ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Productive —

I have a reputation among some people as being quite productive.

I appreciate the reputation because my other reputations of being an intractable asshole and dominating ballyhoo can take a backseat anytime, thanks. Tonight, one of my buddies asked me for any rules or policies or whatever I follow to be productive (a la 43 folders or Rands in Repose). I told him I’d probably turn it into a weblog entry, making me more productive!

So here we go, Jason Scott’s ideas on being productive.

First of all, bear in mind that something has to interest me for me to work hard and quickly on it. So, things involving gathering new history, collecting rare artifacts, talking with famous or interesting people, and corresponding with fun folks… these all get my top attention, and fast turnaround. If something is a little more tedious, more low payoff personally, it gets shunted to the back almost immediately.

Second, a lot of my most productive stuff has a very public face; I tell people about stuff I’ve done, post pictures, drop files and point to them. As a result, you can actually see me doing “stuff”. I am sure there are people much more productive than I am, but you can’t see the stuff they’re doing so it seems like they’re not doing much. Such is the price of doing so much of one’s life online.


I get hundreds of e-mails a week. This is probably the most pressing of my tasks, because there’s a lot of incoming stuff and it’s too easy to get lost with it. I don’t have an assistant. So it’s basically me and whatever’s coming down the pike. I split the letters coming in into these levels:

  • Financial/Business (BBS Documentary orders, invitations to speak, questions about my for-sale product)
  • Questions (about my work, my projects, me, and so on)
  • Crankfucks (Letters to which any response would be a flag saying PLEASE SEND MORE)
  • Responses (to things I’ve sent out, that I requested)
  • Hey, How Ya Doin’ (from friends, family, and so on)

I don’t get much else outside of these. This is probably 99 percent of everything I get.

Financial stuff gets immediate response. People who are giving me money have to be treated with respect, and they have to feel they didn’t just shove their stuff into a bonfire. So I thank them, or give details or answer questions. Sometimes, these financial/business letters are in the form of offering me services. I browse them and often re-file them under “questions”, since the question is “How can you possibly have survived this long without our product/vending relationship/distribution network?”

Responses get my attention after that. People are responding to me after I wrote to them (can I interview you, what’s the source of this, where is this thing you mentioned located) and I refuse to be the slow side of the conversation. I thank them or fire right back with a further response based on their response.

Everyone’s got a “OK, I REALLY HAVE TO DO SOMETHING” limit. Mine is two weeks. After two weeks of not handling a mail I feel absolutely horrible. I almost never let it get to that level. Sometimes, however, I’ve had things take up to six months.

Crankfucks go to a folder called “fan mail”. (Fan mail does too, I enjoy breaking up the “thanks for what you’re doing” with the occasional “you are going to burn in the hell they threaten to send people in hell to”.)

Next comes the personal letters, responding to buddies or friends, probably what most people consider regular e-mail.

Finally, there’s the questions. I get a lot of questions asked of me, like what are my approaches to being productive, and I like to mull those over for a day, or a few hours, so I don’t give people this dashed-off answer with very little depth and accuracy. Thinking stuff through and letting it set for about a day really makes me sound a little more coherent.

Occasionally, of course, I get mail messages that sit for a few months. A lot of times, they’re serving as reminders of long-term projects. I might be scanning something in for someone, or I’ve got this open invitation somewhere and I haven’t wanted to act on it until some other pieces are in place.

Currently, I have 9 e-mails in my inbox. The oldest is 3 weeks old. Most are from this week. At one point in the deepest darkest depths of the BBS Documentary, I think I hit 150 e-mails sitting in the inbox, almost all of them questions or interviews in various states of scheduling.

So that’s e-mail.

The blessings of OCD

I was diagnosed with possible Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a few years back. The doctor wanted me to take drugs. I fired him.

This intensity of my personality mostly translates to me getting whatever I set my mind on “done”. This is great when it’s a pile of files that need descriptions. This is not so great when it’s a game on the Nintendo Wii. I’ve applied equal energy and verve to both. If I aim the laser in the right direction, and I set myself some clear goals (finish this pile of papers, do this pile of files, read this book) then I will not stop until I’m done.

So the biggest part is not the doing, it’s understanding the aspect and constraints of what I’m doing. If I have a pile of files that’s thousands of different sets, I’ll tell myself which sets I need to get through and throw them up on the site. I have more to do, but I did more today than I had before.

Knowing what’s not happening

Some stuff isn’t going to happen. That is, not within any reasonable time. In these cases, I quickly collect it into a box, put the items in bags if necessary, and store the whole thing. I used to use cardboard but now I use plastic/semi-opaque stackable crates. These go into my attic or elsewhere. They might never be touched or they will be. But they’re not sitting in huge piles, being ruined, in my office or within arm’s reach.

This is tougher than it seems. It’s too easy to treat this as a “failure”, when many times it’s a case of you being a role you didn’t expect to be, i.e. caretaker instead of restorer. It happens. I’d rather be saving something and admitting I’m not going to the next level with it then hold it bitterly waiting for a day of use that doesn’t come only to find that the thing has rotted/messed up beneath me.

Upside-down Fuckup Day

Every few months, I throw all this out the window, go through as much random crap as I can, and get inspired. I might find something I forgot about, run into some ideas I didn’t know I’d had, or recover something that was lost. I also find a ton of stuff that is right where it needs to be. The total “productiveness” of this is near zero, but it’s good to remember where things are. It’s like being a tourist in my own collection.


People have different relationships with mortality. Sometimes it paralyzes them, and sometimes it drives them.

Mine is basically that of the Millenium Falcon from Return of the Jedi, right after it blows up crap inside the Death Star and is trying to get out. Jamming at top speed, the glowing sphere of annihilation growing behind it, desperately speeding faster and faster to escape this tidal wave of destruction?

I’m like that all the time.

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  1. Andy Baio says:

    Glad I asked!

  2. Grey says:

    >>a lot of my most productive stuff has a very public face; I tell people about stuff I’ve done, post pictures, drop files and point to them. As a result, you can actually see me doing “stuff”. I am sure there are people much more productive than I am, but you can’t see the stuff they’re doing so it seems like they’re not doing much.< I think the converse of that is also true. Most people are woefully unproductive, but we just don't see it.