Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 2, 201411:26 PM

The George Costanza Approach To Getting Things Done

Do the opposite.

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decided to do everything the opposite of what he had done to date? Watch this:

Do the opposite.

I'm not telling you to do the opposite of everything you have done to date, but sometimes the best case scenario or the white paper or the certainty of an expert's opinion could lead you down the wrong path. Case in point: at this time of the year, it's almost impossible to not be inundated with content around how to have the best year ever. It could come in the form of productivity tips, New Year's Resolutions, self-help books, perspectives on diet and exercise and beyond. You see this content in the mass media, on blogs (like this one), in tweets, motivational pictures on Instagram, specific Pinterest boards and more. As an infovore, it has been the bulk of content that I have seen (and been consuming) for the past little while. It's hard not have some of this thinking seep into my own thinking around the type of year that I would like 2014 to be. One of the recurring themes that I have seen, heard and read is to ignore things like email, making phone calls and social media first thing in the day. Many great thinkers (and you can Google it), will tell you that the first thing that you should do once you get up and get your work day on, is to focus and spend and fixed and blocked time on the really important stuff. No email. No social media. No phone calls. Start your day by burying yourself in your work and block out everything else (even if you need technology like Freedom to do so!).

That one gave me pause.

I do the complete opposite. For me to have the energy to think about the big stuff (client strategies at Twist Image, pushing forward our business development plans at the agency or even writing a blog post), I need all of that little stuff off of my radar. Watching the inbox grow or even simple birthday wishes to friends on Facebook stack up over the course of the day, doesn't help me focus on the big stuff. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Again, this is a personal thing (and, it could well be just me who feels this way), but knowing that my inbox has been sanitized and that I've done a quick review on social media tends to make me feel like I'm a little bit more informed as to what's happening in the world, and that my communication for the day is (somewhat) complete. I'm no night owl, either. It's not like I spend my whole day on email and social media praying for a few scant moments towards the end of the day to work on the bigger things, but I do prefer the feeling like I am (somewhat) up-to-speed and not falling behind on those little things. Also, those little things tend to inspire new thinking or spark and idea. They always do.

These experts.

These same experts also tell you to stay concentrated and not to shift from one window to another. So, if you are doing work, don't hop over to Facebook or YouTube (even for a second). There is research that states it can take close to 25 minutes to get back into the groove of what you were doing, so it is a pure loss of efficiency (that most people don't even realize). This may be true, but I find that those mental breaks often help me in finding the right words or different ways of thinking to add more color and perspective. I often need a lot of little breaks because I tend to work best in shorter spurts. As Seth Godin would say, "your mileage may vary." 

Don't play music. Play music.

People love to know how other people work. We tend to believe that how they work has some kind of correlation to the actual output. I'm not sure where I sit on that fence. There are days when music helps me write and there are days when anything but silence can throw off my concentration. There are days when I am fully concentrated and engaged, but the output of my ideas don't seem to find the right flow... and then there's the opposite as well. Again, this is less about process, superstition and other tactics. The thing is to find your own flow and be open to having that same flow find a new river, valley and waterfall to roll into (and that can happen daily). Currently, I am writing this blog post on a makeshift standing desk (that I made using a computer lap desk) with music is blasting along with it. I'm not sure how long I'll last at a standing desk or be able to find the right words with this modern jazz blazing in the background. Today, it works. Tomorrow, it might not. What I do know is that sometimes doing the opposite of what every expert is telling you to do can create something magical (I guess, I'm also telling you to not believe everyone and everything you read and see... including me).

True innovation and creativity is about finding your own path and not trying to replicate what someone else has done (even if you define them as successful), simply because a process works for them.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Bill Laidlaw
    Mitch Joel

    A milieu worth noting (the desk and loud music) or just happenstance?
    Don't care, this is my favourite post in quite a while Mitch.

  • Posted by Sylvie Ouaknine
    Mitch Joel


    I loved it and is totally appropriate for my new approach to my marketing agency. It is interesting how in life, we receive confirmations, affirmations, lessons, enlightenment from the less expected places. This is one. Thanks for sharing Mitch. Have a great year

  • Posted by Daria Steigman
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    I think the key is really that one size doesn't fit all. Some days I need to do the small stuff to clear space in my brain; other days I need to dig into the big project or stay on point. One person's way to productivity is their way, not necessarily mine (or yours).

    I've always been a big fan of the Opposites episode. Once I got so frustrated with all the nutritional advice that wasn't helping my running anymore that I went "opposites": Guinness and potato skins the night before one long run. It worked so well I rinsed and repeated.

  • Posted by Dan
    Mitch Joel

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    GTD Agenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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