Posts Tagged ‘get things done’
Posted May 4, 2010on:
Sleeping, resting or procrastinating before a big task
Have you ever noticed that minute you have to sit down to do a big task, such as write a paper, or get up to do a big task, like hoover the house, you want to go to sleep? You dither, you fuss, you try to talk yourself out of it. And you waste hours getting cross with yourself but doing nothing?
Procrastination is sane
Well you are in good company. Sane company. Your body is resisting being enveloped in one distracting task. It knows better. It knows everything else goes to wrack and ruin while you attend to this one big thing. At best, it wants a good rest before your start.
So how do you get round your dilly-dallying? Fussing and cursing certainly doesn’t help. It just wastes time.
The secret is in little-and-often. Yup, little-and-often.
Folks, 15 minutes is a long time for our alert, sociable, curious human brains. Go much beyond 15 minutes, and you body will protest (in advance). You might need an enveloping time slot of an hour to do that 15 minutes of work. In reality, you are only going to do 5 or 10 minutes, but you will need a buffer zone to remember what you were doing, get out your tools, do the work, and put it away.
What work can be done little-and-often?
How can you do this, you cry?
Successful people work little-and-often. That is why they are successful.
Successful professors, by which I mean professors who publish 7x as much as the run-of-the-mill professor publishing at 1x, get up earlyish each day and put aside 1 to 1.5 hours to write something, anything.
They get up. They go to their desk. They look at what they were doing yesterday. And they do a bit more. And the next day rinse-and-repeat.
And they don’t break the chain. They work little-and-often daily. Because when they take a break, they’ve added the additional task of trying to remember what they were doing. And then the task gets too big.
They write daily. Adding something. If they have two productive slots of 15 minutes in 1.5 hours. Great! But they just get something done.
When they have a real break, like a long vacation, they start again. They get up. They go to their desk. And they start work. The first few days might be spent in remembering. But they don’t get stressed. That is the beginning point. Because they have good work habits, they know the work will get done.
But what should I work on little-and-often first thing in the morning?
The trick though, is knowing our priorities. What is the big task that we will attend to regularly and get finished as a landmark of achievement?
Professors have a simple (though remarkably bruising) work life. They publish. They teach. They do community/university service. But they are only promoted for what is written and published.
So their priorities are clear. The first and essential task everyday is to write – with a conference in journal in mind. Then they go to campus and teach and “do” research for the next paper – tasks that are so much easier because they are sociable. Their “day-job” is relaxed ,setting up a feed for the real job, that cocooned writing time first thing every morning.
Can we copy the little-and-often work routine of successful professors?
When we are procrastinating, we can be sure that we’ve left a task get too big for a series of 15 minute slots. Or, we have left it too late and we have to do it in one fell swoop. If nothing else, this is what university life teaches you. Work little and often. And begin. Begin before you are ready.
To get into a comfortable working rhythm, we need to
- Establish priorities (ONE, and two, three – no more)
- Do what we are judged on first, before the house gets noisy.
- Then do the feeder tasks during the day.
The solution is not reducing procrastination. The solution is knowing our career priorities. What are we judged on? If we are judged on published papers, then we need to go one step back – where do they come from – we write them. So writing is the main task.
How do we write? Well, while we are writing one article, we are preparing for the next. But without interfering with the main task. Which is done in small time slots, little and often, beginning immediately. The writing is the main task that must be protected.
The trick is understanding our priorities. But that is hard. A good mentor might spell out what we need to do. Until w have those 3 priorities clear in our mind, then we will be stressed and uncomfortable.
If we are in a readjustment phase, and not clear about our priorities, we might have to weather the discomfort for while, but we shouldn’t let that stop us moving towards that clarity. That is the hallmark of success and a comfortable, achieving life. Clear priorities.
What will I work on daily, little-and-often?
I Want Rhythm Not A To Do List
When I was young, I loved To Do lists. What a buzz! I would list everything I had to do, set a priority and set about ticking it off!
I loathe To Do Lists now. I threw away my diary years ago when I worked on an MBA programme and the lecture times changed so frequently that my diary looked like a dog’s breakfast!
Now I like a rhythm. I like to sense the time during the week, the month, the day, the year that I should be doing whatever I should be doing!
Rhythmless Britain Where Seasons Take Us By Surprise
It is difficult to dance through life in Britain. Bills arrive at odd times and are paid at odder times. The tax year begins on the 6 April – why? Who knows. There is no rhythm to anything. People even seem surprised when winter approaches. “It’s cold”, people say. It’s December. What did they expect? I know what I expect. “Good! It is cold. Now I can . . .!”
My Seasons By The Bottle
I want my life to be a dance with my goals. Like these bottles at the Vesuvius Cafe on Canary Wharf in London. 52 bottles laid out in 12 sets, I want to mark the passing of the seasons with the right wine and the right food. I want to celebrate the seasons of life by going to the market to buy food in season and cook it with a sense of adventure.
I want my head around learning to dance with life. I don’t want to spend my time chasing the clock and ticking lists. Lists and clocks lower quality of life as surely as squalid air travel and grubby packaging around supermarket food!
It is not only Luddites who like to savor life
Now believe me, I am no Luddite. Never have been. I like progress. I like thinking up better ways of doing things.
But I want to savor life. I want to have time to listen to people. I want to notice the seasons and enjoy them, not complain about them.
To represent the season of my life, I have a handful of goals
I’m not sure I have the system right, but at any time in our lives, I think it is good to have 3 to 5 ‘goals’. When I was in New Zealand, I had 3. I had my rather large university course. I had settling in a new country. And I had departing from an old country. That’s enough! What didn’t fit into those three folders had to be put aside.
Now I have five ‘goals’ ~ I wish I had three but I have 5!
- I have settling in a new country
- I have my writing ~ this blog mainly
- I have my community and town of Olney
- I have my next website supporting career decisions
- And I have the website I want make – a gratitude site.
My goals change with the season of my life
In due course, the season of settling in (another) new country will pass and my goals will change.
For now, I can ask whether what I am doing helps me learn how to achieve these goals. What do I learn about my own thinking? What do I learn about my overall story from each of these goals and the way they come together?
It is the way I explore these 5 goals that will give me the rich life that I take into the next season as surely as my summer harvest must be full to provide a good autumn and a good Christmas supports an energetic spring.
I’ll achieve my goals better if I slow down and explore them well
My goals are a framework to coddle my efforts and softly support the tentative explorations of the land in which I live.
The way I explore my goals determines how well I meet them. To explore them well, I must make plenty of space for them and stop rushing around being in a hurry.
Put that to do list aside! What are your goals? What are you learning about how to achieve them. Enjoy! In a few years, these goals will be gone from your life and replaced by others.
Slowness breeds to do lists!
I hate it when I have a slow day. Sitting around in dull meetings, getting dehydrated and eating at the wrong times, I fill the the time by making to do lists.
When I get back to my office, I see, laid out in front of me, all the things I could and should be doing. And can’t settle to any.
When I was a youngster, I loved a to-do list labelled with A’s B’s and C’s. I liked making calls and crossing things off. I hate it now. I like dealing with larger chunks of work and I like working towards a goal that has some meaning. “Getting things done” no longer does it for me.
My rationale now is to figure out one or two things that are very important and just do those. As long as something important is being done, and getting finished and getting shipped, a list adds no further value.
But in times when I have a long list, these are the methods that I have found useful.
#1 Yellow stickies
I use an ordinary A5 diary. For every little task that I have to do, I add a yellow stickie, upside down. The stickies go down the page in columns, overlapping each other. That’s why it is important they are upside down. The top line gives the title of the task and the details are covered by the next sticky though visible by lifting up the sticky below.
As I complete a task, I rip off the sticky with glee, and put it on the corner of my desk. At the end of the day, I have a pile of completed stickies and hopefully a clear diary. If not, I can move the stickies to another page.
And when I need to record my actions, I record what I have done on the page itself.
#2 Access data base
Access databases are pretty handy for projects which have many detailed steps, each of which must be completed precisely and in a particular order. Anything which needs a PERT analysis is suitable for a database.
Each sub project is put in a table with tasks, expected dates, actual dates and costs. The report function can be used to list all the tasks that need to be done in the next day, week or month and of course to check that everything has been done.
#3 Google Wiki
I’ve recently discovered Google’s Project Wiki, on Google Sites. It is not really a wiki – linkages from page-to-page are limited. It’s more like an electronic filoax! It is a full project template where you can add to do lists, time sheets, blogs, documents and pretty much anything else except perhaps a GANTT shart and a PERT analysis.
That’s what I am using now. I’ll store away every zany idea in my Google Wiki and add a column for priorities. My personal kanban will become the top items that I’ve resolved to start and finish. The choice is start and finish, or start and dump. What’s not allowed is more than two or three open tasks.
What’s more, I can add dates that I completed work so I can review my progress at the end of each month.
The front page in the wiki is also useful because it prompts you to put in a strategic plan, which after all you can do for the next quarter!
My only reservation is all the information that I am giving to Google.
Here are you then – three time management systems for grown-ups!
1. Yellow stickies for bitty projects and a physical reward for knocking off tasks
2. Data bases for precise projects where tasks must be done in order and on time.
3. Google Project Wiki for messy jobs where it’s not really possible to tell priorities ahead of time but it important to work on on chunk at a time, finish and ship!
I’m not moving until I can see the cheese
And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.
1 Motivation is distance to your goal
The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!
Motivation is not constant. We aren’t motivated by cheese. We are motivated by distance to the cheese.
Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.
2 Motivation blinds us
When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.
That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle. So easy to trap.
3 Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese
So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . . Will it keep going, no matter what?
Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer. Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather. It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.
We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!
4 Motivation makes us stupid
Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.
Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.
5 Motivation needs to be simple
And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.
Come on cats, now is your chance.
Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.
We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go. Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily. Two cheeses – we can have one or the other. Shall we go together or not? If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?
Action is hard . . .
We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.
. . . and action it is also dangerous
We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.
Someone has to manage the cheese
We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions. While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.
So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese
This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.
We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.
We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all? Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it. So, the question is which cheese will we chase? And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?
We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese. That will be their job, their only job. Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too. We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.
We must have these people. Or the cats will have us