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Monthly Archives: October 2012

A big habit of producers is to always be working on your #1 priority – to always tackle your #1 priority first.  I’m trying, as an “experiment,” to do this for one week: first thing in the morning, to work for an hour on my #1 priority before doing anything else, even (especially) email, Facebook or web comics.  Of course, I want to do it for the rest of my life, not just for one week.  But: one step at a time.

Progress so far:

Thursday – Had an off-site meeting all day.  Didn’t count.

Friday – Success!  Worked 9am-10am on my #1 priority, before doing anything else – yay!  But then I goofed off for a couple hours.  Over-all a productive day, but not perfect.

Today – Fail.  I spent an hour on web comics before getting down to work.  Actually, before exercising and reviewing my goals and whys, which was part of the problem.  The other part of the problem is that I’m short on sleep.  I read recently that, when under stress (I think lack of rest counts), we default to habitual behaviours.  Unfortunately, my habits are unproductive ones.

Also, I guess I was procrastinating because my #1 priority today was sales calls, and I hate doing sales.

Lessons:

  • It’s really important that i get enough sleep!
  • I have to be extra careful of my bad habits on days when I’m not fully rested.  No excuses!
  • Once I replace my bad habits with good ones, my productivity won’t be so dependent on sleep.
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Background

I am trying a new system to help me develop productive work habits.  It is a holistic approach that starts with getting myself into a positive, mindful state about work and my goals, at the beginning of every day.  I have a fairly comprehensive morning routine that involves exercise and meditating on certain subjects, followed by certain expectations for my daily output of work.

DR’s Feedback

Daily expectations for self > have a good day > feel good > [cycle repeats]

Daily expectations for self > have a bad day > critical of self > put more pressure on self to do better tomorrow > pressure = stress > avoidance behaviour (procrastination) > have bad day > [cycle repeats]

Bad days happen.  I don’t want a bad day to set off the spiral of stress and procrastination and more bad days, and maybe giving up on the new system altogether.  Need to make some allowance for: some days are better than others.  Even highly productive people have bad days.

Paradox: How can I set goals, targets, and make plans, and try to develop good work habits, while also being flexible enough that a bad day doesn’t derail me?

How should I feel when I have an unproductive day?

Should I moderate my expectations of myself, following a bad day?

Even on days when I start out strong, I sometimes end up clicking aimlessly from window to window, shuffling through inboxes and browser tabs.  It’s not even a conscious decision to goof off; I just end up wandering in this un-productive trance.

I think what I lack is the instinct to return to my prioritized to-do list after I finish something.  This is a habit that i need to develop.

Edit: Or, as a good friend pointed out: when I get to that lethargic don’t-feel-like-working state, I should take a break!  Trying to force myself to work when the biology is against me is counter-productive in so many ways.

I have tried many, many task tracking methods and to-do list apps.  They all work for a while, but eventually they get too complicated and I stop using them.  I always end up returning to the old tried and true: pen-and-paper.

I can write bigger and smaller, add notes in the margins, highlight things, draw boxes, check things off and cross things out.  It’s all very intuitive.  Whenever the page fills up, I re-writing the list, copying over all the unfinished tasks to a fresh page.  This is a built-in regular review of my tasks.  Things get re-prioritized, unimportant tasks get dropped, and my list never gets too big.

I might spend an extra 5-10 minutes a week re-writing lists, but it’s time well spent.  For me, no method works better.

When my work habits get really bad and I reach a crisis point, I address my procrastination directly: I read a book, or re-read my notes or my blog or something.  And I take action against my procrastination directly: I institute some new plan or daily ritual to keep myself on track.

It works for a while.  But I eventually stop.  And then my work habits get worse.  Rinse and repeat.

Why do I stop with the tactics that keep me on track?  Because, when I’m being productive, I think: “I have so much work to do, I can’t spare the time to do my anti-procrastination thing today.  And anyway, ‘I’m cured,’ I don’t need to keep doing it”.  WRONG.  I have to remember that this thought is always wrong.

Recovering alcoholics call themselves “recovering alcoholics” forever after.  They never say “I used to be an alcoholic,” no matter how many years it’s been since they last got drunk.  They never say “I’m cured.”

I should think of procrastination the same way.

I’ve been writing a post every day, just a quick note on my work habits and what thought patterns or external conditions are affecting them (you haven’t seen them because they’re marked “Private”).  It’s helping me to recognize what helps me focus (a good night’s sleep) and what throws me off the rails (having to make a tough decision).  I’m finding it helpful.

Here’s today’s nugget of wisdom.  A few minutes of down time really helps me to re-focus.

I often find myself staring at the screen, sleepily wondering what I should be working on.  I semi-consciously scroll through my inbox or gaze at my old to-do list, half the items crossed off, unable to make a decision.  Without a clear sense of priority, I too often just start goofing off instead of working.

Contrast that with today: on my way back from a morning meeting, I turned off the radio and just let my mind wander (that part of my mind which wasn’t engaged in driving!).  Pretty soon I was thinking about what else I wanted to accomplish today when i got back to the office.  I was remembering things that I want to get done, mentally prioritizing them, and even started to work on one of them in my head!  When I got home, I quickly scribbled out a prioritized to-do list and dove into work on it.

I should take some time every day to do nothing.  Not a web-comic break,  but really to do nothing.  A ten-minute walk, or a sit in the back yard to listen to the birds.  Followed by a bit of thought on what else I want to accomplish that day.