Question: How can a person improve his productive output in writing? How can he measure and increase his efficiency in writing – whether for blog posts, essays, papers, or anything else? Should a person set a goal of completing a given writing in a given time frame? Should he track time spent? Should he limit editing? Or something else?
Summary: A virtuous person does not merely need to know the abstract principles of rational egoism: he needs to live them, day in and day out, in word and deed. When faced with the kinds of complex problems that arise in ordinary life, acting virtuously can be a major challenge. In this workshop, I lead a discussion on how to think about one such real-life problem, namely procrastination, in a principled way, while respecting differences in context and values. This talk was given at ATLOSCon 2012 on 27 May 2012.
Question: What's so special about the seven virtues? Ayn Rand identified seven virtues: rationality, honesty, productiveness, independence, justice, integrity, and pride. What's different about those qualities – as compared to other commonly touted virtues like benevolence, creativity, temperance, or courage? Basically, why are those seven the virtues in Objectivism? Is Objectivism right to single them out? Are they exhaustive?
Tags: Character, Context, Ethics, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Justice, Major Values, Moral Amplifiers, Objectivism, Pride, Productiveness, Productivity, Purposefulness, Rationalism, Rationality, Virtue
Question: How can I minimize interruptions at work? I'm a programmer, and I need long stretches of quiet time in order to be productive. Unfortunately, my work has an open floor plan, and people tend to pop by my desk if they have a question. I hate those interruptions, but I don't know how to discourage them without being snippy or unfriendly. Plus, sometimes my co-workers have good reason to interrupt me with a question or news. So how can I eliminate the unimportant interruptions?
Question: How can I motivate myself to act to further my goals despite my overwhelming lethargy? I struggle with motivating myself to do what I know I should. I'm not inclined to do wrong, but I just find it hard to act to further my goals in life. I'm 26 and I live with my dad while I (slowly) finish my degree. I want to become financially independent and move out on my own, but I struggle with the normal, necessary daily habits required to get this done. For example, my dad wants me to do more house chores, and I can see how this is a fair thing to ask, given that he works two jobs to support both of us. However, when I think about all the things I should be doing a wave of lethargy overcomes me. It's the same story when I think about the homework I need to do, which isn't even very hard to do. Job searching and trying to build my resume are also on my mind, but I can't seem to get motivated to do that either. I have implemented GTD, but obviously once it comes to actually carrying out all of the plans, I can get a good burst of motivation for a short while, but then something doesn't go my way, and the lethargy hits me again. Both of my parents have clinical depression and anxiety problems, and I have seen first hand how it has affected their lives. I have spent most of my life combating depression and anxiety. I can always summon up a good mood for myself – sometimes by evading the pressure of my responsibilities, which is not good – and when I feel anxiety I am able to calm myself down by introspecting and thinking through it. So I know that I have the tools to solve problems in my life and achieve my goals, but self awareness has only gotten me so far. What can I do to raise my motivation and keep it up? How do I overcome the tendency to procrastinate and ignore my responsibilities? How do I put my philosophy into action?
Question: How can I overcome feeling like a slacker? I am a very productive person, with multiple projects going on simultaneously, both personal and professional. Generally, I handle juggling things pretty well, and accomplish quite a bit. I can usually attain most of my goals, and I like that about myself. (I'm also a pretty ambitious person so I have many big goals.) However, I also often feel like a complete slacker. I can see all of the things I accomplish, but I often feel like I could be doing more – one more thing, one more project. Sometimes, when I look at the things I've accomplished, all I can see are the things I wasn't able to do and it can be easy to feel defeated and negative about that. How can I reconcile the gap here? How can I get better at feeling the sense of accomplishment I think I should – and deserve – to feel? Do you have any ideas for getting rid of this mantle of slackerness I've saddled myself with – unfairly, I think? I've been making some changes that have helped, such as writing down my accomplishments each day, but I'm looking for more ideas.
Question: Is it moral to live on passive income or just work a "four hour work week"? Would that be compatible with the idea that a person's productive work should be his central purpose? If a person is so productive that he is able to enjoy a great life by only working a few hours per week, would it be wrong for that person to spend the rest of his time on travel, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, education, and other non-productive interests?
Question: How can I make better progress on my long-term goals? I have the curious affliction of stagnating, often for very long periods of time, on long term goals. That happens even when those goals pertain to pursuits I enjoy. This pattern has me confused and somewhat alarmed, because I know that these long term goals I have set for myself will be the most meaningful for me to accomplish. Although I see the great value in skill-building for a new career, learning to play the piano, learning a new language, and so on, I cannot seem to get myself to take the daily, repeated action required for more than a week or two. That happens, despite my applying GTD and breaking down the larger task into manageable pieces. My neophile personality simply takes interest in something else, and I miss a day (then two, then three) of taking action, preventing me from ever establishing an activity as a habit. How can I break this cycle of mediocrity, so that I can really start making progress on long term goals?
Summary: Financial markets are often vilified – and misunderstood. How do financial markets work? What impact do they have on the economy? Are they dangerous – or beneficial? What is the government's current versus proper role in financial markets?
Question: How can I politely tell my co-workers that I'm not interested in socializing? I have always struggled with the pressure to form friendships at work. Personally, I don't want to hang out with my coworkers after work. I don't want to chit chat during work. I won't want to celebrate birthdays or other personal events. This is always interpreted as me being snobbish, aloof, and worst of all "not a team player." It's so annoying. I just want to do a good job and then leave, not join a social club. How can I communicate that without being offensive?
Question: Is yelling at and shaming an employee ever justifiable? Imagine that a product at work must be shipped by a certain deadline – and if it's late, the company will suffer a major loss. All the workers involved know that, yet as the deadline approaches, one worker works slowly, seemingly without concern for the deadline. When reminded, he acknowledges the deadline, yet his work continues to be as slow as ever. In such cases, might yelling at that worker – even shaming him in front of co-workers – be just what he needs to motivate him to get the project done? If not, what else should be done?
Question: Is is second-handed to work hard to clean and repair your house before company arrives? I'm constantly fighting a battle to get my house looking reasonable. Then, right before company arrives from out-of-town, I make an extra big push to get it as clean and tidy as possible. I'd like it to always be that way, but I'll work a lot harder when I know that someone else will be in the space. So is it second-handed to want to present a better home than I normally maintain? Or is putting in that effort that a matter of respecting and providing for people that I value?
Question: Is time for recreation compatible with the virtue of productiveness? If productive work is the means by which I achieve my values, how can one justify spending even one minute doing something that doesn't propel me toward some value? I am specifically referring to leisure activities like going to the movies, playing video games, and following sports. I'm not referring to activities that have obvious benefits like sleep, exercise, or cooking healthy food. What about hobbies that are enriching, but ultimately have no productive purpose like dance or guitar lessons (assuming I don't want to perform in either context as a career)? Is pursuing such hobbies wrong?
Summary: Getting Things Done (or GTD) is an organizational system developed by David Allen during his 20-plus years of consulting with business professionals and executives. Its primary virtue is its sound epistemological approach and its concrete advice on how to apply that approach to daily activities. The end result of using it is that you are able to handle many more projects simultaneously with little or no stress.
Summary: Do you want to accomplish more? Do you find yourself spinning your wheels or procrastinating on your projects?
Question: How can I manage my projects better? Too often, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects on my agenda. Because I'm overcommitted, I'll miss important deadlines or allow some projects to be delayed into oblivion. Other times, my work is rushed and sloppy. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed, and then I don't get any work done. What can I do to manage my various work and home projects better, so that I keep making progress on what really matters to me?
Question: How can I become more tenacious in pursuit of my goals? I find that I give up too easily on some of my goals, particularly when success is far away and much effort is required now. What can I do to make myself more tenacious?
Question: What's the best way to mentally focus on one activity when I can't stop thinking about another? Sometimes I get overly focused on or worried about a problem I'm having at work, and then I have difficulty focusing in class. Similarly, sometimes I'll think about an issue I'm having with a close friend, and I know I should focus my energy elsewhere, but it's difficult to do so. I know that I should give my full attention to class during the actual class period, but it's difficult to stop thinking about the other issue I have. What kind of method can I used to stop worrying about work, and focus on class instead? What's a good way to switch my focus from one thing to another over the course of a day?
Question: How can I procrastinate less? Often, I avoid doing unpleasant tasks for days or weeks, and I feel terrible about those delays. How can I motivate myself to just get those dreaded chores out of the way?
Question: What is the difference (if any) between 'productiveness' and 'productivity'? People often seem to use the terms interchangeably, but are they the same?
Question: A piece of creative work can be polished forever yet still be far from perfect. Besides, there comes a point where it needs to be brought to completion and made available to its recipients, if there are any, to use and enjoy. How does one make the judgment call as to when that point is reached? I hope to go beyond the ranking of values ("How important is this to me, and have I devoted enough time and effort to it already?") and discuss considerations such as: telling whether I'm still adding to the value of the piece, maintaining a clear view of which details are important, keeping the scope of the piece within reasonable bounds without oversimplifying it, and not letting my feelings about the piece interfere with my judgment of its quality.