Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’

checkmarkAll of the planning and all of the lists in the world will not actually get the work done. Writing won’t make it so. To obtain the almighty checkmark, you have to DO the work. That sounds so easy, but what if your body and mind are rebels, refusing to keep your butt in the chair or wandering off in search of more interesting pursuits?

This may be the most important thought I can offer you on productivity, so pay close attention. You will be more productive if you are working on the kind of activity that your mind and body want to do.

  • If you are sitting at the computer and feeling really antsy, then look at your list and find something you need to do that will keep you physically moving.
  • If you’re washing fabric or cutting kits and you are really……really…..tired, stop. Go find something ON YOUR LIST that is less physically active and do that.

In both cases, you’ll accomplish something on your list, but you won’t struggle against what your body and mind actually want to do. (Unless you really just want to sit down with a book and eat cookies. In that case, give yourself a 15-minute break and then get back to work.)

Deadlines are the obvious exceptions to this approach to productivity. If you have a hard deadline, then you are obligated to do specific things to meet that deadline. Unless…you chose that deadline. If the deadline was arbitrary, designed to give yourself milestone accomplishments, then you have the power to change it.

PinkPaperPiecingThis quiltlet is a mostly-done sample for a new class I’m rolling out on paper foundation piecing at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in Cleveland. (Yes, I’m working in pink. Get over it. And don’t expect any more of it.)  It’s pieced, it’s sandwiched, and the ditchwork is done. I have planned most of the freemotion quilting designs I’ll do, but I know the quilting will be better if I wait until this afternoon, when I often want to work on the sewing machine. This morning, I’m all about the keyboard.

So, what do you feel like doing today? Can you afford to put off other tasks and do what you feel like doing? Is what you feel like doing on your list? Then stop reading my post and get to work! I wish you a productive day!


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I think a lot about productivity. I’d like to be more productive. I plan to be more productive. Amazingly, some people actually think I’m productive. So, why don’t I feel productive?

The answers are so simple that I’ve decided to share them with you over the next four weeks. We’ll talk about perfection, planning, prioritizing, and productivity through biorhythms. Ready? Let’s get started!

Perfect vs. Done
When I was working in the corporate world, I had a very wise boss who seemed to have my number from day one. I am a perfectionist. There. I said it. But it’s important to know when you need perfection (math, taxes, brain surgery) and when good is good enough. My boss used to say, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Translation: “Please give me your work product – I’m sure it’s fine.” In some cases, he was right.

Tree quilt for client

Perfection (or as close as I could get) was the goal for this client quilt.

If you, too, are a perfectionist, consider why you work beyond the demands of the task. My reasons generally fall into two categories: either I enjoy the process and I get lost in it, or I lose track of how exactly how well this task must be completed. It helps me if I can look — really look — at the task. Will it be published? Will others see it? Is this the first step in a longer process where long-term success depends on high quality work in the beginning? If not, then I can probably find a way to streamline a process and save some time.

If you could spend one hour doing two tasks well enough or one task perfectly, which would you choose? Well, you do get to choose. Now consider what you could do with that saved time if only you could stop working on a task as soon as it is done enough. You simply need to figure out which tasks require perfection (or near perfection) and which tasks just need to be done.

There will be times when your inner perfectionist demands to be heard. If you can afford the time and it will give you satisfaction, give in to that demand (but not every time). It will make you happy…and a happy quilter is a productive quilter.

Picture of my featherweight

Molly, my 1935 Singer Featherweight

My Story: I was recently given an amazing, unexpected gift by a long-time friend and I want to savor every minute of my time with it. (Thank you again, Linda Cooper!) I am now the proud owner of a 1935 Singer Featherweight 221, which I have named Molly. I want to learn all about it, clean and care for it, and take it on the road with me when I might have a little time to sew. I could have sent it out for service, but no. I sent out for the parts and (with my husband’s help) cleaned and serviced it myself. I am documenting Molly’s journey in a notebook. If you know me in real life, this is no surprise. My inner perfectionist wants to document Molly’s history and keep records for when she moves on to her next owner (since I know she will outlast me), and so I gave myself permission. I didn’t have to do it; I wanted to do it. This has made me a very happy quilter.

Next week: Planning — A Road Map or Quicksand?

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I cannot overstate how important it is to get out of Dodge every once in a while. Sometimes you just need a change of venue to spark your productivity and clear your creative palette.


Me, Mary, and Kathy

It’s  been a long year, filled with rough patches and happy surprises. The fact that I’m able to be here, sharing a friend’s hospitality, is a tribute to the power of positive energy. The house where I’m staying is roomy and has been filled with an ever-changing cast of friends and family for the last week.

The trip has been on my calendar for a good six months and I’ve looked forward to it each time deadlines loomed and things looked dark. Getting away doesn’t make everything magically better, but it does allow perspectives to shift and energies to be realigned.


Cut Blocks Ready to Sew

Take productivity for example. Every year I spend some time with friends at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival. For the past two years, this small group has done a block exchange. I’ve had a really hard time getting around to those blocks this year, despite the fact that I really want the quilt that will result. And so, I packed the fabrics, the pattern, and the tools, and I planned to work on them here. Here’s a shot of all 75 blocks, cut and ready to stitch together. The pattern is from Alex Anderson Classics and is called Holiday Lights.


Five Sample Blocks

My friend Kathy Lincoln has already made this quilt once and was here to guide me through the use of a specialty ruler and a borrowed Bernina. (More about Bernina in a later post!)

All 75 blocks are now sewn and ready for the exchange! I used this long pillow as a small makeshift design wall. How cute are these trees?! Now I think I have to make a pillow to go with the quilt.


Kathy Working Hard

My friend Kathy has been feverishly working on billions and billions (okay, 472) flying geese units for a class she’ll offer at the Quilt Patch during the next session. 


Kathy's Geese

 This shot of the blocks was taken by Mary’s daughter, Katherine McPherson. Check out her work at www.katherinemcphersonphotography.com.

Mary has been working on surprises and I can’t include any pictures here. I’d hate to let the cats out of the bag!
Away from the day-to-day, usual routines, I find that I can breathe a little easier. I can relax a little and put things in perspective. In fact, I just delegated dinner salad duties to Jeannie, another quilter staying here. Those of you who know me will know how out of character it is for me to give away jobs and responsibilities. Now I’m going to go do the prep work for tonight’s dinner of smoked salmon piccata with fettucini.

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Command Central

Command Central

When I typed that title, I worried that it promised some profound wisdom, some insight that will allow us all to slay our to-do lists and spend our leisure hours making things that make our souls happy. Hmm. Instead, I want to talk a little about personal productivity and explore how I can be more productive in that limiting 24-day that we all have.  Seriously, we all have the same 24 hours; how are you getting so much more done than I am?!

And so, why am I not as productive as I’d like to be?

  • I expect too much of myself.
  • I am distracted and need to focus.
  • I need to be better at prioritizing my activities.

Hmm. Does any of that sound familiar? Thought so. I recognize that these are things I need to work on so that I can escape this too-busy-to-think run-in-circles mentality that I’ve developed.

First, how much can I reasonably expect to accomplish? My to-do list is pages long. That’s not hyperbole; it’s really pages long. I write everything down in the hopes that nothing will be forgotten, even if it’s not a task that I expect to accomplish for days or weeks.

Okay, if my list is too long, how do I make it shorter? I’m learning to say “no.” Unfortunately, I don’t say it often enough and I don’t say it to myself. If a new project looks fun, I say yes. If a new project may provide my company revenue, I say yes. If a new project will allow me to learn something I’m interested in, uh-huh, I say yes. The hardest lesson for me is saying “no” to myself.

I’m keeping my very long to-do list so that I don’t forget some of my long-range ideas and plans, but I try not to look at it too often.

overviewWhich leads me to…prioritizing. At the beginning of each day (you can do this at the end of your day if that works better for you), I sit down and compose a short list. What absolutely must get done today? And if I had an extra half-hour, what would make my heart sing? Truly, I do write the short list, but I need to work on guarding that half-hour so that I can fill the well and remember why I stay home in my studio. For the short list, I try to be reasonable. I list what really needs to get done and then I assign priorities. In a perfect world, this would work. That means I’ll have to put an end to my current practice of “Productivity Through Avoidance.” (Let me know if you’d like to hear more about that and I’ll blog on it later…when I’m avoiding another task!)

The distractions should be simple to avoid, but it takes more self control than I’m currently using. My distractions include NPR on the radio or TV, e-mail, housework (since my studio is in my home), the kitchen, and my unwillingness to focus. I’m not unable to focus; I honestly believe I’m unwilling. Not sure why, though.

To avoid distractions, I believe it will help to control my environment better and to structure the day. First, no more radio and TV unless I’m officially off the clock. I have an iPod that has two weeks’ worth of music on it. Seriously. I’ve set up a series of playlists that will set the tone for the day and allow me to work. I have a very calm, lyric-free playlist that I listen to in the morning when I’m writing. I have a more active playlist that I listen to when I am cutting, sewing, and working a little more physically. And I have a rockin’ playlist that I listen to when I have to really move. I dare you to listen to my active playlist without dancing. Really.

No more housework in the middle of the day. No more “I’ll just do this load of laundry,” or “Let me just clean up these dishes.” No more “just.” Why is guarding my studio time so hard?

img_0962And, at last, my electronic distractions. My husband says I should turn off the Outlook feature that notifies me when I have mail. I’m not sure I can do that, but I do plan to try to ignore the computer when I’m working on other things. This will be the hardest.

Productivity. It’s the holy grail, the elephant graveyard, the intelligent life in the universe that so many people seek. It’s elusive, but I plan to pursue it in 2009. Now it’s time to finish this and walk away from the computer!

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