it’s constrained in the summer. There’s more things to do with more people which leaves less time for work–and books.

At the site, Writing Routines many profiles feature the spirit: I write around family commitments. Almost no writers have the cabin in the woods or special office they go to. Most of those writers write at home when the kids are in school. If they have a summer deadline they turn on a movie.

Summer then, with the commitments to family, late evenings, and beach vacations offers a chance to reflect with constraints on our productivity. With only 168 hours each week, and more hours committed to more things, we can see how much we really do and whether it’s important.

My tool of reflection is the to-do list.

On Imgur a meme circulated when someone posted their encouragement to a child who wanted to be an astronaut. She had to study hard, go to college, learn lots of science, and take a physical fitness test.

The child shrugged and said, “that’s just four things.” That sounds like a list. But wait, there’s more!

Lists are fractal. Events like “Write everyday” or “Exercise 3X per week” or “Read one 10Q at lunch” can all be broken down into more granular layers. To write means having something to say which means knowing or doing something interesting.

Lists internalize. When I write each day it doesn’t just happen. Everything requires work. I’ve made the ‘Writing List’ so many times it’s become habit and doesn’t require a list anymore. Like a piece of software, my brain executes a morning script that runs: coffee, crossword (NYT mini), writing.

Lists are learnable. It may not seem like someone needs to learn how to make a simple list but sometimes we need to see the trailhead before we find the path. One option is the Bullet Journal system. Ryder Carroll wrote in his book.

“The Bullet Journal Method is for anyone struggling to find their place in the digital age. It will help you get organized by providing simple tools and techniques that can inject clarity, direction, and focus into your days. As great as getting organized feels, however, it’s just the surface of something significantly deeper and more valuable.”

With annual, monthly, and daily lists the system provides a way to track actions and break down big goals into their smaller parts.

Like any good system; writing, investing, exercising, or producing — the best system is the one you stick with. Carroll doesn’t hawk his products, though I’ve used them and they’re good, but encourages experimentation and derivation.

Constraints – like summer hours – are helpful. They offer a chance to evaluate our systems.

Sam Hinkie said, “Within heavy constraints, thinking different is one of the few ways you can do anything differently.” He was talking about running a basketball team but it can also apply to our lives. As we spend more time outside, go on more adventures with friends, and make more memories with families we can think about the role of work.

Summer is a forcing function. What’s the most valuable thing you can do? And do you do it?

Lists show us – in our own handwriting – what we wanted to do, what we did, and give the chance to reflect on what was important. Summer is a great to to reflect on our lists.

Thanks for reading.

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