It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.

–David Allen

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

–Zen Proverb

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This past semester I have taken a whole new “zen” approach to my work-life. While I am still doing the academic equivalent of chopping wood and carrying water, I am doing it a lot more these days with a smile on my face and mind more focused on the present. Some good books and a few well-designed apps have facilitated this process. I will tell you all about the apps later.  For now, here are a couple of the books.

This fall I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
by David Allen (recommended by The Couch Manager).  The organization methods in this book are helpful in creating a system that captures your projects, plans, and ‘todo’ lists in such a way that you can, well get things done more efficiently and with less stress.  It is not a particularly thrilling read, but I am here to testify that if you implement the principles, it works.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated)
by Timothy Ferriss (another recommendation from The Couch Manager) is both practical and thrilling.  It has influenced my thinking about work, particularly in the domain of mobility.  I travel regularly between two states, so I need the ability to do what needs doing in an organized and efficient way wherever I happen to find myself at the moment.

Ferriss is, in a word, pragmatic.  I like that about him. His book offers a wealth of information, tips, and tricks to get your work-life manageable and automated so you can free up your mind (and time) to accomplish more of your goals.  He explains that one key component of this process is “cutting out counterproductive distractions by eliminating artificial needs.”  Those artificial needs will, of course, differ for everyone – from updating your Facebook status several times a day to checking email hourly, etc.  Once I realized for myself exactly how much time was wasted on digital distractions, I tweaked my own routine considerably.  I took his advice and began processing time-sapping things (e.g., email) in batches a couple times a week rather than daily.  The benefit here is that it saves time and keeps the mind focused. One caveat is that it may irritate students and colleagues who check their email every five minutes and expect you to do the same. It is a risk well worth the benefits as far as I am concerned.

Another tip he suggests to free up time is “outsourcing” portions of your work-life. Outsourcing is all the rage these days according to authors like Thomas L. Friedman (The World is Flat) and A.J. Jacobs (The Guinea Pig Diaries). While I appreciate and admire the work of these fellas, I decided to blaze my own trail here to keep more in line with my budding ‘buy local’ value system and to take advantage of my existing resources. Thus, I decided to in-source instead by making more efficient use of my indentured servant.  She’s rapidly developing mad Excel skillz while helping me becoming increasingly organized. Next week we take over the world! (in a very peaceful, zen-like way).

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