Norman Rockwell and an Inefficient Awakening

Norman Rockwell and an Inefficient Revolution

When Chris Guillebeau comes to town, exciting things happen. We crammed over 65 people upstairs at the local coffee shop, talked about non-conformity, and met some incredible people. Thanks to all who came out and joined us.

One of Chris’ talking points was right down the alley of something I’ve been thinking about lately: inefficiency. Chris loves big, inefficient goals, like traveling to all 192 countries in the world, or visiting every US state and Canadian province to ensure the success of his book.

LifeDev used to be about efficiency. Or maybe a better description would be “how to not lose ideas”. (This is something that has taken me years to understand.)

If you dig through the archives, you’ll see that this site used to be all about things like how to work smarter, faster, better every day.

The thing is, efficiency doesn’t translate to impact.

Nostalgia to the Rescue

I have a thing for nostalgic paintings and culture. I love Norman Rockwell paintings and Leave it to Beaver re-runs. Work in previous decades was much more easily defined: you strolled to work at 9, and you left at 5. Market research? Reading the paper every morning. You were expected to perform between “work hours”, and after that it was family time.

By today’s standards, this would be highly inefficient. You couldn’t flip open a laptop and work on some work email after dinner. You weren’t expected to carry a device that kept you on a chain to the boss’ whims. No work email.

The problem is that we’re trying to be so efficient that we forget what it means to disconnect, to get away, to turn off the screen. Work isn’t work anymore; it’s a lifestyle. A half-connected, sleepy lifestyle.

In the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working (affiliate link), author Tony Schwartz gives reasons why constantly being connected at medium levels of engagement is positively awful for your work. To quote the author, when we work like this we can only hope to create a “pale version of the possible”.

I love that line. A pale version of the possible.

I’m trying something new: when I wake up in the morning, I no longer check email. I don’t even crack open the laptop. I read. In a paper book. Then, I’ll start writing down thoughts or things that need to get done in a notebook. A paper notebook.

Since I’ve become more comfortable switching mediums and routines, I’ve noticed an incredible shift in energy behind whatever I decide to do. I have more clarity. I have more ideas. I’m calmer, and most importantly, I love morning times that much more. Could there be something to the simple, somewhat mundane tasks we do everyday that might make us more efficient?

(As I was putting the polish on this article, Scott Belsky published these exact sentiments over at The 99 Percent.)

So, as weird as it sounds for a former productivity blogger to say, I’m looking for more ways to be inefficient.


Leave a Comment

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Ruben Berenguel October 26, 2010, 2:34 pm

    As I was reading the end of your post I started to think about 99Percent and its “Analog Rituals” post… and then you linked to it. That was nice, it means you like stuff I like.

    I found that piece very enlightening. I am very fond of technology, carrying around my iPod Touch for reading PDF’s, checking email and whatnot, even having a not really useful Ben NanoNote and almost always my old trusty netbook. But I am also a kind of anachronic lover, using a fountain pen to write. And since reading that post I decided to switch again and do my to-do list and agenda in plain paper, with my perfect pen, by hand.

    Has it improved my productivity? Depends on the day. Last week was terrific, I killed my to-do every day except Friday. This week has been terrible, and today I just skimmed and did almost no work-related stuff. Just wrote a post in my blog: Overwhelmed With Projects? Declare Task Bankruptcy. As the title suggests, it is very akin with what I am experiencing now.

    I hope by tomorrow I will be back on track!



  • katie kirby October 22, 2010, 4:43 pm

    I loved this article. For me it hit the nail on the head, there is such truth in it.

  • Dan M October 6, 2010, 3:02 pm

    This reminds me of an experiment I ran once where I tried to cook a full breakfast for myself every morning. This was way less efficient than picking up something quick on my way to work, and I had to get up about an hour earlier, which was very painful (I’m not a morning person).

    What I found, though, was that this really improved my focus. Suddenly I had a mundane (and delicious) hour or so at the start of every day for my mind to wander around creatively without me throwing data at it. I was able to narrow down what my priorities were for that day, and get a head start on how to tackle them, before even looking at any “work”.

    In the end, I wasn’t able to keep this up past about 3 weeks (I have sleep issues, and I needed that hour back) but I’ll still do this every now and then, especially on days when I know I’ll have a lot of thought-work to do. And it still helps.

    • glen October 6, 2010, 3:21 pm

      Very cool idea. Makes a lot of sense to do a bunch of mundane tasks in the morning, allowing your mind to wake up. Plus, you’re starting the day with a killer breakfast (my favorite meal!) :)

  • Mark Shriner October 4, 2010, 12:54 am

    At the risk of getting caught up in a semantics debate, I’d like to suggest that by being in “A half-connected, sleepy lifestyle” we are actually inefficiently working towards efficiency.

    That is, there is nothing wrong with being efficient, if, in fact, we truly are efficient. But, by doing everything at once, we create an illusion of efficiency.

    As someone somewhere once said, “don’t confuse activity with results.”

    Efficiency is great if it leads to results. If it doesn’t, then it is simply inefficient!

    • glen October 4, 2010, 8:28 am

      “As someone somewhere once said, ‘don’t confuse activity with results.'”


      My loss in perceived efficiency is far less than the gain I get by more focus and doing pretty much one thing at time.

      Great thoughts Mark!

  • Chris Guillebeau October 3, 2010, 1:37 pm

    Inefficiency for the win!

    Thanks Glen. You did a fantastic job in Lawrence and I was so glad to be there with you guys.

    • glen October 4, 2010, 8:24 am

      Come on back anytime. I imagine I’ll see you sooner in PDX though for the Summit.

  • Ace October 2, 2010, 10:21 am

    I love to do things that breaks out of the mundane cycle, sometimes just for the sake of it.

  • Greg October 2, 2010, 6:39 am

    Glen, thank you. I love Rockwell, old movies, old books, and just about everything nostalgic. I just realized I have always loved that stuff, even as a young child. I collect old films, music, books, etc. They not only make me happy, but they remind me of a more simple time, albeit, in many cases, before my time. I love technology. However, I have been saying, for years, that technology is being misused. I really like your morning routine. I need to make a shift. I do read from a paper book and use a paper note book, as you do. I just need to stop using the computer before reading and writing. I’m curious what impact that will have? I dive in, every morning, using the computer as a tool for seeking out possible employment. It has been a real downer. It is time for a change. It may or may not haelp my job search. I suspect it will help my thinking and attitude.

    Thanks for the mindshift.

    • glen October 2, 2010, 8:29 am

      Yeah, those things are definitely before my time as well, but I still love them :)

      I agree about the people misusing technology. It seems like we try to squeeze too much out of computers and devices, without thinking about what we lose when we do.

  • Penelope J. October 1, 2010, 3:38 pm

    Glen, Excellent post. Sort of a continuation of one you wrote about changing writing mediums. So being inefficient is actually more motivating. Maybe I should go back to old routine when I looked forward to my mornings, reading, writing, and then checking my emails. I inverted that method and guess what got left out? I now live on my computer with one exception. After 3 pm Friday, I go my computerless way throughout the weekend- or most of it. I read a book, write my own stuff – not my blog, go for walks, browse in the bookstore, watch movies. In other words, return to late 20th century type activities – the end of the Norman Rockwell era.
    Btw, you’re the second blog to mention Chris Guillebeau coming to your town. I gather he’s crossing the country.

    • glen October 2, 2010, 8:27 am

      Interesting method on giving the computer a break over the weekend. It seems like a really good absolute way to break between work and play. I like.

      Yes, Chris is crossing the country for his book tour. You should go! Here’s the url: