Jeremy Zawodny worries about his input to output ratio:

I go through cycles of productivity like most hackers do. Some days I get a lot done while others are mostly wasted. Some of my productive days involve a lot of output like e-mail, code, discussion, debugging, and so on. Other times it’s a lof of input: reading, listening, etc. Once in while I manage to have a day in which the two seem to balance out and I go home feeling like I’ve accomplished three weeks wort of work.

Yes, these cycles happen to me too, and have in fact been getting more extreme. Before the Internet came up, I was buying 15 to 20 technical magazines per month, and would take every other day off to read all that stuff… even study the advertisements one by one, if you can believe that.

For the last years, information overload from the Internet has been increasing. I don’t buy any more magazines, but reading and responding to e-mail, browsing for news, and so forth has been expanding to fill most of my time. And now weblogging and reading RSS feeds is taking the place of e-mailing and browsing. (My advice: don’t subscribe to more than 150 feeds if you check them every hour, or you’ll never catch up icon_wink.gif).

On the other hand, the amount of useful input – that can be converted into productive output – has also increased vastly, so it seems to boil down to a question of discipline. Inspiration doesn’t come by every day, so I usually slack off for periods that vary from an afternoon to a couple of weeks, and catch up again in frenzied bursts of creativity. Turning off the phone and ADSL – or making a trip to somewhere off-net – often works wonders.

Joel on Software also addresses this issue:

But it’s not the days when I “only” get two hours of work done that worry me. It’s the days when I can’t do anything.

…Maybe this is the key to productivity: just getting started. Maybe when pair programming works it works because when you schedule a pair programming session with your buddy, you force each other to get started.