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non-productive behaviors

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  • non-productive behaviors

    I have a hard time focusing on what needs to be done many times. GTD has been an enormous boon, because in the past not only would I have to get around to doing what needed to be done, I had to figure out what that is. My problem is now that I find myself burning a lot of time just cruising the internet as an escape as opposed to doing some of my actions. When I can force myself to do things, I get on a roll and get a ton done.

    Any thoughts?

  • #2
    Likewise!!! I do the exact same thing. I tend to get the blahs at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon (I usually SHOULD be working till about 7:30) and tune into the reality show mesage boards (my poison of choice).

    [note time stamp right now! At least today I'm looking at something that could potentially be helpful!] Ha ha.

    Once my mind sinks into the lull of reading the boards, it's like watching tv - everything shuts down and there's no going back to being productive.

    This morning I had an epiphany about that though. I was reading in Ready for Anything (I sometimes read a chapter in the mornings to help get me in a productive frame of mind), and I read David's chapter which had as the heading "You can't win the game if you haven't defined what the rules are". Ok, that's an extremely rough paraphrase, I don't have the book with me.

    I typically don't set goals for a particular day - I just trudge away on the treadmill, working on the vast backlog of "stuff" (which of course are all categorized as NAs.) Some days actually things get accomplished, sometimes I just work randomly (even when I'm working on actual NAs, which is most of the time).

    What I realized though, is that by not setting objectives for my day of things I need to accomplish, I don't get a "win" for accomplishing them. So I'm going to go back to making a VERY SHORT (1 item, maybe 2 depending on size) list of items to complete that day and writing it on my big whiteboard in front of my face. With my NAs, finishing one doesn't really give me that "cha-ching" successfully-cranked-widget feeling, since when I delete "call client re who is trustee to be", I just have to add in @waiting for "wait for client to call back re trustee" (or whatever, just switching the category). My project list doesn't shrink any (or become less backlogged at all) because each project has a gajillion small little steps and I'm working on too many at once.

    So that was a long departure from the subject of your post (sorry, didn't mean to hijack). But all that drudgework ("A task without hope is drudgery . . . ") was taking away my motivation and I kept lapsing into time wasting-dom on the excuse that I was bored or stressed out or whatever.

    So if you find yourself zoning, maybe try creating an opportunity for a win.
    Taxgeek

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    • #3
      I have a hard time focusing on what needs to be done many times. GTD has been an enormous boon, because in the past not only would I have to get around to doing what needed to be done, I had to figure out what that is. My problem is now that I find myself burning a lot of time just cruising the internet as an escape as opposed to doing some of my actions. When I can force myself to do things, I get on a roll and get a ton done.
      Some time ago, I was in exactly the same boat! These are the strategies that helped me, though I recommend them ONLY if you have similar problems and intuitively feel that they will help you. I'm sure these strategies are not for everyone.

      First, I decided that from now on, I am going to think of life as an opportunity not only to get things done, but also to have fun and enjoy myself. I realized that I had had a narrow view of what constitutes "worthwhile" activity; that I viewed life as essentially all work and no play. I never had time to do fun things people wanted me to do, for example, because I always felt I "should" be working. It was easy for me to recognize that my parents influenced this paradigm of mine, but even they take time now to enjoy themselves, and they urge me to as well. (It's ironic, because I don't think they realize that they helped teach me to be this way.)

      Second, I realized that I have a tendency to rebel against things I "have" to do. So I decided to adopt the attitude "I don't have to do anything. Today I am going to do only what I want to do." (There's a discussion in Covey's 7 Habits similar to this.) I then wrote down on a piece of paper "Things I WANT to do today:" The first thing that went on the paper was "Grade papers" -- a hated task in which I have always procrastinated as much as possible. Then I wrote the reason why: "I WANT to get these papers graded so that my students will see me as responsible and wanting to help them, and to provide feedback quickly enough so that they will still care about it." I started feeling literally eager to get started and get this tedious task done. Even as I worked on the task, I felt much happier focusing on why I want to do it instead of why I hate it so much.

      Similarly with my taxes: "I WANT to complete my taxes today so that the government will not come after me with a huge, painful penalty, and so that I can continue to live in this great country without fear and guilt hanging over my head." It sounds pathetic to me, but focusing on why I want to do something, even when that's mainly to avoid some punishment, motivates me to get started.

      Thirdly, I made a rule that I must reward myself by spending time doing things I enjoy, each day and each week. I enjoy spending time on the internet, and now I do so without guilt by doing so after completing something hard or disagreeable. In fact, I plan time for enjoyment. When I plan time to have fun, I feel that my time to get disagreeable but necessary tasks done is limited, and I don't want to waste it. I also know there's a reward of enjoyment later after I get the tough stuff that I WANT to do done.

      Fourth, I recognized that sometimes I resist hard tasks that are part of a project because I last concluded working on it by stopping at a difficult point. So I decided to always stop when I'm still feeling good about the task, instead of pushing on until I'm stuck. And when I'm ready to stop, I take a moment to list the thoughts and ideas that should help me get started again later. Then I reward myself (usually by reading or internet, but maybe Haagen-Dazs if I reach a great milestone) to reinforce the pattern that work on this hard project is immediately rewarded.

      It's really important to pick good rewards for yourself. People can be bad at this. (I have followed over 300 people's experiences in a 10-week goal-setting project in which they had to pick and use rewards.) If I choose a reward but then still procrastinate on the task, the reward must not be rewarding enough for that task. My rule of thumb is to use as rewards the things I'm already doing. If I'm already doing something (like participating in this forum) without forcing myself to do so, I must get some reward from it.

      These strategies (and a few others) have made a huge difference. Before, I would have extremely productive stretches followed by extremely unproductive ones. Or (post-GTD), I would get lots done, but not the most important, difficult, and/or unpleasant things, so I would still feel guilty about what I wasn't doing. Now, I'm consistently getting the important things done, AND I'm also enjoying life more because I'm taking time to do things I enjoy as well -- without guilt.

      If you are a relaxed, irresponsible type of procrastinator (I doubt it, because you're here), DO NOT do what I did because it will hurt rather than help. But if you identify with some of my struggles and intuitively feel like these strategies will help you, you may want to try them.

      -andersons

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      • #4
        a wakeup call for me was to tally all the time i spent doing "pointless" activities, like aimlessly browsing the net and watching tv.

        I spend around 4 hours a day doing that, so in a week that adds up to 28 hours!!!

        That means each week, i spend more than a day goofing off!

        And in a year, i will spend almost 2 months doing that! 2 months of my life wasted!!!

        So after I added up these numbers, I'm a lot more motivated. I'd rather spend this time with family and friends.

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        • #5
          Great post, Andersens, I printed it out. I really like the idea of doing only things I WANT to do, and focusing on why I want to do them.
          Thanks!
          Taxgeek

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          • #6
            good thoughts

            I am going to take some time to think through these. One thing that is helping is a checklist when I first get to my office to go through the inbox, review my next actions, etc. The checklist is tangible, so I can focus on it, and by the time I am done, I am focused on things needing doing. the harder part is when I reward myself with some internet, then I get in that mode and it is hard to break out again.

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            • #7
              I know what you mean, Chris. If you get started in a productive frame of mind, it's easier to stay there. I got in a bad habit of getting started slowly once I arrived at work - check the headlines, check a couple of message boards, etc. I'm going to have to stop that but it's SO hard!

              Doing a mini weekly review each day seems to help, although it does take a little time.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by taxgeek
                I got in a bad habit of getting started slowly once I arrived at work - check the headlines, check a couple of message boards, etc. I'm going to have to stop that but it's SO hard!
                I had this same bad habit. One thing that helped was realizing that "first thing in the morning" time is MORE VALUABLE than, say, late afternoon time. (And I'm not even a morning person.) If I do fun or (relatively) easy things in the morning, I'm wasting not so much time but limited mental energy. I just will not have the mental energy to tackle some perplexing data analysis or code debugging after 4 PM. "I have all day to work on X" became "I only have 2 hours of quality time to work on X - I better get started NOW!"

                I had to learn to be honest with myself. When you head to a website first thing in the morning, you're probably thinking that you'll do your work "later." Of course that's a theoretical possibility - play first, work later - but I had to admit I had never accomplished much that way. My new mindset became "If I get on the internet first thing in the morning, history shows I will waste most of the day."

                I then printed out a weekly-view calendar and highlighted the blocks of time with high mental energy available, based on my past experience. This shows me quite vividly that that quality time is extremely limited; I no longer fool myself into thinking I can do something "later" or "any time."

                After awhile, I acquired a new habit of tackling the right tasks at the right time.

                -andersons

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                • #9
                  Try thinking out loud

                  I'm very familiar with this phenomenon of doing frivolous things instead of the things on my lists. One thing that has helped me, which I haven't seen mentioned yet, is simply thinking out loud. (Note, I did not say thinking "loudly" but "out loud", just loud enough for you to hear yourself -- in the same manner as many people sub-vocalize as they read.)

                  I've found this practice to be of immense help when making decisions about what to do off my lists, when organizing my brainstorming notes, and when processing my inbox. It's also good for pulling me out of the "busy trap." When I start to get an uneasy feeling that I'm not making the best use of my time, I'll often start a conversation with myself. It may sound strange, but it really does help me get unstuck quickly.

                  Best,
                  Phil

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