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I'm interested in and write about a wide variety of topics - economics, psychology, marketing, music, etc. I prefer writing long articles to short posts and don't update very often.

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Being Productive with only vaguely defined goals or How do I find time for it all?

You read that Malcolm Gladwell book about the 10,000 hour rule - you know, if you want to do anything on a world class level you have to dedicate your life to it to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe you've also read that Seth Godin book about how you should try lots of things & give up on them until you find the one thing you don't give up on and you end up sticking with it. With all this advice floating around about how to choose your passion, and why you should pursue it with all your might you end up feeling a little bit lost because you have so many different interests that you couldn't possibly follow them all. I know exactly how you feel.

I have a difficult time defining myself - I'm a writer. I'm a musician. I'm a photographer. I like psychology and statistics and marketing. I like theories & figuring out how things work. In a nutshell, I like to learn and I like to apply what I learn by creating. I also like to dance, go to the gym & ride my bicycle through Brooklyn at night. Sometimes I feel incredibly productive, and sometimes I feel like I'm too much of a jack of all trades - I'll never be a world class musician because I'm never going to practice with purpose for 10,000 hours and push myself to become great.

What I've realized is - that's ok. I've long said that music should be by the people and for the people - learning how to play the important half dozen chords on a guitar is pretty easy, and once you can do that you can play 98% of pop music. For some strange reason we, as a culture, are obsessed with mastery and have forgotten something even more important than mastery - sufficiency. We give up before we begin because we turn everything into a mountain to climb rather than a hill to pass.

I often feel unfocused - how do I pursue all of my interests giving them all roughly equal time? I sit a the computer with thoughts swirling around in my head & end up just surfing the web because I can't decide on what I want to do. I've considered writing down each of my major interests on index cards & shuffling them - doing whatever it says on the card that I draw ("practice singing for 20 minutes") or even creating a computer program to do much the same thing (reload the page & a random "to do" is displayed on the screen "write another blog post"). Somehow this never happened.

I recently discovered the Quantified Self movement through this amazing video about a guy who "Hacked Jeopardy". In a nutshell, he downloaded every question from this online/crowdsourced database of Jeopardy questions and found that there are only so many topics that are covered in Jeopardy. He wrote a program that constantly quizzed him on these topics using previous Jeopardy questions, emphasizing areas where his knowledge was weakest until he had a very well rounded knowledge set. He then went on Jeopardy and did amazingly well. He had the highest single day winnings (the film a week's worth of episodes in a day) of any Jeopardy contestant and then returned for the tournament of champions and won that too.

Of course this whole Quantified Self movement is a little nuts... I mean, I respect them but I barely have the discipline to sit at a computer & not end up with 20 tabs open instead of writing my next great blog post, how can I possibly count every single calorie that passes my lips and log it into some sort of web app? But then I discovered Daily Todo. I don't know who's behind Daily Todo but whoever you are - thank you.

With one simple web app I now have a concise list of all all the things I may want to do with my time (write about music, write about photography, write for my blog, practice singing, ear training, etc.) and a running tally of days that I did some of that stuff. Lots of red dots means I didn't do much of it - maybe I should do some of that today. Lots of green dots means I've been doing it pretty consistently.

Now when I set at the computer & think "what should I do with my time" instead of visiting my favorite time wasting sites, I click the Daily Todo bookmark & scan the list. What do I want to do today? I just checked "Blogging" off of my list and it feels good. Now, what's the next thing I can check off of my list?

December 20, 2011

© Mark Wieczorek