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Tag Archives: The Now Habit

I need churchin’ up again. (#BluesBrothers)

Past few months, my productivity has been pretty poor, pretty “scraping by”.  I’m hitting the deadlines, but just barely.  And I’m not making ANY time for those other pursuits that I claim are so important to me.  And what do you know… I’ve gotten out of the habit of following The Now Habit.  Big surprise.

Today’s reminders:

  • I can focus for 20 minutes without self-distracting (I’m working my way back up to 30 minutes)
  • Using a timer, and recording my productive periods on a daily calendar, really helps
  • When in doubt, start.  Starting is a victory, and the first step to many more.
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I’ve been all over the place lately, I need to check in with the local chapter of Procrastinators Anonymous.  That’s me and you.  This meeting shall now come to order.

What have I learned?  That:

  • when I stop using the timer and filling in the Unschedule, my work habits and productivity suffer precipitously.
  • I procrastinate when a project hits an unexpected road block, when a difficult decision is required, or when I discover that more work than I had planned on is required.
  • When “important” non-work things (like blogging about election issues) creep into my work day, they quickly become permanent additions to my routine (because they’re more fun than real work) and take up increasingly more of my time.
  • When I “fall off the wagon,” I can’t expect to just snap back to the level of productivity that I had attained before, I may have to start again at the beginning and work my way back up.
  • If I spend my “work” and “guilt-free play” periods all at the computer without getting up, I get lethargic and dopey and lose the will to be productive.  No matter what my guilt-free play entails, I should get up and re-invigorate myself every 30mins or so!
  • Daily exercise is great for avoiding headaches and getting quality sleep.
  • BEFORE I sit down at the computer, I should decide what I’m here to DO, and then start the timer (even for play).  Otherwise, I can waste hours on email, FB, newspaper sites and websurfing before I even look at my to-do list.
  • Important personal projects, if I’m going to get them done, should switch between “guilt-free play” activities and “work” activities depending on my level of enthusiasm/procrastination for them.  Most personal projects start out as the former and morph into the latter before completion.
Further thoughts:

  • When “important” non-work things come up and have to be done in the work day, I should treat them as either work or guilt-free play: in either case, using the timer, and taking care to balance priorities.  This will allow me to maintain those good habits, and not accidentally vasta the diem.  😉
-J

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. Read More »

I’m in my fourth week of applying The Now Habit‘s methods, and I’m happy to report that I’m making progress.  It wasn’t a miraculous transformation from procrastinator to producer (nor did the book promise such), but I have started working again and I get more productive every week.

Central to the method is the “unschedule.”  It works, I think, not because I ensure that my leisure plans get priority, but because I get a blue stripe every time I get 30 mins of uninterrupted work done.  It’s like a gold star on a spelling test.  Suddenly I want as many blue stripes each day as I can possibly earn!  Green stripes are good too, they represent 30min periods of “guilt-free play” which must follow every focused bout of work.  I’m getting more quality play time AND more quality work done.  Here’s my Unschedule from last week:

Unschedule, The Now Habit

It covers 16 hours per day, 7 days.  Tuesday was particularly good.  Wednesday I had a meeting all morning.

Overall, it has about twice as much ink on it as my first one did, just three weeks ago.  The completed Unschedule is not only a sign of progress, it also provides valuable info.  I can see that I do most of my procrastinating in the morning, before that first bout of work.  Once I get into that blue-green-blue-green routine I’m pretty good, but I’m obviously putting off starting it.  So this week I’m working on getting that first blue stripe earlier in the day.  I could even get 30mins of project work done first thing, before I even check my email.  Why not?

The other aspects of the method have been helpful too, when I remember to apply them.  Catching myself in negative self- talk.  The relaxation and focusing exercise (a bit like self-hypnosis) to get into “the zone” before turning to work.  All good stuff.

New tools and methods that I am ready to apply starting tomorrow, the first work day of the new year:

  • Procrastination Log – I will record every instance of procrastination, including the attendant thoughts and feelings.  This will help me to identify my particular triggers and the misapprehensions behind my avoidance behaviour.
  • Morning exercises plus activity breaks throughout the day, to keep my mind fresh.
  • The Unschedule – guilt-free play time is scheduled into my week and will not be subverted by work pressures.
  • 30-minute periods of focus on work, instantly rewarded with more guilt-free play.
  • Positive self-talk at the ready to counter those self-defeating mumblings.
  • A meditative exercise that precedes work, for quietening the self-critical hemisphere and bringing my creative side to the fore.
  • I’m also trying out the Autofocus method of tracking tasks and projects.

I expect my first day to be mostly anti-procrastination exercises, and Fiore warns us not to expect more than four solid hours of productive time per day for the first few weeks (even that would be an improvement!).  The objective is not to instantly become a perfect “producer” (opposite of a procrastinator), but to work on defeating misapprehensions and developing new positive attitudes about work.

I’ll keep you posted on progress!

-Johnny 0.

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore.  1½ thumbs up.

Bottom line: I plan to implement this method and can’t wait to get started!

I can see why this is one of the seminal works in the psychology/self-help/procrastination arena.  Dr. Fiore has focused his career on researching and treating procrastination, and in this book he distills all the then-current theory plus his experiences with thousands of patients into one how-to book for the lay reader.  It is interesting, authoritative, and rings true.  His characterization of procrastination as a reaction to anxiety/resentment associated with work explains why deadlines and threats rarely work on us procrastinators – they just amp up the anxiety.  The book makes a lot of sense, and made me a believer that Fiore’s method will work for me.

My only complaint with the book is that it is almost all prose.  There are very few tables, diagrams or step-by-step instructions.  I got to the end of the book and thought: “Great!  Now what do I DO?”  I had to go through again and make my own point-form notes to follow.

When Fiore described the worker who never takes time to enjoy personal pursuits and yet wastes hours per day goofing off at his desk, I had to look behind me for the hidden camera!  Apparently, this is a well-trodden path.  The urge to goof-off at work is, he proposes, rooted in the belief that I don’t get enough “me time” because work is taking over my life. (Self-fulfilling prophecy: as my productivity dropped, I started working weekends and cancelling vacations.)  If I would only schedule some guilt-free play into my week, then that feeling would fade away along with the associated anxiety and resentment.

It’s not as simple as that, but this was the big light-bulb moment for me.  Methods for defeating the other primary causes of procrastination are also presented.  I now feel like I have a whole box of tools at the ready for tweaking the procrastination out of my work habits, bit by bit.  I’m looking forward to applying them, starting Monday.

-Johnny 0.