Weekend Upgrade (by R.J. Nestor)

Weekend Upgrade 49: Your Transforming Toolkit

Published 3 months ago • 6 min read

Happy Friday!

Pavarotti Productivity

I’m a tenor, and like most tenors, I love a good high note. Practicing high notes can be challenging, though.

One common practice-room experience goes like this: you pay close attention to your breath, ensuring it’s engaged but released. Then you focus on where you’ll feel the resonance most intensely, above and behind your wide-open mouth, particularly around your eyes. Then as you start singing the phrase, and the high note approaches, you stay connected to the intention of the text, anchoring your vocal delivery in genuine communication. Finally the high note arrives… and it’s amazing. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

You nailed it.

Then, grinning ear to ear with that transcendent experience in your back pocket, you resolve to practice the high note once more. I’ll sing it again just like that, you think. And so you focus the experience of that first high note and advance through the phrase again, the memory of that first attempt buoying your confidence, the certainty of success coursing through your operatic veins, and then the high note arrives again… and your voice cracks horrendously. The high note barely qualifies as a note.

You failed it.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’ve done it, I’ve had students do it, I’ve talked to other singers who have experienced it. The problem is simple: we try to recreate the result instead of the process. The high note went well, so we try to duplicate it, but the part we needed to repeat was the process that created the glorious original high note, not the note itself.

There’s a reason “recreating” the high note doesn’t work: every act of creation is a new one. You can’t copy an old act of creation and succeed. You can identify the process you used and follow the process again, but even if the result seems the same, it’s a new creation.

All true things must change

All true things must change and only that which changes remains true.
– Carl Yung

There’s an old expression that goes like this: “You can’t step in the same river twice.” On the surface, this seems silly. I can hop downtown and dip my toe in the Monongahela River today and then do it again tomorrow. Boy, that was easy to disprove! But the expression, like many rivers, is deeper than it appears. A river is both the course that water follows—this is the version I can step into repeatedly—and also the water itself. The H₂O molecules I interacted with yesterday are twenty miles or so downstream today. In that sense, it’s a new river. (Not the New River, also here in West Virginia—just a new river.)

I call this transformation, and it takes change a step further: everything is new, always. Not just the result, but the process too. Nothing we repeat is wholly repeated—or, at least, that which is mindlessly repeated without an eye toward changing circumstances will eventually lead to error and decay.

💡 Review your toolkit to account for change and transformation 💡

👆 That’s your weekend upgrade.

Without regular reviews, you can’t adapt to changing circumstances. And, ironically, change is the one true constant in our lives. Jobs change. Roles change. Passions change. Partners change. The system that works today may not work next month. The automation that saves you 20 minutes a day may fail when one of the apps involved is discontinued. The dream you’ve worked toward for 35 years may disappear when a loved one falls ill.

Change is reality. Ignore it, and everything will fall apart. But there’s good news: in our productivity toolkits, we don’t have to ignore change. We can equip ourselves to adapt to it. We can develop regular reviews and take action on the feedback we receive.

Reviews capture change and transformation

If you have no reviews as part of your productivity toolkit, you can’t monitor the quality of your near-term change—the immediate results of action you take in the moment. More importantly, you can’t monitor the necessity of your longer-term transformation—the adjustments and adaptations that must occur over time in your toolkit if you are to keep working in an efficient and fulfilling way. Consider implementing the following types of review in your productivity toolkit.

Task Reviews

We can review tasks logistically—that is, are they clear, easy to understand, and set correctly to surface to our attention when we need them? We can also review them functionally—do they describe work we genuinely need to do, or should we take different action instead?

The practical result of most task reviews is a plan. If I’m preparing for the day ahead, I review tasks in the midst of creating a daily agenda. If I’m preparing for the week ahead, I review tasks as I schedule them for the days I expect to accomplish them.

I review recurring tasks periodically to make sure they’re set correctly and still serving my needs. I also look for opportunities to do recurring tasks at longer intervals—meaning, if I have a recurring task I do every week, but I could get by doing it every two weeks, I’ve suddenly cut that work in half. Lots of value there!

By reviewing tasks at regular intervals, I ensure any changes that have occurred in my work or life are accounted for in the action I take.

Project Reviews

Projects are containers for tasks that are related by a specific outcome, as well as hubs for the information, materials, and resources required to complete those tasks. We review projects to make sure we know what do next, and that the work is still relevant based on changing circumstances.

Is the original outcome you envisioned for the project still accurate? You can calibrate the project to align with new information, or dismiss or temporarily postpone a project if the work is no longer relevant. Review projects to recognize the need for new or altered action before that need causes trouble.

In my productivity toolkit, I review projects based on the requirements of the individual project. Some might need to be reviewed every day or two. Others may not need attention for weeks at a time. Rather than a lumped-together weekly project review, I review projects every single day—but I only review those that surface that day, based on the periodicity I assign them. I only have to check in on four or five projects a day, which usually takes a minute or less, in order to keep that work in sync.

Role Reviews

Roles are the various hats we wear in our personal and professional lives. In a roles review, consider how your roles have evolved. Are you taking on new responsibilities? Have some roles become less significant?

Assess whether your current roles are in harmony with your values and long-term objectives. A role that was once fulfilling may no longer resonate. Or maybe there’s a need for a new role that aligns more closely with action you’re taking, or that you need to take. Regularly reviewing your roles ensures that all your action focuses on work that’s important.

I review two or three roles a week (out of fifteen I’ve defined) to make sure that (1) I have action associated with all of them, balanced according to where the role fits in my priorities, and (2) all the action I take has a role it is associated with. Roles without action are at best aspirational and at worst delusional—I can claim I embody a certain role, but without action, am I really? And action without roles is at best unaccounted for and at worst pulling in the wrong direction. If I’m doing work that doesn’t serve my roles, I need a new role or I need to stop doing that work.

Toolkit Reviews

Your toolkit encompasses the workflows, templates, procedures, and automations that streamline your productivity. In a toolkit review, examine each tool’s effectiveness.

Are your templates still saving you time, or have they become redundant or slipped out of sync with the work? Do your procedures need updating to reflect new best practices or changes in your apps or technology? Automations are particularly prone to break as software and apps evolve—do they still work as expected?

Toolkit reviews are not about discarding tools that have served you well in favor of “shiny new tools.” They’re about adapting your toolkit to remain relevant and efficient. This regular review of your toolkit ensures that it evolves and transforms with you, maintaining its effectiveness in a changing environment.

Don’t review every workflow all at once. Set up recurring tasks to review a few of them every month or so, or assign individual “expiration dates” to you workflows after which they will require a check-in.

What do I do next?

(1) Take 2 minutes and answer this question: What’s one thing I learned in this newsletter that I can put into practice right away?

By committing to a specific action, you make it much more likely you’ll do it.

(2) Consider the four types of reviews above.

What task reviews can you implement? Project reviews? Roles reviews? Toolkit reviews?

If this was valuable for you:

Share the newsletter with someone you think would also get value from it!

Until next time, friends:

Capture recurrence to work more effectively, and capture transformation to maintain and improve upon that effectiveness.


P.S. Sign up to read a free PDF preview of the first part of my upcoming book The Rhythms of Productivity!

Weekend Upgrade (by R.J. Nestor)

Weekend Upgrade provides tools to improve your productivity and communication, especially if you use Tools for Thought like Roam Research, Amplenote, Logseq, or Obsidian.

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