Time Management

Guilt and the Simplicity of Scheduling

What do I feel most guilty about in my day-to-day tasks?

The saved items in my feed reader.

As I write, there are 8 saved items, ranging from 16 hours to 13 days old. When those links are hanging around, it means I haven’t done something with them.

I have usually read the items in question, but the saved area is a hold for links I want to use somewhere. That’s why 13 days is too long. It’s not quite two weeks, but I should have actioned it by now.

This isn’t the same as procrastination. It’s more a missed opportunity. I haven’t even considered working through the links, which means they’re pointless hanging around indefinitely.

There are two easy ways to deal with these links:

1. Delete them. The ruthless option;
2. Deal with them RIGHT NOW. The active option.

For me it’s roughly 80% dealing, 20% deleting. I tend not to delete unless the moment has well and truly passed.

All I need to do is sort everything out where they need to go. There’s never anything saved that will take up too much of my time.

I’ll clear through the 8 items that are still hanging and use a stopwatch to see how long it takes me to sort everything out.

Stopwatch (photo by purplemattfish)

I could have used one of these, but went for my phone’s stopwatch instead. (photo by purplemattfish) (CC BY-NC-ND)

Go…

[Time Passes…Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock…]

And relax.

6 minutes 37 seconds to deal with 7 of the 8 items. The only article I didn’t move was a piece I hadn’t read yet (the 16 hour old piece). Of the 7 items, I deleted one and actioned the others.

I can feel less guilty again. In six and a half minutes, I have taken care of a fortnight worth of stuff that was making me feel guilty.

From now on, all I need to do is schedule a fortnightly task. 20 minutes set to one side and I should have it clear in less time than that. Much better than getting an occasional pang of guilt and rushing through the list, annoyed with myself.

[Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and performed the task again today, before publishing. It worked brilliantly again. 20 items down to 2 in 18 minutes. The oldest item was 8 days old. In the time I spent, I did around 80% dealing and 20% deleting again. From the two trial runs, I’ve spent roughly one minute per item.]

When you’re faced with ultimately forgettable or picky little tasks, try setting aside a bit of time every now and then. It needn’t be a huge commitment, but it should be enough to stop those moments where you suddenly remember something and feel guilty that you didn’t do it sooner.

Not only can I now breathe a sigh of relief, but also celebrate that I have an ongoing plan to deal with any backlog I may get each fortnight.

I even managed to get this post written in the process. Win.

What is making you feel guilty and how will you deal with it?

Are You a Planner or a Structured Procrastinator?

Doug Belshaw likes to plan. He’s even created his own daily planner.

But recently, Belshaw has been wondering if planning is required for productivity. Does everyone need to set out their day ahead to get ahead? Well, not necessarily.

Belshaw recently discovered structured procrastination and was amazed to find it was a real thing and not a joke. The plan is to get more done without a plan. Just work on what you feel like.

Such a simple idea sounds brilliant. But it’s never that simple, is it? Nevertheless, Belshaw found that high-profile people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger made use of structured procrastination to get things done.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Has this prompted a change of heart in Belshaw? Nope. He says, “I’ll keep my planner!”

To schedule or not to schedule? That is the question.

Or is it? I think a binary argument of schedule versus non-planning is too simplistic. A total lack of planning still requires an element of planning once the day is underway. And not everyone can dismiss timetabling completely, on a whim. Stuff happens around you. The world doesn’t pander to you, so you must respond to the needs of others. This, sometimes, requires a schedule of sorts.

One reason why I like the David Seah Emergent Task Planner is that it looks a few major tasks, extra tasks if you have time, plus emerging stuff because “Life just happens”.

The 1-3-5 Daily To-Do List is good for a basic schedule too. One big, three medium, and five small tasks on your list. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just a basic breakdown of things to do in varying degrees of size/time/importance.

As you’d expect, there is no one-size-fits-all. Much depends on each person and their current individual circumstances. A structured plan is necessary for some activities, while it hinders others. Also, while some thrive on orchestrating every last minute to perfection (despite the realities), others don’t want to get bogged down with anything more than a basic starting point.

Structured procrastination sounds like fun. But it’s serious stuff. You have to be determined and driven to make it work effectively. Otherwise structured procrastination becomes…well, it becomes procrastination!

How do you work best? Much of the consideration boils down to the following questions:

  • Do you feel productive enough?
  • Are you satisfied with how you lead your day to day life?
  • Does this day to day activity correspond with your future plans leading to personal success?
  • Have you tried new approaches to improve your productivity, even when you feel confident that your current approach is successful?

If you have any doubt here, it might be worth taking the plunge. If you haven’t tried any other methods, can you truly be sure that your approach is best for you? You may feel efficient, but until you try alternatives, there may be a more amazing set of tactics to propel you further than you’d ever imagined.

One compromise is to only use due dates when absolutely necessary. Most of your schedule is free to do what you want, when you want. For the few matters requiring a definite time or your definite presence (either physically or emotionally!), get it booked in. Not only can you then schedule, but you can also keep the schedule to a minimum. Everything else is available to you and your whims.

What do you think? Are you a planner, a structured procrastinator, or something else entirely?

Dedicated Diaries and Perfect Planners

Users on The Student Room recently discussed their favourite diary and planner for the academic year.

Most of them recommended the Palgrave Student Planner.

The Palgrave offering may not be the cheapest, but the layout and the extras were worth it for most users. One person goes as far as calling the planner “an absolute Godsend”.

Over at Amazon, one user has helpfully added a few shots of what’s inside the planner. It’s all specific to students (as you’d expect!) and laid out nicely.

I’ve never used this planner myself, but with a lot of love over at The Student Room, it’s worth a mention. The 44 five-star reviews and average score of 4.6 stars on Amazon paint a positive picture too!

A diary is a great step for sorting your life out and getting things on track. Timetabling is a mental necessity one way or another. Beyond these plans, you may also want to keep an academic journal about what you’re learning, why you’re learning, the things you want to learn more, and so on.

There are loads of different diaries and planners out there. Do you have a favourite diary that you return to every year? Have you discovered the perfect planner? Or do you have a completely different way to arrange your year ahead? Let us know!

photo by Amir Kuckovic

photo by Amir Kuckovic

How You Can Do What You Keep Putting Off

Ah, distractions!

Distractions are a lovely way to do anything other than what you should be doing.

Distractions are plentiful and a recipe for forgetting. You have an ever-expanding list of things that are hard to resist. Then you have Facebook and Twitter (and the rest!) all bringing a steady stream (or a heavy flow, perhaps even a tsunami) of tidbits that can take you to every destination imaginable, and from every direction you care to come from.

Why is it so difficult to get rid of distraction and stop procrastinating?

  • Fear of missing out;
  • Everyone else doing it;
  • No natural end;
  • It feeds your pleasure centres in the brain;
  • It can *feel* useful, even when that’s an excuse.

Sid Savara’s procrastination survey shows that, overwhelmingly, people just don’t feel like doing the things they’re meant to be doing. They put it off because they *want* to put it off.

What can you do to stop this spiral from going further and further out of control?

photo by Bernat Casero

Tick, tock, putting it off… (photo by Bernat Casero)

Set an incredibly short amount of time

Ten or fifteen minutes should do it. Push yourself for just that amount of time and see how you feel. You may be happy to continue after that set time.

Switch off notifications

A beep or a screen notification will stop you from what you’re doing, whether you like it or not. No matter how much you tell yourself to ignore it, you’ve already been alerted to it. The temptation is there, itching away at you at exactly the wrong time. Switch those messages off!

Mindmap

Starting is easier when you have a better overview of what you want to achieve. A mindmap will let you consider ideas and links with ease. It may be what you need to conquer your procrastination. I recently gave mindmapping software, Mindmaple Lite a whirl. It’s free and it’s easy to use, so you can concentrate more on the mindmap than the software.

Outline

If mindmapping isn’t your thing, how about a brief outline of what you want to achieve? Build up your sections and sub-sections to break down your research and writing into smaller tasks. I recently discovered Quicklyst as an online way to create outlines.

Act like it’s a blog post

The pressure of writing an academic essay can lead to procrastination. So treat the writing more casually. A recent post on Lifehack explained that 1,000 words doesn’t have to take a lot of time when you work in the right order.

Try writing a snappy title or headline if the essay question is getting in the way (making sure that you’re still trying to answer the same question!). Then, see if you can rattle off a quick introduction and conclusion to help your own mindset (you may wish to rewrite later, so this is just for you right now). Then make a quick outline of the major points you want to cover throughout the essay. After this, fill in the gaps. Do this with a timer if you prefer, so you challenge yourself to get the bulk written quickly, rather than worrying over every last word and detail. Edit and re-draft later.

Go somewhere different

Location makes a huge difference to your productivity, your attitude, and your outlook. Find places you’ve not been to before and explore where it takes your mind, not just your body.

Watch an inspiring talk or presentation

Find a TED talk and watch it. You’ll be procrastinating (win), and you’ll feed yourself some brain-food that’ll get you more psyched up for work (win).

Well, so long as you don’t just keep watching more TED talks…

Understand what’s stopping you

Okay, so you want to put this off. But why? What is the real reason for your procrastination? Be honest. Are you not interested in the topic itself? Do you have difficulty understanding the subject (time to fire up Wikipedia for the basics)? Have you got loads of friends tempting you away for fun?

If you don’t work out why you’re putting the work off, you’ll keep on putting it off!

Stop expecting perfect

Perfectionism is a recipe for procrastination. When you picture the most amazing coursework to have ever graced this earth, everything you do will be a disappointment. After a while, you’ll feel inadequate and start putting off the work instead of cracking on.

Nothing is perfect. And your first drafts are certainly not meant to be anything other than, well, first drafts. Successful writers almost never finish on their first attempt. They redraft, they edit, they get opinions from others. If established writers need to do this, you can stop beating yourself up over flaws. Even a First Class essay has flaws!

 Believe that you can keep learning

As a child, I was told that I was ‘good at maths’. Children tend to believe what they are told. So I went through school believing I had a good grasp of maths. That was fine for a while, but when new concepts arrived that I didn’t understand, I started to think I wasn’t good at maths any more. I guessed I wasn’t as smart as some people had made out.

The concept of ‘smart’ and ‘clever’ is flawed. Turn the perspective around. We all have to learn. Nobody is born with great wisdom and knowledge. What matters is a willingness to keep learning new things and stop worrying that you’re not ‘smart’ enough.

Don’t discount the future

According to one paper about procrastination:

“…the value of socializing in the present is weighed heavily while the value of getting good grades in the future is discounted. This quirk leads to delays in studying for tests, writing term papers and getting prepared for weekly assignments. As can be expected, students who procrastinate generally discounted future values greater than students who don’t procrastinate.”

The future seems a long way away. No wonder it feels easy to put tomorrow to one side. But the future soon becomes the present and it’ll bite you on the bum if you don’t deal with it in good time.

Forgive yourself

We all fall down from time to time. The occasional lapse is allowed. It’s not uncommon to put something off for ten minutes and then find you’ve put it off for ten days.

So long as this doesn’t happen all the time, you can let yourself off the hook. You’ll probably procrastinate less on the next task if you forgive yourself.

Procrastination can happen when you suffer a delay beyond your control, like when you’re waiting on a crucial library book to be available. Even then, you can find ways to move beyond the initial setback. Sometimes you do just have to wait. That gives you time to spend on other stuff anyway! 😉

How will you keep the procrastination beast at bay today?