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Structuring my day

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  • Structuring my day

    I am fortunate (?) to work in an environment where I have almost total control of what I do during the day e.g. most days I have one or often zero meetings or other events to attend. I practice GTD (which seems to be designed for people who are very busy indeed) but for chronic procrastinators like me I feel that more structure is needed to the day rather than just: whats the next action? constantly. I have the big time slots that Drucker suggests we use to be effective and perhaps I need to work more vertically on projects rather than horizontally. Has anyone got any ideas or suffering from a similar issue? Does anyone else work vertically on projects most of the time?

  • #2
    Neil,

    Could you describe what you mean when you say "working horizontally or vertically" on a project?

    Comment


    • #3
      I would suggest staying with one project and taking it as far as you can. When you cannot proceed (because the next action is a "waiting for", you have an appointment, etc.), define the action so that you have a "bookmark" for when you come back to the project.

      Comment


      • #4
        Vertical

        Yes sure, vertical means working on NAs related to ONE project in particular. Horizontal means working off NA context lists.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Vertical

          Originally posted by neil007
          Yes sure, vertical means working on NAs related to ONE project in particular. Horizontal means working off NA context lists.
          I tend to work vertically because my task switching mechanism is not efficient enough. But often I have to sacrifice efficiency for urgency of other stuff.
          TesTeq

          Comment


          • #6
            If you're finding that you have too many Next Actions at any given time, maybe you need to further subdivide your contexts so that your choices aren't so bewildering

            Comment


            • #7
              use simple reinforcement techniques

              Neil,

              My job varies. There have been times when it was very unstructured and I found it very difficult to stay on track. Your situation sounds quite similar to mine.

              There are mild and strong methods available.

              A. One method that I have found to be very effective is the following:

              1. I write down that for the next x months I will do at least y hours of real work each day. For example, I vow that between January 3, 2005 and March 31, 2005, I will spend at least 5 hours of each day that I am at the office doing real work.

              2. Use a timer. This is essential. Each time you start surfing the web, turn off your timer. Each time you go back to doing real work, turn on your timer. After spending your 5 hours doing real work, don't worry about the timer any more. If you spend 6 or 8 or 9 hours it doesn't matter. All the matters is that you hit your 5 hour daily goal.

              3. Create a log. On that log list each workday between January 3 and March 31. At the end of each day write down how many hours you spent doing real work. If you spent more than 5, don't worry about it. Just write 5.

              B. If you think that you have a really tough case then you must take drastic action.
              1. Put a sizable sum of money in an envelope in your desk drawer.
              2. Each day that you work less than five hours, burn the money, shred the money, or give the money to a cause that you despise (fascists, Nazis, unless you are one ). (This one is sure to get you in shape very quickly. Of course it only works if you really do follow through and lose the money in a very painful way. If you really want to change your behavior you will force yourself to follow through. If you know you are unable to follow through, enlist a confederate. Give the money to a friend you trust and tell her to burn, shred, or give away the money.)

              Behaviorism does not provide a good model for all of the wonderful complexities of human experience. Chomsky did a good job devastating the behaviorist explanation of language. But behaviorism really does the trick if you want to increase your output. It works for pigeons and mice. It works for me. It can work for you.

              Like GTD, this is about habit formation. After you've written in your log for a while, or blown a few hundred pesos you will find that structuring your workday around real work just becomes a habit-- like brushing your teeth.

              I personally have never had to shred money. But I once vowed that I would if I engaged in behaviors that I wanted to eliminate. I knew that I would follow through because I really wanted to eliminate those behaviors.

              For my job I used method A outlined above. It did the trick for me.

              Neil: this stuff has to work. You must set the correct rewards and punishments and you will be like clay in your own hands. Basically you are the potter and the pot. The trick is to make sure that the potter has a good grasp on what your long-term goals are. Make the potter set up the rules for reward and punishment. Then the short-term-pleasure seeking Neil will be forced to listen to the long-term-pleasure seeking Neil. You will follow your "higher" self because your "lower" self doesn't want to experience the short-term pain of losing money, not getting a gold star, etc.

              If you make a mistake and lose some pesos, it's still worth it in the long run.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: use simple reinforcement techniques

                Originally posted by moises
                3. Create a log. On that log list each workday between January 3 and March 31. At the end of each day write down how many hours you spent doing real work. If you spent more than 5, don't worry about it. Just write 5.
                Moises,
                Why not to write the real number? If you spent 6 hours - proudly write it in the log. It is some kind of reward, achievement, and possibility to have free time later. It is not honest to write 5 when you spent 6 hours doing real work.

                Originally posted by moises
                B. If you think that you have a really tough case then you must take drastic action.
                1. Put a sizable sum of money in an envelope in your desk drawer.
                2. Each day that you work less than five hours, burn the money, shred the money,
                I like this idea. I'll use it in the future.
                TesTeq

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hi Neil

                  My situation is similar to yours with a very unstructured day. My problem is that I tended to end up never doing anything but work because I seemed to feel guilty if I wasn't working! Initially I set up my GTD situation with contexts but now I've changed this to what I call a 'functional' approach. The idea is that all the projects I'm engaged in perform at least one of four functions and I assign each to its main function. So 'Paid work' is one function while another is 'Facilitation' i.e. all those things you need to do not for their own sakes but because they make other things easier, such as keeping the office clean and tidy. I then decided to allocate one or more days to each function. So on a 'Facilitation' day I'll concentrate on all the tasks and projects that fit into this role. So my GTD 'contexts' now include these four functions so that I can easily filter out the tasks relevant to today.

                  For me this system has three advantages. First, it really helps me to focus because I know I'm supposed to be doing 'Facilitation' tasks today but I don't have to worry about the other stuff because I know I've set aside days for those. Second, it helps to give some urgency to an unstructured week because I know if I don't get a certain Facilitation task done today (Tuesday) then I won't have another opportunity until Tuesday next week. Third, it helps me to achieve a better life/work balance because I no longer focus on paid work every day. Deciding on the four functions was also very useful because it made me really think about why I was doing particular things. Similar, I guess, to the idea of Roles in Franklin Covey and others.

                  Hope this helps.
                  Claire.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Neil,

                    Ann Rusnak has a system to organize your activities around 4 different days (http://www.just15minutes.com/articles/a00140.htm).

                    Rest & Relaxation Days - 24 hours of no business related activities, reading or problem solving. Total downtime to rejuvenate and recharge your batteries. ALWAYS schedule your R&R Days first.
                    Money Making Activities Days - Scheduled business time with no interruptions where you focus only on activities that produce income.
                    Grunt Days - These are the days that you do all the "stuff." Because you have focused days for producing income and rejuvenating, you can devote time to tie up loose-ends, finish projects etc. totally guilt free.
                    Elimination Days - Life is messy and messes happen in both your personal and professional life. Messes clutter your life and cause distractions, interruptions and get you bogged down. Elimination days permission you to clean up the mess so you can get back on track.
                    Maybe you should give it a try,
                    Rainer
                    Last edited by Rainer Burmeister; 01-09-2006, 10:37 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      THANKS

                      thanks to all - very interesting. i will try some of this stuff

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: use simple reinforcement techniques

                        Originally posted by TesTeq
                        Originally posted by moises
                        3. Create a log. On that log list each workday between January 3 and March 31. At the end of each day write down how many hours you spent doing real work. If you spent more than 5, don't worry about it. Just write 5.
                        Moises,
                        Why not to write the real number? If you spent 6 hours - proudly write it in the log. It is some kind of reward, achievement, and possibility to have free time later. It is not honest to write 5 when you spent 6 hours doing real work.

                        Originally posted by moises
                        B. If you think that you have a really tough case then you must take drastic action.
                        1. Put a sizable sum of money in an envelope in your desk drawer.
                        2. Each day that you work less than five hours, burn the money, shred the money,
                        I like this idea. I'll use it in the future.
                        TesTeq
                        TesTeq,

                        I am assuming that Neil, like me, will have resistance to timing himself. The very process of keeping tabs on one's time is an added burden, a stressor.

                        If you can handle it, it would be very nice to have an accurate log of how many hours you worked each day.

                        In my situation, I saw that I was pissing away too many hours each day. I set what I thought was a reasonable daily goal. Once I hit my daily goal I was free to work or to play. If I worked, I didn't want to have to worry any more about that bloody timer. I tolerated the timer because it enabled me to accomplish my goal. But I had no illusions about how I felt about the timer. The timer was an instrumental good. I did not find using the timer to be good in itself.

                        Maybe you can use a variation of David Allen's advice about writing pens and get a real cool, fancy, gadgety, or whatever turns you on timer. Maybe then you will like using it above and beyond the point where it enables you to accomplish the time goals that you have set for yourself.

                        David D. Burns, MD has a book which has often been mentioned on this board called The Feeling Good Handbook. I highly recommend it to everyone. One of the things he mentions there is that people who waste their time procrastinating keep thinking that in order to act one must feel motivated.

                        Burns counters that action precedes motivation. That is, act even if you don't feel like it. After you've started working you actually feel more motivated to work more. Maybe it's a cognitive dissonance thing. You might rationalize, "well I've sweated for 50 minutes on this difficult project already, it must be a valuable and important activity."

                        Whatever the explanation, it is true that if you want to complete your actions you will be much more likely to succeeed if you cultivate the habit of working even when not motivated.

                        What the behavioral techniques that I mentioned do is that they add motivation. For me, it would be highly aversive to have to write in my daily log that I did 4.5 hours of real work today. So that gives me the motivation. For someone else, it might be highly aversive to shred $700. So that gives them the motivation.

                        What's great about these methods is that after a few days or, at most, a couple of weeks a new habit is formed. The old habit of surfing half the day is replaced by the new habit of working for 5 hours. The bonus is that before using these methods the surfing was not very pleasurable. There was always that nagging guilty feeling that time was being wasted. After using these methods the surfing is pleasurable. It is a well-deserved reward for being productive.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Structuring my day

                          Originally posted by neil007
                          I am fortunate (?) to work in an environment where I have almost total control of what I do during the day e.g. most days I have one or often zero meetings or other events to attend. I practice GTD (which seems to be designed for people who are very busy indeed) but for chronic procrastinators like me I feel that more structure is needed to the day rather than just: whats the next action? constantly. I have the big time slots that Drucker suggests we use to be effective and perhaps I need to work more vertically on projects rather than horizontally. Has anyone got any ideas or suffering from a similar issue? Does anyone else work vertically on projects most of the time?
                          Have you seen this post on 43Folders? http://www.43folders.com/2005/01/map_folding_bui.html

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: use simple reinforcement techniques

                            Originally posted by moises
                            If you can handle it, it would be very nice to have an accurate log of how many hours you worked each day.
                            Have you seen Above & Beyond? It makes it really simple to keep an accurate log, provided that you use your computer most of the time. It also produces really good log files that can be transferred to Excel or Access for detailed analysis. See www.1Soft.com for more details.
                            Claire.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I too have mostly unstructured time.

                              My prioritized context lists (as ranked by Life Balance software) help a lot.

                              But I often also use the additional structure of scheduling some of my time. I print out a weekly calendar and mark all the chunks of time I have available. Of those, I highlight the chunks of time with high energy available (mid-morning, early afternoon). Then I notice how little high-energy time there really is. I schedule sessions for my hardest and most important actions/projects during these times.

                              This structuring has been extremely helpful for me. It borrows from just about all the productivity theories: planning (classic time management), the "big rocks" (Covey), energy-available prioritization (David Allen).

                              -andersons[/b]

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