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Based on reader feedback, I think I should explain about The Unschedule, an important element of The Now Habit.

The theory behind it is this: ONE of the reasons that we procrastinate is that we feel like work is taking over our lives and leaving no time for fun.  We develop resentment for our work.  So, we “steal” back some fun time during the work day with personal emails, websurfing, games and the like.  But this is “guilty” fun time, and we regret it later when we turn back to our work and find ourselves further behind, and then work late to make up for it (self-fulfilling prophesy).

I have tried to solve this problem by brute force of will (“I will NOT goof off today!”), by using fear (“If I don’t finish this today I’m screwed!”), or by treating fun activities as rewards (“when I finish this project, I will play”), but these never work for me.  By the time I finish the project (that’s already late), I have to dive right into the next work task, and play-time gets put off, again.  The resentment builds, and I’m soon back to procrastinating.

The solution offered in The Now Habit is The Unschedule, and it works like this. Start with a blank calendar for the week, and schedule personal time first.  Social engagements, trips to the gym, one-hour lunches away from your desk and time alone to play video games or work on that novel.  Also put specific work commitments on the calendar, like meetings, but don’t schedule in time to do your heads-down work.  The remaining “unscheduled” time is when you will get your work done — the stuff on which you have been procrastinating until now.

Now, as your week progresses, work in the following way.  Use a timer and work on your high-priority tasks in focused, 30-minute bursts.  Allow no interruptions.  At the end of 30mins of work, immediately take 30 minutes for guilt-free play.  The “guilt-free” part is important: you’ve earned it!  Mark both periods of focused work and guilt-free play on the Unschedule using coloured markers.

Yes, you’ll be playing for 50% of your work day; but if you’re like me, you were goofing off for more than 50% of the day before you started this method, anyway.   And now, this is QUALITY play time.  Instead of slouching in front of a web browser, looking for something entertaining to read and feeling guilty about it, you can take those 30-minute blocks and do things that are meaningful to you.  The idea is that, using the Unschedule in this way, you will get more focused work AND more guilt-free play, every day.  And most importantly, you’ll stop resenting your work for taking over your life!

As the resentment for work fades and the good habits take hold, you can start extending those periods of work and play.  But it’s important not to work until you’re burned out.  The idea is to break away from work while you’re still excited about it, which makes it easier to dive back in after your guilt-free play.

The Unschedule also serves as a record of your progress: the hours of focused work you are accomplishing each day.  I’m motivated to keep increasing the amount of marker on my Unschedule each week!

There’s more to it than that.  Read the book, or here’s a 1-page cheat-sheet (click) on using the Unschedule, courtesy of the University of Western Ontario.

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One Comment

  1. Great post!


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