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rubber ducks staring

Those Who Stare at Ducks: A Lesson in Productivity

A friend of mine spends his afternoon staring at rubber ducks.

Let me explain

He is a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State, specializing in organizational psychology. According to him, it is a trend among his colleagues to bounce their dissertation topics off not other students, but a bath toy. He writes a few pages, then recites it to a rubber duck (sometimes it is painted). The duck does not talk back, at least not that I can hear. But the idea behind it actually stems from a computer programming term called rubber duck debugging.

If you talk a problem or concept out with someone who does not understand the topic at hand, you have to explain as much as possible. Oftentimes, the solution is found within the explanation. In my friend’s case, he yells at the duck about why his thesis isn’t working and then realizes the reason is that he is using the wrong focus group (or some other psychology thing I do not understand).

Ducks Love Being Yelled At

Some of his fellow Ph.D. candidates have taken the idea of “rubber-ducking” their ideas a step further. They have collected a fair number of rubber ducks that they keep around their office. The unblinking eyes of the faux-waterfowl force them to work, to write, to process. As with most things done in excess, it can be detrimental to your well-being.

Now. I do not think anyone has had to be sent to a hospital for over-rubber ducking. But, there is something to the idea of excessive motivation. For a long time, I have had my computer background set to my cat in a basket. It’s a wonderful picture, and I find the look Gerald gives me every day encouraging. But sometimes his gaze gets to me.

not a duck, but a stare.

“You could be working harder, you know.”

That’s when I know my workflow and time need a hard reset. Bouncing ideas off rubber ducks can be useful, but never to the point where the ducks actually start talking back. As much of a hectic, notification-/metric-filled world we live in, there is a point we all need to have a break. I encourage you all to find that point. Don’t give your life up to rubber ducks.

Parmonic might be able to help with getting your workflow in check. We can take some of the monotonous video processes out of your hands. Drop me a line at to hear more.

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