Face the Fear—Peter Bregman’s Advice for Procrastinators


“Failure in a long-term project isn’t just a work issue; it’s an identity issue. Is it any wonder that we procrastinate?” This simple insight lies at the heart of Peter Bregman’s excellent counsel for those who have trouble getting started on BIG PROJECTS. You know who you are:

  • first-time book authors
  • second-, third-, and fourth-time book authors
  • PhD candidates confronted with writing a dissertation
  • public speakers
  • athletes
  • those who aspire to developing a new hobby
  • parents
  • generals of armies
  • book keepers
  • bloggers

Yep. Pretty much anyone who ever wanted to do something of value.

Bregman recognizes that the salami technique is useful, but he notes that it doesn’t deal directly with our “issues” as procrastinators on large undertakings. (The salami technique consists in slicing the biggies into smaller, more digestible sizes, then acting on each, one at a time, gradually making forward progress until the end is in sight.)

No need to repeat what Bregman says. Just visit his post for the Harvard Business Review here.

Paperless Sounds Good and Is Almost Possible


Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

For about a year now I’ve been using a remarkable tool for paperless research, writing, record storage and dog grooming (well, maybe not dog grooming). It’s the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510. And I like it for lots of reasons that may strike a chord with you.

  • It’s compact, with a footprint of 5.5″ x 11.5″ and a height of about 7″, until the feeder tray is opened (at which point it grows about 4 inches taller).
  • It plugs into the USB port on my laptop (or USB hub connected to my laptop), allowing all scans to slip easily into electronic nirvana.
  • It feeds standard-size documents and scans both sides on one pass. This is not a flatbed scanner. You load the document into it the same way you do with a FAX machine. A multi-page document can be loaded all at once and scanned as a single file.
  • The software that comes with the S510 allows me to save my scanned files as PDF documents.
  • It plays nicely with Apple.
  • It replaces my FAX machine because I can now scan any document, save it as a PDF (or other) file, and send it as an attachment by email. So it saves space in my office by performing multiple functions and replacing other single-function devices.

I’ve used the ScanSnap S510 to:

  • return documents with my signature;
  • retain copies of receipts and other documents for tax purposes;
  • save typed manuscripts and student papers that include detailed comments I’ve written in margins;
  • store photocopied material on my computer;
  • prepare for writing and research to do while traveling;
  • streamline paper files (and piles).

Signed Documents

Because my work involves payment for speaking engagements and author consulting, I often have to complete and sign documents that are then filed with the IRS by the individual or agency paying for the service. The forms can be sent to me for my signature, then signed, scanned and returned to the sender. The sender has what he needs for his records, and I have a copy in my electronic files.

Copies of all writing contracts can now be kept on my laptop. This is helpful when I need to refer to these documents to recall terms of publication years after a book or article has been published.

Tax Returns

Now I can scan all paperwork needed to complete my tax return each year: receipts, IRS forms, templates used by my tax accountant, even copies of all past returns.

My setup for 2009 begins with a folder on my computer labeled “2009 Taxes.” This folder is subdivided with folders for different kinds of deductible expenses. Individual receipts are scanned, labeled, and filed into these folders. When it’s time to prepare my return for 2009, I just pull everything from these virtual folders. (My tax accountant tells me that most docs that would be needed for an audit can be submitted to the IRS electronically. If they’re stored that way from the outset, it’s ready to go—just in case.)

Marked Manuscripts and Student Papers

I often read manuscripts for other writers and write comments in the margins. Sometimes this is at the request of a publisher. Other times it’s for the author. With the ScanSnap S510 feed scanner, I can keep copies of anything that might be useful to me later. I feel more comfortable writing detailed comments knowing that the ideas I share are permanently captured for future reference.

I find this also works well when marking papers for students. For smaller classes I have more time for more detailed evaluation. I can scan papers that I load up with comments. That way, I have a permanent record of the basis for any grade I assign, and whatever remarks I’ve made in the margins that might be useful in my teaching and other work. Sometimes I scan only select pages.

No More Photocopies

While I haven’t completely eliminated photocopies, I have streamlined my files with electronic versions of photocopied material using the scanner. This makes it easier to find the material when I need it, and have it close to hand rather than at the bottom of some pile or in a file cabinet. When scanning a document, I can assign key words to facilitate searches for that document on my computer. (This is important when scanning and filing handwritten documents.)

Research and Writing on the Road

I’ve found a number of ways to minimize the ordeal of traveling while keeping up with my research and writing. One is to carry fewer books. With my Kindle I can carry a whole library within the compass of a single slender and light-weight volume. My iPhone 3G is equipped to do internet research and gives me access to several specialized applications for the iPhone that help with productivity. With the ScanSnap 510 I’m able to scan papers and documents needed to carry on my research while on the road. Rather than pack a hard copy of some journal article I plan to study, I can now scan the article into my laptop. This takes no more than a few seconds.

From Piling to Filing

The sheer volume of papers I manage for speaking and writing projects can be overwhelming. Paper files are large and unwieldy. With this scanner I can quickly get stacks of paper off my desk (and floor) and into a codifed electronic form. I find that this step of scanning material I may want for future reference helps me winnow the chaff and store only what is truly worthwhile.

For effective winnowing, I often ask myself, “If I trash this item, and I need it later, will I be able to get my hands on it without actually having it take up space in my own files?” It’s amazing how often the answer is yes. (And I usually know the answer sooner than it would take me to utter the question out loud.) I can always create a note for abandoned items using utility software for this purpose. Or I can scan a handwritten note about items I’m tossing, and keep the note where I’ll find it later if needed. The note will lead me to the original material.

Clearing the Decks

One of the best uses of the S510 I’ve found is to scan all of my handwritten pages of “To Do” lists and miscellaneous—and yes, random—ideas. My habit of writing things down quickly leads to piles of handwritten notes. Some pages are dedicated to special topics or projects. Others are simply lists of things to do. And some are a hodge-podge of unrelated items that have fallen onto the page in a meandering stream of consciousness. Over time they pile up. And knowing where to file them has always been a conundrum. Not anymore. The least I can do is get them off my desk and into an electronic format, filed away in a folder of dated items of that sort. I may never return to them, but I know where they are. So this is now something I do periodically when the stack obstructs my vision.

Note: This hack works well in combination with writing, research, productivity, and database software I use: Things, Scrivener, MacJournal, and OmniOutliner. PDF documents can be dropped into files created with these applications. That goes for PDF documents produced using the ScanSnap S510.

Things 1 Icon

Scrivener

Scrivener

MacJournal

MacJournal

OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner

Share your ideas about how you streamline productivity, or leave a brief review of the tools I’ve mentioned in this post.

Top 10 Reasons for Motorcycling


The other day, Barry Corey—President of Biola University—caught me leaving my office holding a motorcycle helmet. He asked me about it and I gave him the first answer that came to mind: “I walk to work, and it’s gotten more dangerous than it used to be.” (Biola is in La Mirada, which is in Los Angeles County.)

The truth is, I don’t walk to work and I do ride a motorcycle. Oh, and La Mirada is a pretty safe place.

But why ride a motorcycle?

Here are ten of my own reasons:

  1. Parking. Shopping the Brea Mall at Christmas, attending the Biola University commencement, and showing up late for work can be sources of panic because open parking spaces are nonexistent. With a motorcycle this is not a problem. Many parking structures now have specially reserved parking for motorcycles. And here’s the real kicker: they are often located immediately adjacent to the handicap parking! How ironic is that?
  2. Praying. Motorbiking improves your prayer life. It adjusts your priorities, so that praying becomes serious business. Instead of praying for a space in the mall parking structure, you learn to pray for survival.
  3. Vanity. No, I don’t mean the vanity displayed by so many motorbikers who look and ride like the biker’s version of the runway model. I’m talking about the vanity of life, the Ecclesiastes kind of vanity. Riding can reinforce the counterbalancing impressions of power to pursue your dream and confronting the fragility and brevity of life, both at the same time. This is biblical.
  4. Adrenalin. Chemical Structure of AdrenalinAlso called epinephrone, adrenalin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is instantly activated in situations perceived as dangerous, creating a feeling of euphoria—an “adrenalin rush.”
  5. No seatbelts. This is one of the first things that struck me (I know, bad choice of words) when I took up motorcycling.
  6. Antinomianism. I’m not talking theology here. I mean something more general, namely, antinomianism as opposed to hyper-legalism. Some traffic laws simply don’t apply to motorcycles and their riders. For example, there is no seatbelt law, riders are legally entitled to split lanes, and there is practically no danger of being pulled over for violating the cell phone law that requires using a headset. Question: How many times have you seen a motorcycle cop ticketing a biker?
  7. No qeues at stop lights. First, because of the gear ratio on a motorcycle, there’s a greater chance of being the first at a stop light (if, indeed, you aren’t able to streak across the intersection just in time—legally, of course). And if you come upon a ten-car backup in three lanes at a traffic signal, you can use the special lane reserved for bikers, approximately four feet wide, and lined by parked vehicles (otherwise known as “cages”), waiting interminably for the opportunity to cross the intersection. Yesterday, a driver actually moved over slightly to allow me room to slip between cars and trucks. (Tip: to take full advantage of this benefit, the smaller the bike, the better. A Honda 250 Rebel is ideal.)
  8. Greater head protection in case of accidents. How many drivers wear helmets in their cars? Now, how many bikers where helmets? I rest my case.helmet-law-map
  9. Fraternity. The most notable symbol of this is the wave. Bikers, when passing each other going opposite directions, give each other a wave. If you want to understand this better, check out the five-minute YouTube video by Mordeth13 here.
  10. Joie de livre. This is a French concept perfected by Harley Davidson, Triumph, and Ducati.

Related Posts:

“You’ve Got Friends”—Looking Back on Facebook, 2008


First there was MySpace, appealing to the junior high and high school crowd, and eventually appalling to many parents. Then came Facebook. More mature, and yet somehow safer, Facebook instantly became the venue of preference for college and university students. Until we reach a certain age, we are all fated to assimilate to some degree the technologies of the present. I haven’t reached that age yet, and I candidly acknowledge that my penchant for accommodation is pretty healthy. Still, I have to be convinced of the value of the latest “technological advance” before adding it to my repertoire, which, ironically, becomes more cumbersome with each “improvement.”

In 2008, I succumbed once again to the blandishments of technoverture (i.e., overtures perpetrated by novel technologies). Among them, Facebook. How did this happen?

First, I attended a Web 2.0 faculty workshop at my university. Facebook aficionados extolled its virtues. The single greatest revelation of the occasion was that our students are off email and on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook is better. It turns out that email served the primary value of social networking, until Facebook came along. Then it was bye, bye email. Facebook is a much more powerful tool for social networking. Students knew, of course, that few of their profs were in the loop. It didn’t concern them that by migrating to Facebook, they were effectively unreachable for academic purposes.

This may cause teaching faculty mild consternation. But it shouldn’t. I discovered that my students, and especially my most recent former students, welcomed my presence on Facebook—as opposed to thinking I had invaded their space. My policy on this is evolving, along with the general acceptation and utility of Facebook, but for the time being I don’t initiate Facebook invites to students. I don’t want them ever feeling obligated to regard me, even in the increasingly benign Facebook sense, as a “Friend.” As it happens, the largest constituency of my Friends List is students and former students who have sent me invites.

Second, my older daughter, who is a university student, made a convincing appeal to go on Facebook. She was, I’m proud to say, the first to send me a Facebook Friend Invite.

Once signing on to Facebook, a large question remained: What do I do with it (or on it)? My first impulse was to search for family members, especially my younger sisters (24 years younger) who were most likely to have accounts, and see if they would have me as friends. This initial act was rewarded in a most unexpected way. I found another “Geivett” with a familiar first name, the name of a cousin I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. With moderate trepidation (how could I be sure?), I posted her a note to confirm my suspicion that this was in fact my cousin. She replied instantly and enthusiastically (this is Facebook, after all). Yes, one and the same. We arranged to have lunch on my next visit to Seattle, only a few weeks hence. Since then we’ve seen each other twice. Within a few weeks she’ll be visiting us in southern California.

Facebook is a powerful tool for reconnecting people who otherwise would not be able to find each other. For me, this alone is worth the cost of Facebook. And Facebook does exact a cost. Here are three areas where the cost is especially dramatic:

  1. Time. Facebook, for its true enthusiasts, is a time-sucker. The distinctive sucking sound can be heard at its most voluminous on college and university campuses, where Facebook addiction is more rampant than alcohol addiction—which, come to think of it, is good news.
  2. Fantasy. Facebook fuels fantasies of certain kinds. Possibly greatest is the fantasy of intimacy with one’s Friends. I’m a firm believer that “being there” is till better than “the next best thing to being there.” And while Facebook beats out the telephone as “the next best thing,” it ain’t the same thing. Whatever it’s supposed to mean for Facebook to be “bookish,” one thing is certain, the interpersonal contact Facebook mediates isn’t “face-to-face.” Following hard on the heals of this fantasy is another—the fantasy of finding and fanning old flames. This form of intimacy-chasing is encouraged by Facebook. How many users have punched the search engine with names of former lovers and crushes hoping, with vanity, to reconnect? Our emotional lives are suggestible, susceptible, and, yes, sordid enough without the support of new social networking tools. On the other hand, the positive potential of Facebook, even in the arena of quiet desperation, isn’t completely negligible.
  3. Information Management. Maybe “life management” is more apt here. Facebook has a growing inventory of applications. Some of these promise to put vital, or at least interesting, information in your hands, and with greater convenience. This is one of the advertised  advantages of “Groups,” for example. “Information overload,” a phrase of relatively recent vintage, has already long been clichéd. Clichéd or not, the burden it names is very real and is here to stay. Do we really need more information and information sources? Maybe what we need is less information. But that’s because of the burden information management imposes on general life management. Facebook doesn’t perform all the tricks a techno-society requires to remain organized, and, more to the point, hip. So it actually adds to the burden of keeping up. I already had three email accounts before Facebook. In effect, Facebook brings the tally to four. (OK, honesty requires that I mention my LinkedIn account, as well. But this adds proof to my point.) Maybe someday we’ll learn that the proper telos of technology is human flourishing, and discover that no technology is the best technology.

Yes, there’s a price to be paid for the Facebook frenzy. Used in moderation, however, it serves us well who cling to fantasies of intimacy in the midst of an information hurricane . . . as long as there’s enough time for other things that matter.

Copyright © 2008 by Doug Geivett

* * *

Related Post: Geivett’s Glossary

How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #3


Is it even possible to document references to works researched using your Kindle?

Sure. But the technique isn’t conventional. While there are no page numbers, there are location numbers for every line of text. These appear at the bottom of each Kindle page. And they remain constant regardless of the font size you adopt for reading.

So the only thing you have to do differently when documenting a quotation from the Kindle edition of a book is give the location number where you would indicate the page number of a standard book.

This issue has been thoroughly discussed at various sites, including Amazon’s own Kindle blog. Many who write about this seem to be ill-informed.

Some books exist only in e-book format; indeed, some exist only in Kindle format. E-books are legitimate sources of information. It ought to be possible to cite them and to do so accurately and clearly. Even an academic paper evaluating e-books and reporting research about their contents would have to include specific documentation, even if the researcher was arguing that they are not a legitimate form of information dissemination.

There are e-books aplenty, and scads of formats among them. The Kindle has a proprietary format. Amazon’s well-known presence and general reputation worldwide should ensure that this format comes to be widely accepted.

Kindle and the Purpose of Citations

Let’s remember why citations are required in the first place. First, and foremost, they give credit to whom credit is due. This is not merely a matter of paying respects. It is a matter of protecting someone else’s intellectual property.

A secondary reason for documentation is that it is an aid to readers who might wish to chase down the reference and study the larger context of what is cited.

Both of these objectives are easily accommodated by using location numbers for Kindle citations.

A Possible Liability and Its Remedy

One liability of referencing material as it appears in an e-book rather than a traditional book has directly to do with the variability of formats from one e-book publisher to another. Readers of material that cites an e-book will often have more difficulty finding the specific source.

A partial remedy is to be sure to indicate that the source you cite is the Kindle edition of a book. This will prevent confusion about which e-book is cited. But the Kindle is not yet ubiquitous. A majority of readers may not yet have access to one. So they’re a bit stuck until the Kindle becomes more widely used—as it surely will. They’re only a bit stuck, though, because they may not have much trouble following up on a citation within a traditional book version of the material.

What about Citing a Kindle Book for a Term Paper?

Some have advised students to take care to consult their teachers before citing a Kindle book in a research paper with footnotes and a bibliography. That’s not a bad idea.

I must say that if one of my students submitted a paper with Kindle book citations, and without first confirming my approval, I would be very reluctant to deprive her of that option. There’s nothing irresponsible about what she’s done. But the student should be certain that her teacher’s syllabus does not explicitly prohibit the citation of Kindle books.

What about Citing a Kindle Book in a Book or Article for Publication?

There should be no concern that an author risks being accused of plagiarism if he cites a Kindle book, as long as he provides all the information needed to confirm his source.

Publishers themselves often have special citation requirements, a standard way they handle each kind of citation for their books, journals, or magazines. It’s an author’s responsibility to provide all the necessary bibliographical details when submitting a manuscript for publication. It’s recommended that he use the publisher’s guidelines for formatting. If a publisher doesn’t address the question of formatting e-books, the author has two choices, enter the data in a format that can be understood and revised by the copy editor, or consult the publisher for guidelines about the matter.

If a publisher refuses to allow Kindle book citations, get another publisher. Alternatively, if there’s a good chance you’ll wish to cite a Kindle book in what you’ll be writing for a specific publisher, discuss it with the publisher before signing a contract. A publisher will most likely accommodate you, and even express their approval in the contract for publication.

A Future for Kindle Books Among Scholars

Every time I see my high school daughter leave for school with a book bag loaded with heavy textbooks I wonder how she manages. Wouldn’t it be great if she could get those same books on a Kindle and just carry that in a shoulder bag or something? All it would take would be for Amazon to perpare Kindle versions of those books.

I can assure you that Amazon is pursuing this avenue. As it is, they already have a growing list of textbooks available in Kindle version. I’ve been surprised to see many philosophical texts used at the university level available in this format. The day may come when a student can get every textbook on a Kindle . . . and get a substantial discount to boot.

Here’s an advantage that hits closer to home for me. If I wish to conduct sabbatical research at a remote location, it would be unrealistic if I had to ship all the books I think I might wish to consult. I have friends who have done this, but time and cost would be prohibitive for me.

What I might do, though, is browse the Kindle inventory at Amazon for books related to my research. I could download these before I leave on sabbatical, or on location while on sabbatical. The crucial thing for me would be to be able to quote accurately from a source of valuable material. A Kindle version would make that possible. After returning from sabbatical, I could, if I felt the need to, check my Kindle citations against traditional book editions and convert the documentation. (Or I could assign this to a research assistant.)

New to Kindle? Check it out here.

For a good resource on electronic documentation, see Diana Hacker’s book Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age

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Kindle Your Reading Habits

How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #1

How To Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #2

How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #4

Getting the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #1


“Bibliophile” isn’t a strong enough label for my affection for books. “Bibliophiliac” is probably more accurate. One symptom is my habit of cruising bookstores. But as much as I like the brick and mortar shops, they have two limitations: price and selection. Three out of four times they don’t have a book I’m there to find, and the one out of four times they do I usually have to pay full price. So I resort to browsing, which is dangerous. The temptation to buy, even if it’s something I wasn’t looking for, can be overpowering. You know the drill.

But I have a Kindle, and I (almost) never leave home without it. And my Kindle is very handy when I’m in browse mode.

Suppose my arms are laden with books that beckon. I go to the most inconspicuous bench or chair in the store, turn on my Kindle, and flip the switch for Whispernet. Within a few seconds I have a wireless connection to the Kindle store. I type in the title for one of the books I’ve gathered and let my Kindle search for it. If the title isn’t yet available on Kindle, I set the book aside and repeat the process for the next one, working my way through the stack.

It really gets interesting when I find that a Kindle version of the book is available. I have a choice. I can order it and have it on my Kindle within moments, usually at a deep discount, OR I can download a selection from the book . . . for FREE. Since I can always buy the book later, and I may decide I want a physical copy rather than the Kindle edition, I download the free selection and move on to the next book.

Later, when my pulse has slowed, I read the selections I’ve downloaded. I now have a good idea whether I want to spend my money, and whether I want the Kindle version or a physical copy of any item. Bottom line? I make better decisions about the books I buy, I spend less, and I enjoy greater mental health. All because my companionable Kindle has kept me from compulsive spending and buyer’s remorse. And eventually, my Kindle pays for itself! How great is that?

***

The Get Rich Slowly blog has posted “Six Steps to Curbing Compulsive Spending.” They’re good ideas. Let me add one more, specially suited to the bibliophiliac:

7. Don’t shop bookstores without your Kindle.

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Get with the Flow


You may have trouble pronouncing his name, but Mihaly Csikszentmihaly is the guru when it comes to “the psychology of optimal experience.” FLOW is one of those books you might want to read once every year or so and dip into periodically for the juicy bits that you’ve marked.

Flow is that state of consciousness when you are contentedly living in the moment, experiencing that energizing balance of three factors: a worthwhile task, significant challenge in performing the task, and the capacity and resources to complete the task.

The book is Csikszentmihaly’s answer to the question, “When do people feel most happy?” He answers:

. . . the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. (p. 3)

The message is that we don’t have to wait for the best moments in life to come to us. We can arrange for their occurrence and increase their frequency. This involves calculated risk. It begins with the identification of some task-related goal that we care about. The task must be challenging; it must tax our physical or mental resources (or both). But achieving our goal must be within reach. Ideally, this goal will be attainable along a growth curve, with stages of challenge representing significant accomplishments toward the realization of the ultimate objective.

I’ve experienced this with downhill skiing, sea kayaking, sailing, and motorcycling. These are physical activities that involve a definite mental component. Foreign travel produces a similar effect for me as I navigate the challenges of unfamiliar languages, foreign currency, and methods of transportation. Public speaking is another arena for the experience of flow, since each engagement is unique, and each form of presentation presents special challenges. For example, public debate on the question of God’s existence is different that a radio interview about the Academy Awards.

Csikszentmihaly is especially good on how to create flow in the ordinary activities of work and family life. At one point he writes,

People are the most flexible, the most changeable aspect of the environment we have to deal with. The same person can make the morning wonderful and the evening miserable. (pp. 166-67)

The principles developed in this book also apply to our experiences of adversity. Even tragic events can be seen as positive. Csikszentmihaly distinguishes between positive and negative responses to stress, between “transformational coping” and “regressive coping,” and develops strategies for “cheating chaos” through transformational coping. Would you like to know how to “transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge”? See Chapter 9 of Flow.

In his more recent book, Csikszentmihaly has focused on the relationship between flow and creativity.

If you’ve read Csikszentmihaly, share what you think of his work. Do you have any favorite passages? When have you experienced “flow”? Have you discovered ways to experience adversity as meaningful opportunity?

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