March 31st, 2014 · 18 comments
In Search of Productive Simplicity
Last week, I described a kink in my project productivity systems. I was oscillating, somewhat haphazardly, between two different strategies, tracking hours (e.g., when the work is open-ended), and pursuing milestones (when the work is known and I need to hustle).
This felt too complicated, so I asked for your thoughts and you responded with over thirty suggestions.
A lot of your advice seemed to fall into the category of “different work requires different tools, switch as needed.”
This is probably good counsel.
But it still nagged at my preference for simplicity in such matters (which, as a theoretical computer scientist, I of course measure in terms of Kolmogorov complexity).
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March 23rd, 2014 · 58 comments
Some of you have been requesting to hear more about my own struggles to live deeply in a distracted world. In this spirit, I want discuss strategies for completing important but non-urgent projects. In my experience, there are two useful things to track with respect to this type of work:
- Specific milestones: for example, the number of book chapters completed or mathematical results proved.
- Hours spent working deeply toward milestones: for example, you can keep a tally of the hours spent writing or working without distraction on an important proof.
In my own work life, I find myself oscillating between these two types of metrics somewhat erratically, and I’m not sure why.
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March 17th, 2014 · 31 comments
The Amazing Roto-Mill
I’ve been toying with a (potentially) interesting thought experiment recently. Imagine you walk into a hardware store and a helpful clerk comes up to you holding a weird looking tool.
“Here’s our latest and greatest lawn care tool,” he explains. “It’s called a roto-mill. It has a reinforced auger head that spins at 1600 RPM.”
“Why do I need a roto-mill?”, you ask.
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I want you to buy it, take it home, dedicate a few hours every weekend to trying it out in your yard, seeing if you can find a use for it. Who knows, you might even find it fun.”
“But I have other things to do on the weekends,” you protest, “things I know are useful and things I know are fun.”
“If you don’t dedicate your time and attention to working with this roto-mill,” the clerk warns, “you might miss out on some benefit that we’re not thinking of now. I don’t see how you could afford such a risk in today’s age of modern yard tools.”
A (Contrived) Analogy
This dialogue, of course, is contrived, but you’d likely agree that if you were that customer, you’d walk out of the store, perhaps worried that the clerk was mentally disturbed.
What intrigues me, however, is that this is essentially the same conversation many have with high tech companies when they release their latest, greatest social media tools. If we replace the word “roto-mill” with “snapchat,” for example, the above suddenly seems more familiar and somehow less absurd.
I’m the first to admit that this thought experiment is not perfect: there’s money involved in buying a yard tool, but not so directly involved in trying an online tool; entertainment is perhaps not being valued fairly; etc.
But still, an interesting Monday afternoon thought…
(Image by Lance Fisher)
March 2nd, 2014 · 47 comments
The Double Degree
A reader recently pointed me to the following question, posted on Stack Exchange:
I am studying a combined bachelor of engineering (electrical) and bachelor of mathematics; I just started this year and will graduate in 2018. The reason why I am doing double degrees and not a single degree is because I love both electrical engineering and mathematics and I could not ignore any of them. So with this in mind, I am thinking of doing two PHDs when I graduate (one in electrical engineering and one in mathematics). Is this a good path or I should concentrate on only one of them?
The responses in the comment thread for this question are fantastic, but in this post I want to add an additional thought to the conversation.
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