Posts Tagged ‘procrastination’
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.
Is Web2.0 healthy?
The critics say not. They are so wrong but in one aspect they are right.
In the past, when we dithered, we doodled or watched TV. Now we can express our dithering in a blog. I am doing that now!
All around me I have seen signs today of people dithering
Let’s take the US blogosphere for a moment.
“Let me be clear,” as politicians are wont to say these days. I am not American. But I an infinitely curious about Obama. I watch politics and economics generally and I have a Google Alert for “Obama”. Every day I read anything and everything that is written about Obama! I have an ongoing and thorough sample. This is what I “hear” from America.
America is in a panic
And they are projecting their panic onto Obama. “Obama is dithering,” people cry. Uh-uh. Obama is going like a train. But the bloggers are dithering. Oh, the bloggers are dithering.
Let me explain how I read dithering in the average blog post
- Almost every blog post that I read about Obama ~ for him or against him ~ is tendentious. It is clear that the author has a position that goes something like this. I am uncomfortable about the world and I am uncomfortable in this world. And then they follow that view by a ragbag of ragbag of stuff that Obama did. It’s a jumble of unrelated stuff that reflects what the blogger is feeling. I include the Huff Post in this sweeping generalization.
- The weirdest part about this stream of muddle coming out of the bloggersphere in the US is that bloggers think that something might change when they write what they write. Such narcissism! Their superficial logic goes like this. “Obama is wrong. I say so. Obama will now do what I say is right.” Will he? Do the bloggers really believe they have that power to blackmail change by voicing their ill temper? Or is their logic even more weird? “Obama will not change and so I can carry on being uncomfortable and whinge and whine until eternity?” Become a “whinging pom”? Well why not? Maybe that is the destiny of fading empires.
- I think that the blog posts are a from of dithering. They are a form of dithering as people decide what action to take. I lived in Zimbabwe most of my life and I used to say there that when you start complaining about Mugabe it is time to get a life. I use complaining about Heads of State as my rule of thumb that someone is losing the plot! The complainer doesn’t even know the man (or woman). They have no influence. Their narrative is, and can only be, displacement activity. It is a expression of bad temper, no more or less.
Scared witless by our own decision
- But not all displacement activity is bad. It is good when we recognize dithering as a signal that we are building up to take a decisive step in our own lives. We have made the decision already. That decision is made. But we haven’t taken the first step. The first step scares us silly. So we rant, rave and complain about others!
What is the decision that has scared us so?
- I think a certain amount of dithering is helpful. It helps us muster the energy and commitment for the journey. It helps us say goodbye to what must be left behind. It helps us tidy away what we want to find on our return, much as we tidy an apartment before we leave on holiday. The big question though is what is the decision we have made.
What is going on behind the appearance of sulking?
Writing this, I realize that I should read American blogs with these questions in mind:
- What decision(s) have been made that American bloggers are winding up to put into practice?
- What decisions are they delaying (possibly unwisely)?
- How does their procrastination affect me (and to be frank advantage me?)
- When I act, how will my actions affect them? (They are far away and I am not very important so not very much ~ but the question should be on the general list of questions.)
- When I comment on their blogs (if they let me ~ many are blocked off), what could I say that is useful to their story?
What decisions have been made in the US by the ordinary blogger?
Many seem to be trying out a policy of sulking? But maybe there is something more interesting going on underneath?
So yes, I am dithering. I am writing about American bloggers dithering to avoid doing some tasks of my own. Have I managed to move from futurology to presentology? Have I managed to bring myself to a state of action?
- I think so. Americans (as a rough group) are in the stage of bargaining. In the 5 stage process of grief, they may slip through a period of depression when they realize that they have to start living again. Then hopefully they fall in love again with life as it is. We are close to the end. For people interested in these processes ~ people have take a year since Lehman’s collapsed to get to this point and America had an election in the middle. That might have slowed down the process of adjustment.
- In the meantime, I can try to understand the decision that American bloggers have made but have not yet enacted. What is scaring them silly? When I understand that, I will find their blogs more enjoyable. They will sap my energy less. And I might make some friends along the way.
Great weekend to you!
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.
We love goals that simplify what we have to do
We are a hopeless species! Give us a goal and we cannot help ourselves. We chase it. But if the end is not in sight, we feel tired and we stop.
Hence the three rules of goal-setting.
- Make the goal definite and visible.
- Show our progress to the goal in real-time
- Make sure it is doable before we get tired.
I have been writing this blog in WordPress.com for two years. Now that is is established, I want to move it to a self-hosted site using software from WordPress.org.
I am going to move to a magazine layout which means that the last post from each category will be visible on the front page. And the reader is able to click to a category’s index to see everything I’ve written in chronological order.
The big task
My difficulty is that I have dozens of categories. I eventually settled on a format that uses 5 categories and I have chosen the categories.
Now I need to reclassify 500 or so posts into the 5 categories. At a handful a day, this could take me a year to do!
Clever goal setting is motivating & doable
I’ve finally found a way to do the transfer that is motivating.
- I look down my categories list, pick one with few entries, and resort the posts. Eventually the number becomes 0.
- Then I delete the category from the list and the categories list grows shorter!
It will still take me months but eventually
- I will have a blog with all the posts categorized under 5 topics
- I will have reread everything I have written in two years and done some light editing
- I’m bound to have write some more summary posts
- It will be easier for me review my own posts and find the questions that I have answered well and should answer soon!
The trick has been to arrange the work so
- I can see where I am going
- I have a constant sense of progress
- I can organize the work into chunks that I can finish before I get tired.
Great goal setting!
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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