On productivity and focus

Focus your energy on what's important to you. Image from 'Essentialism' by Greg McKeown

I read an interesting article today on motivation and how to get more done using Temptation Bundling.

The basic premise is…

doing what you want and what you should be doing together, but only together

I usually try not to be the contrary one, however I believe this line of thinking can be truly detrimental to people’s health (mental and physical).

I love Todoist, and I love trying to improve my productivity. But I also love life!

I aim to be efficient and productive precisely so I have more (dedicated) time for the things I enjoy—i.e. the ‘temptations’.

I’m sure watching TV while on a treadmill actually works quite well, but I suspect it may be the exception to the rule. The current trend towards busyness, multi-tasking—including this teaspoon-of-sugar approach to getting things done—and generally just trying to fit more in I see as a false-economy.

Not only does it reduce the enjoyment of the things you want to do, but it negatively impacts the quality of the work you’re trying to do simultaneously. Oh yeah, and it can damage your brain!

So, what can you do if you’re struggling for motivation? Well, motivation is complex, there are many variables and no silver bullet. But when I struggle, I try to remember to ask myself why I’m struggling? And go from there. Consider:

  • Is this actually important?
  • Is this actually the best use of my time?
  • Am I avoiding something I don’t feel I have the information, skills or resources to do well?
  • Can I automate, delegate or outsource this?
  • Do I have the energy and focus to do this now? What can I do to get the energy and focus?

Once you think you know why, a solution may be obvious. If not, you could try ‘tricking’ yourself with bribes and rewards. It may even work. I find the tricks only work once or twice before the same lack of willpower that allowed me to procrastinate in the first place will allow me access to the reward without completing the task!—Its amazing what you can justify to yourself if you try hard enough :)

In summary, for your own personal satisfaction and enjoyment I recommend:

  1. Do your work, be focussed, be efficient, be productive.
  2. If you’re struggling with motivation, ask yourself why? And go from there.
  3. Then relax, enjoy, be mindful and present in the moment.

Get the most out of your life by focusing on what’s important to you and then doing justice to each activity. One at a time.

Recommended reading:

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Akebono Diddle

Akebono Diddle, roughly scribbled score

In between bouts of jet-lag-induced lethargy, I’ve been playing with a new toy.

It’s really a lot of fun. The pitch-set (G, C, D, Eb, G, Ab, C, D, Eb) has some nice tight intervals allowing a little crunch for good effect, but generally it’s foolproof—it doesn’t really matter what you hit, it sounds great. Which makes playing ludic and relaxing.

While messing around, I find myself coming up with riff-based diddies, then—assuming I’ll soon forget—recording them onto the nearest capable device (usually an iPhone) and/or scribbling them down.

Here’s the result of one such diddie/scribble.

Which (performed and recorded hastily) sounds a little like…

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European photography

I was lucky enough to spend some time on holiday in Europe recently. It was a whirlwind trip, stopping in each city for only a few days at a time. I saw a lot, learned a lot, and met some amazing people. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to make such a trip. The technology and opportunities we now have available to us make this so easy, we’re rapidly becoming part of a truly global society.

Ok, enough philosophising, why the post? I’ve never really been a photographer, but I’ve had some exposure (see what I did there?), it runs in the family. I’ve always liked the idea of giving it a go, one day. This trip was the perfect excuse opportunity to get a camera and try to work out how to use it.

Turns out I really enjoy taking photos. I find going for a walk to find interesting things to photograph calming, it pulls me into a different head-space. More focused, and present. You actively see the world around you—and the possibilities, what could be—as opposed to just floating around in it, reacting.

I’ve included some of my favourites here, I hope you enjoy them.

  • Spikey I
  • Grate. Just great.
  • Westminster Bridge
  • My Fair Lady
  • Spikey II
  • Barbican apartments I
  • London gets creative
  • Barrel
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • Paris street art I
  • Rue Tiquetonne
  • Tessellation of a nation II
  • Parisian alley
  • Innocent pixel art
  • The Watcher (Notre Dame)
  • Votive I (Notre Dame)
  • Cathedral Doors (Notre Dame)
  • Heavy Metal (Eiffel Tower)
  • Cascades (Notre Dame)
  • Votive II (Notre Dame)
  • Holy Heads (Notre Dame)
  • Musée d'Orsay
  • Plateau palette (Kapadokya)
  • I can't believe it's not butter (Kapadokya)
  • Evil eye wishing tree (Kapadokya)
  • Dawn (Ballooning, Kapadokya, Turkey)
  • Top down (Ballooning, Kapadokya, Turkey)
  • Road signs are for advice only (Kapadokya, Turkey)
  • Lanterns (Grand Bazaar, Istanbul)
  • Parthenon (Athens)
  • Wasp (Delphi, Greece)
  • Poetry for the Oracle (Delphi, Greece)
  • Escher-esque (Meteora, Greece)
  • Monastic Meteora, Greece
  • La Maddalena (Venice)
  • High fidelity dirt (Venice)
  • De-composition (Venice)
  • Grand Cannal (Venice)
  • Carnivale masks (Venice)
  • Rio De La Torre (Venice)
  • Ponte Vecchio (Florence)
  • Your climb begins here (Duomo, Florence)
  • Duomo (Florence)
  • Colosseum (Rome)
  • Ancient arches (Colosseum, Rome)
  • Ancient flora (Forum, Rome)
  • Marbled (Vatican)
  • Dome (Vatican)
  • One arvo at the Arno (Florence)

More photos from the trip are on Flickr.

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C.I.A. Security Briefing

In information security terms, C.I.A. is an initialism for Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. To protect the security of information, threats to the three aspects are analysed, risks assessed and security controls implemented to mitigate them.

This piece is the soundtrack for a humourous, yet educational video I created as a scene-setting and warmup activity before workshopping the topic of information security and cyber threats (in a non-commercial setting).

I would love to be able link you to a copy of the video, but it contains excerpts of copyrighted material from movies and news broadcasts. I’m pretty confident it would qualify under US Fair Use and Australian Fair Dealing legislation—e.g. it was created for non-profit educational purposes, is a parody and uses only small excerpts in a ‘transformative’ way (it juxtaposed fact and fiction to transform the meaning of both)—but I really would rather not take the risk, especially since Australian Fair Dealing law seems less supportive of this type of use than US Fair Use law.

Suffice to say, the video was largely tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top and needed some typically crass Action Music!! to tie it together. Luckily, being cheesy action music it all came together quite quickly over the weekend—good thing too, the workshop is on Tuesday.

This is my first attempt to write music to underscore video, well, recently. I did arrange and record music to sit under a Bond film excerpt once for high school music class. The technology has come a long way since then! I had fun passing versions of the music into video editing software and versions of the video back into Ableton Live to ensure the music fit the video and vice versa—and learned a lot in the process. I suspect most film composers don’t have the luxury of being able to iteratively edit music and video to fit nicely together.

It features tragically trite action music tropes, so enjoy a listen and a laugh…

This piece is distributed under the Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution Share Alike licence.

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Revenge of C.H.A.D.

Cover Art: 8bit Hoodie ninja confronting C.H.A.D. with 8-bit volcano erupting on the distant horizon

I celebrated the end of my eduvacation by publishing a piece of music. It’s titled Revenge of C.H.A.D., a reference to Super Meat Boy—a diabolically difficult but fun modern-retro platformer. The piece was also inspired by vintage games I enjoyed playing when I was younger (I hear echos of Mario in there, Tetris perhaps?).

This creation helped me practice techniques I’ve been learning and get to know Ableton (I bit the bullet and bought Live 9 Suite). It also let me indulge a hidden passion, I’m secretly a drum and bass (and even Wubstep) fan, please don’t tell anyone. I’ve always been obsessed with rhythm and as an ex-Tuba player, drum and bass is the perfect combination! 😉

Dubstep’s use of timbral variation to create rhythm I find compelling. Traditionally almost all rhythm is created using discrete articulations (i.e. separate notes), in Dubstep rhythm is just as likely to be the result of a series of throbs or wubs without starting a new note. I’m sure there have been pockets of use before—indigenous Australians playing didgeridoo mastered the concept thousands of years ago—however DubStep has taken the idea well beyond the niches, such that it has now become a mainstream musical technique.

There’s also something really special and charming about chiptunes. The sound of the old hardware is charming, and their limitations meant that retro game music composers were forced to be really creative to get the most out of devices. There are still people avidly composing chiptunes. More than a gimic, many create really interesting and exciting music.

I gave myself a deadline, just four days to produce something from scratch. The time flew by! There’s so much more work in pulling a piece together than you’d think, it catches me by surprise every time. I feel like I could have easily spent another four days just tweaking. I’ve just uploaded it, and there are already aspects about it that make me cringe. But a deadline is a deadline, I need to move on. The artist’s dilemma?

Melodically it’s deliberately trite, trying to tap into some of the inanity found in the genres for humorous effect—to be fair, I’m sure there’s inanity to be found in most genres. The challenge was then to try to generate interest from the combination of the melodies and genres. There are a lot of ideas in the mix, too many probably for such a short piece, I’ll remember that for next time.

At any rate, I had a lot of fun creating it, I hope you enjoy listening to it.

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