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Trial by Fire Productivity – The Unexpected

Trial by Fire Productivity – The Unexpected
Hard Disk

    This post is part of the Trial By Fire Productivity series.

    True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.” ~ Tom Robbins

    This wasn’t the entry I expected to post this week.

    Last week the death rattle of my hard drive whirred loudly, and the drive crashed. It happens. I suppose it could have been much worse.

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    But it taught me a few things – first being that any productivity system must have contingencies in place and be “prepared to be disrupted.” This is a lesson I learned several years ago when I lost a good amount of important data, because I wasn’t prepared. So fortunately this time, I was.

    The Backup Plan

    Though I’m not really a pessimist, I sometimes expect the worse. Last week, I was glad that I did. I had all my data backed up in 2 places. I also had my profiles for Thunderbird and Firefox, along with some other tools, backed up as well. That, along with my Web-based tools, allowed me to simply move to a backup machine, and pick up where I left off. All within a few minutes.

    Using the free SyncBack utility, I keep all my computers backed up on a server, and 2 external drives. Sometimes I think it’s overkill, but when I heard the familiar click-and-whirr of a dying drive, I didn’t get that sick feeling. I didn’t panic. I had everything backed up.

    Almost everything…

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    The Recovery

    My last backup ran the night before, and the crash happened the next evening. So I had the day’s email and work on the dying drive.

    I grabbed my Ultimate Boot CD and used it to recover my mail files, copying them to a flash drive. Then, when that stopped working, I used an old trick that worked before. I stuck the drive in the freezer.

    Now, this is sometimes considered to be a tech myth, but it’s the second time it’s worked for me. A drive that won’t mount, and is not recognized, suddenly has 15 minutes or so of its life back. I’m not recommending it, for obvious reasons. It will most likely void your warranty, and may screw up the rest of your machine. I’m just saying, though possibly stupid, it worked for me.

    I loaded a Knoppix Live CD to view the drive and move the remaining files over.

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    The New Drive

    Out of frustration comes opportunity – and a larger hard drive.

    I looked at it as a chance to configure the drive to operate better for my workflow. I partitioned the drive for dual boot – Ubuntu and WinXP. This time, I did something I’d wanted to do for a while. I created a shared place for my Linux home folder and all my shared info and profiles. This allows me to use the same mail folder and settings for Thunderbird, and the same profile, extensions, and bookmarks for Firefox.

    Using the Ext2 Installable File System program I can access the Ext3 formatted drive from Windows, and have one repository for both partitions.

    Though the episode was a hassle, I ended up with a more efficient way to work.

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    The Verdict: I highly recommend not having your hard drive crash. Of course, that’s not something you can control. So the best alternative is to have a good backup and recovery plan. Then follow it.

    Alternatives: There are as many ways to plan backup and recovery as there are ways of working. The important thing is to find something that works for you and is relatively effortless. This will ensure that it gets done regularly and becomes a habit.

    Other Entries in this Series

    Tony D. Clark is an entrepreneur, writer, and artist who spends a lot of time talking others into profiting from what they know, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest provides inspiration, tips, and advice for the home-based entrepreneur and those aspiring to be one – all served up with humor and cartoons.

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    Tony D. Clark

    Tony is the blog owner of "Success from the Nest". He aspires to help people do meaningful work and reach their dreams.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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