Posts Tagged ‘GTD’
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?
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!
Some days we wake up determined
Today, I woke up with things to do – all the things that somehow never made it on to today’s to do list. Do you ever have one of those days?
Crossing the Rubicon
In psychology, we call it “crossing the Rubicon”. The Rubicon is a river in north Italy. Ceasar sat the wrong side of it with his troops and knew that the day he crossed over, he would be declaring war on Rome and that there would be no going back.
Rubicons in our lives
We have many Rubicons in our lives. Going to university, getting married, buying a house. We have many “once only actions” through which we are changed forever.
The public and the personal
Some of these are obvious and we often mark them with a public celebration. Some are personal. We know that we personally have crossed a Rubicon.
And some are just everyday ~ we go from wish to intent and get on with action.
Crossing the Rubicon is not all good
We can be a little bit of a menace in the “crossing the Rubicon” mood ~ because we are so determined to get something done. We might also be short-tempered and impatient with others.
But get things done, we do!
Crossing the Rubicon – that moment when vague wish becomes determined intent.
Imagining goals doesn’t quite cut it
It’s a fact. Our brains don’t distinguish very much between imagining something and doing it! Mentally rehearse your perfect golf swing and your real one gets better. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Pity it doesn’t work with losing weight.
The trick is to imagine fully enough. We have to be able to imagine something in its entirety and reasonably accurately. We must have no objections or leave anything out!
That’s the rub. By the time you can imagine something completely, or be totally confident that it will work, you have done it already, and probably often!
Using our brain’s confusion to our advantage but keeping it real
We want to capitalize on the inability of our brains to distinguish fact from fiction but we also want to keep it real. We want to use our imagination to get us going, but bear in mind that we still have to do whatever it is that we do. We still have to stumble and fall, and get ourselves up again. (In fact, stumbling and falling and getting up again must be part of the story that we imagine – we need that skill of error recovery too!)
The ravine exercise
I’ve been using David Whyte’s story of walking alone in Nepal and coming to a ravine with a rickety bridge. He couldn’t cross it and he couldn’t double back because he had insufficient supplies. Panic!
We often find ourselves in similar predicaments. We look at what we want – the other side of the ravine. And we look at the bridge. It’s too rickety to walk on. The gap between where we are now and where we want to be feels too big. We can’t help ourselves. Our attention is drawn to the gap. We stare at the ravine and the long drop down – and we can think of nothing else.
The current advice is to do what you would do if you are on the edge of the ravine: check your pockets, see what you have to help you, make sure you are safe. Get your feet back on the ground. Then funnily, you find a way out of your predicament. Or, at least survive until the rescue party arrives.
This metaphor works – but it is still hard to do. The ravine draws our attention no matter how hard we try not to look at it.
The fast forward exercise
I’ve been trying out another mental trick but I haven’t tested it fully. Would you try it too and let me know how it works?
Think of yourself as you are now, warts and all. Now play yourself forward 10 years. Don’t change a thing. Just make yourself older and fatter!
You probably won’t like the image all that much. And you will be motivated to take the next step. List the first thing to change and do it right now.
Do you do it? Of course keep a record too. In a few weeks, you’ll look back and be surprised at how much you have got done.
I’d also like to know how much effort it took and whether you got a lot done attending to little things. The extra chocolate biscuit. The internet banking that is not done. Whatever!
The psychology of forward movement
The psychology is simple. We keep our feet firmly on the ground rooted in now. We imagine what we can imagine – what we understand – and roll it forward with obvious changes – slower, greyer, not as good looking.
Then do what has to be be done now. It is so much easier!
At least, I hope it is. Do tell me!
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- Do you live restlessly in the shadow of adrenaline-inducing goals? (flowingmotion.wordpress.com)
It’s October. In January, I found myself with far too much to do.
I tried all the tricks of the trade. I decluttered. I prioritized. I still had too much to do.
At last, I quietened my panic by drawing each goal as a spoke, coming in to a central hub. I marked off months and quarters. And wrote down some milestones.
Bicycle spokes for planning
Inevitably (and it is inevitable), I made heaps of progress. I am sure that resolving my panic was important, if only because I could do something useful with the time that I would otherwise spend panicking!
I am still busy. Horribly busy. Work is cutting in to my sleep as well. So, I am motivated to give my planning system a thorough overhaul.
Fortunately, I am much clearer now about what I want to do. I’ve managed to phrase a super-ordinate goal and the many goals that gave me such grief in January, all contribute in their own way. When I make a decision on one project, I’m able to check in my mind how work on that project fits in with the overall goal and all the other projects.
There is a lesson in this, I think. Don’t discard your competing goals. Live with the strain until you can see why you are attracted to apparently conflicting projects.
Eventually the bicycle wheel takes shape as an umbrella!
From wish to intent to action
Now I am more focused, my attention has shifted from goals – to critical mass & priorities.
I could list everything I have to do. I could even put everything on a spreadsheet. But I think I would throw up. There is too much to do and seeing it in one place won’t help.
That kind of planning is better when there are lots of steps that are critical, and when they must be done in a specific, and known, order. That will come later.
Impact vs ease
I had a brain storm last night. I remembered a technique which I learned from Zivai Mushayandebvu in Botswana.
Sort tasks into four piles (2×2):
- What will make a huge impact and is relatively easy to do.
- What will make a huge impact but is hard to do.
- What will make a small impact and is easy to do.
- What will make a small impact and is hard to do.
The first, we do.
The second, we see if we can buy in.
The third, we might get do as filler tasks.
The fourth, we discard.
Keeping it simple, cheap, disposable (and green)
This whole project can be done on the back of old envelopes and a set of shoe boxes. My guess is that the priorities to develop critical mass are going to emerge quite fast.
I am going to try it. Anything rather than the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list.
UPDATE: In another phase of overload, I think I shall rate my tasks like this again!