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Previously, I reviewed RescueTime which is a website that tracks your activities (free) and can also limit your internet access (if you pay for the pro account).   Dr. Steel also suggested a different software for blocking time: Internet Access Controller, and I’ve been using it ever since.

Overview of Internet Access Controller

It’s a filter program that you download and install on your computer.  When you enable the software, it will block the internet according to the rules that you set up in it’s filters.  If you try to access a blocked site, it will simply tell you that that site is not available.  It costs 15 USD for a single permanent license, with different pricing options for families and businesses with multiple computers.

A few of the features

  • Different filtering styles:  You can define your filters based on a list of allowed or blocked sites, as well as setting which programs, services or IP addresses can access the internet.  So if you only want to block facebook, then that’s possible; or if you only want to allow gmail, then that’s also possible.
  • Applies to all user accounts:  The software is automatically available for all user accounts of your computer, and you can personalize the filters for each user.  So you can set up a “fun” user and a “work” user on the same computer, with different internet filters applied. 
  • Groups subdomains together:  The filters can be set-up to block all subdomains of a given site.   So you can block ALL the videos, TV show pages, and news items just by blocking CTV’s main address.  
  • Password protection:  You need to enter a password in order to enable/disable the software, or to make changes to the filter.  So it’s harder to turn off the filters, and access something that you don’t want to access.  
  • Scheduling:  The filters can be applied according to a schedule, so that you have certain hours that access is controlled, and other hours where it isn’t freely available.  So you can allow yourself time for distractions, while still blocking certain sites when you’re trying to get work done.  

What I like about it….

It’s always on, automatically.
In my battles against procrastination, one of the hardest things to do each day is to get started.  If I had to turn on my internet filter each day before I could start work, I think I would just keep delaying that action.  But when it turns itself on (according to my schedule), it triggers me to open up a work file and get something done.  This doesn’t take up any of my energy, which leaves me to focus my energy on my work.

Very easy to use.
Learning to use the software is fast and simple, the screens have short explanations when needed without needed to use the help files.  I was able to set up the filters that I wanted in less than 20 minutes.

The one-time price.
Once you’ve purchased this software, it’s yours.  There are no subscription fees or other such nonsense.  I like this style of payment because it shows a real respect for the users, it isn’t just a moneygrab.

What I dislike about it…

Sometimes it’s finicky for blocking subdomains.
Occasionally a site can sneak through the filters.  I don’t know why, maybe the site has a different type of structure?  Anyways, you just need to try different ways of listing the site’s address in the filters until you find one (or two) ways that work.  This isn’t a big flaw, just something that can take a bit of trial and error.  Also, it didn’t happen very often, and I was always successful in blocking the sites that I wanted to block.

You can’t include different filter in a single schedule.
This is my biggest dissapointment.  I would love to block my email access, but to allow myself email “breaks” when email is accessible but all my distracting sites are not.  However, this isn’t possible with the schedule function.  You can create a work-around solution where email is allowed on one user profile, but not allowed on another – so you have to sign into a different user account to then access your email.  I didn’t think it was worth the effort for me, but it is a possible way to solve the problem.

A note on social networks

I’ve read that social networks are addictive because they are unpredictable in terms of when they will give you a “reward.”  The fact that you never know when there will be new content means that you’re like to check the network often.

For me, this is entirely true: I have a couple of social networks that I check constantly!  And I was surprised how much it had become a reflex.  Once internet access controller was enabled, I knew that the link would only lead me to a “this webpage is not available” screen, and yet I would still click the links to my networks.  It took a number of days before my body seemed to realize that clicking the link wasn’t fun any more.   This experience was both interesting and embarrassing all at the same time.

Bottom Line

This is an excellent piece of software.

highly recommend it for anyone looking to prevent themselves from wasting hours on useless sites.

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Hello again readers,

I haven’t blogged in ages, and as I’d just like to offer a quick explanation as I start up with my writing again.   First, I’ve had some family-based things going on and I had to put aside my own priorities in order better support my family.  This lasted from the end of May through most of July.  Since then, I’ve been procrastinating on my procrastination goal (oh the irony!) – and just haven’t gotten around to writing.

Right now, I am reaffirming my goal to fight my own procrastination.  And I will be a more active blogger going forwards.  There is already something in the pipeline: a new technique called “Work Restriction” which I’ve been trying out in the past two weeks.  More details to follow.

Uber-quick recap on what you may have missed:

A lifelong procrastinator, I am working through the techniques in The Procrastination Equation with the help of the author himself.  The first challenge was a technique called the “unschedule,” where I make time for my temptations to reduce their power as distractions.  For more info, check out Episode 1.

The Verdict…

Overall, the “Unschedule” is a great tool: it makes temptations seem less urgent, and it’s relatively easy to implement.  But I did have some difficulty sticking with it, so I’m hoping that future techniques can help with that.

I would recommend creating an unschedule for anyone who (like me) doesn’t want to swear off their temptations, because they’re justifiably relaxing.  The unschedule protects your leisure time, but also keeps it under control.

My Experience with the “Unschedule”

For me, my big temptation is TV. Left to my own devices, I will easily watch 4-5 hours of TV a day, often in a row. I don’t have cable, so I usually stream it online.

With the Unschedule, I managed to get my TV watching down to 2 hours a day: 1 hour at lunch and 1 hour in the evening. This is a huge improvement, cutting out more than half of my wasted TV hours.
As I tackled this challenge, I found that I had three completely different experiences with the Unschedule.

Phase I: Trying to over-do it…

At first I limited myself too much: trying to watch only 1 hour of TV a day and I just couldn’t do it.  One day would go well, with me following the unscheduled as planned.  But then I would binge on TV the next day.  As soon as I watched the second show, I would feel like I’d already failed for that day, so then I’d just keep watching more.

So I decided that I needed to change the schedule, and that maybe I’d been a bit over-ambitious.  I changed my unschedule to include 2 hours of TV, but with the stipulation that I couldn’t watch them back to back.  This struck the right balance: a significant change in my behaviour but still achievable.

Lesson learned: Don’t just give up on a technique, try tweaking it first.

Phase II: It’s Working!

After I found the sweetspot with my Unschedule, things were trucking along beautifully.  Without TV taking up my day, I had a lot more time available and was able to get some work done.  It wasn’t perfect: I definitely didn’t turn into miss-crazy-productive or anything, and I was still affected by some of my lesser procrastination activities (like reading the newspaper) but it was a marked improvement.  Definitely a step forwards.

Lesson learned: This was a boost to my confidence, showing me that I *can* improve my behaviour.

Phase III: A big lapse.

I managed to complete a project goal that I’d set for myself, and then I fell apart.  After my success, I seemed to revert back to my “old self”: watching tons of TV and doing little to no useful work.  I was just exhausted, and didn’t feel like doing the daily struggle of trying to keep on task.   And then the procrastination itself was more exhausting: because I had a constant feeling of guilt that I was trying to ignore.

Lesson learned: It isn’t easy to stop being a procrastinator.

A Side-Effect

I expected that the unscheduled was going to be a bit of a drag. But I was pleasantly surprised that life was actually more enjoyable and more relaxing, even though I had less leisure time than before.

The difference was in the quality of my downtime. By planning my TV time, I had to choose which shows were more important to me and which ones weren’t really worth watching, such as:

  • Watch-worthy: United States of Tara, because Toni Collette does an amazing job with it
  • Watch-worthy: The Chicago Code, although Fox just made a huge mistake in cancelling it
  • Watch-worthy: Make It or Break It, it’s my guilty pleasure
  • Abandoned: Gossip Girl, good once upon a time but really boring as of late
  • Abandoned: Criminal Minds Suspect Behaviour,  yet another unnecessary crime procedural

Not only am I watching better (IMHO) shows, I’m also enjoying them more.
Usually, when I’m procrastinating with TV, there’s a small voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I should be doing something useful, and I end up feeling guilty instead of relaxing. But with the Unschedule, I am reserving certain times specifically as a break, times to just veg out. And this makes it easier to just relax and have fun.

I talked about this with Dr. Steel, and he had an observation that I thought was right on the money:

“Procrastination consumes our lives in marginally enjoyable activities.  Having already blown our downtime, no time remains to pursue what’s truly rewarding.”

Will I keep using the Unschedule?

Absolutely. I think it’s a great tool, and it can be tweaked to best suit my needs and goals. Already I’m thinking about ways that I can add in other activities, such as workouts, emailing, and social-networking.

Feedback from the Expert

I talked about my experiences with Dr. Steel, and he had some great reminders and suggestions.
First he told me that it’s normal to have a lapse. And as cliché it sounds, it was very helpful to have someone say “it’s ok, you’re normal” when I’m talking about how I things went poorly. He also pointed out that it’s important to have a plan in place for those lapses, to make it easier to get back into a more productive state.

  • So, based on his suggestion, I’m creating a “disaster recovery plan” to deal with future lapses. I’ll share it in a separate post, in the next few days.

The other thing he told me is that one tool is never enough, that I’m going to need multiple strategies to help me overcome my procrastination habit.

On the more practical side of things, he made immediate suggestions for my TV time, just to make it seem more distinct from my work time. Specifically that I should:

  • download instead of stream
  • watch in a different place than where I work
  • create a new logon on my laptop, just for watching TV

Check out his blog post for more details.

Finally, he pushed me a bit to understand why I stopped using the unschedule. It helped me to think about this, going a little “upstream” from my actions. That way we can try to address the causes as well.

Looking forwards…

Dr. Steel has “prescribed” the next challenges in my battle against procrastination.
In science-speak: I will work with the “energy replenishment model.”
In plain language: I need energy to support my anti-procrastination efforts.
In practical actions: Take care of my body, so that I’m operating at peak performance, specifically:

  • Eat so that I’m not hungry, but also not full.
    • Make sure I eat meals, don’t skip breakfast or lunch.
    • Use portion-control on meals, because people tend to eat until the food in front of us is gone (don’t want to be too full).
    • Have a small snack whensnack when I start to get hungry (this should be around the same times each day).
  • Keep my workspace at a good temperature.
  • Practice good “sleep hygiene,” ie. have a regular sleep schedule.
  • Plan my work for when I’m most energized: take advantage of my “best hours”
    • Figure out your best hours (for me it’s 9-12).
    • Treat those hours as “sacred,” don’t let other things get in the way.
    • Even on bad days, make sure I’m working during the best hours.

I like this idea. It seems simple, and it fits with my past experiences.

For me, I find it really hard to stay on task when I’m hungry, or when I’m cold, or when it’s 4pm and I’m tired. I try to force myself to keep working, but it’s really not efficient. So this next challenge will be all about being aware of my body’s needs in order to keep my energy levels up.

May 6th: It’s been a little while (almost a month, in fact) since I last added new content to this blog.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve been procrastinating about it – I just keep pushing the task back.   It’s frustrating for me, but I think that it’s important for my blog to be perfectly honest: if I’m having trouble, then I don’t want to sugarcoat it.

This post is an introduction to the Dual Blog that I am writing with Piers Steel (author of The Procrastination Equation).

He contacted me after reading the first posts on my blog, and we’re now working together to get rid of my procrastination.  I get to be a bit of an example, trying out different anti-procrastination techniques and then we will discuss them.  My perspective is focused on my experiences, and I hope that it’s an interesting read for others who are struggling with Procrastination.

The first “episode” of the blog can be found on the Psychology Today website.

Time Power

A while ago, I read Charles Hobb’s book Time Power.

Warning: This book is out of print.

It was suggested to me by a friend/supervisor because I was having trouble meeting deadlines.  It was a book that he loved, and he had a lot of success by adopting the book’s system into his daily life.

The book includes a lot of content.  The author has some really interesting ideas about living a life that is congruent with your self-image and your long-term goals.  He does a very good job talking about high-level ideals and then helping you break it down into more day-to-day tasks.  Reading the book really helped me think about how I can get my life under control.

At the same time, the book includes all the “how-to” instructions for a solid Time Management system.  The system is very pencil & paper (rather than digitally-based) could either be seen as out of date, or as a purposeful choice.

One awesome nugget of wisdom that Hobb’s advocates is to separate priority from urgency.  This concept really changed how I think about different tasks that I need to do.  So you can classify your tasks according to how important they are as well as how quickly they need to be done.  A couple examples:

  • Paying bills would be high priority (very important) and also very urgent (as the deadline approaches).
  • Watching a new episode of a favorite reality TV show would be low priority (not important to your life goals) but very urgent (it’s on when it’s on!)
  • Investing money would be a high priority, but also low urgency (because there is no external deadline).

I found that the writing style in this book was also good.  Hobbs writes very clearly, and his tone is non-judgemental and he never condescends.

Overall it’s a very good book.

But in the end, this book didn’t change my life.  More recently, I’ve realized that my problem is with procrastination not with Time Management.  Although these two things are related, they are not the same thing (at least in my experience)… I’m awesome at coming up with plans.  I can divide a task into smaller tasks, and I can set deadlines for them.  I can even set-up Time Management systems like the one described in the book.  However, I’m sh*te at following through with these plans, and meeting the deadlines that I’ve created for myself.

So I really found this book interesting, and I highly recommend it to other people.  But it doesn’t deal with procrastination.

How did I do yesterday?

Woke up very late (11am)… because I had trouble sleeping.  Oops.
Chose to skip breakfast, as lunch is at noon.

First thing: Turned on RescueTime blocker for the AM (1 hr), and then did some daily planning in my agenda-book.
This earned my 1.5 points on my bribery scheme: 1 point for using RescueTime and 0.5 point for starting my day with organization activities including goal setting for the day.

Then until lunch: I worked on this blog, writing a review of the RescueTime software.

Lunch was a longer break: I watched my unscheduled tv show while eating lunch, and I also did a couple errands and some housework.  I also did my emailing, and checked my social networking sites (which are blocked during the rest of the day, so can only check at lunch and in the evening).

Afternoon: This started at about 2:30pm, after my longer lunch.  I turned on RescueTime for 240min (2 more points earned).  But I didn’t do any work on my paper, even though I had included it in my list of tasks for the day.
It was an afternoon of “productive procrastination” – I did many many tasks that were useful, but none as important as the task I was avoiding…

Evening: I had a sports practice unscheduled, which was great.

Later Evening: I ate dinner, with 1 serving of red wine.   I managed to get to sleep earlier than the night before, which is great because I was very worried that I had switched into the wrong timezone with my trouble sleeping the night before.  I think the exercise and red wine helped me get to sleep.

What did I think of the day?
Mixed feelings.  I really wish I’d gotten some work done on my paper (it would have earned me an extra 2 points) .
But at the same time, I did achieve some things: limiting my TV time, and using RescueTime…
The best thing is that I think my bribery scheme is helping me to create a routine for myself.  It’s just been a week, but already it’s becoming more automatic that my day starts with turning on RescueTime and then opening my agenda book for a big of daily planning.  Now I just need to get the paper writing included in this routine, and I’d be flying!

Total Points Earned: 5.5  (3 total for RescueTime, 0.5 for daily planning, 2 points for only watching 1 hour of TV.)

RescueTime

I found RescueTime a while ago, and signed up for the free account.  More recently I upgraded to the Pro solo account, which costs 6 USD a month.

What it does for free
Tracks your computer usage, including websites and programs.  The productivity levels of all your computer use is then scored on a scale from -2 to 2.  It then displays a bunch of different charts on a page called your “dashboard” to summarize your activities in a variety of different ways.

What I payed money for
The best feature of the Pro account, in my opinion, is the RescueTime blocker.  I can set my account to “Focus Time” and the website will block all of my “Very Distracting” sites (scored as -2 on their productivity scale).
Other paid for features include being able to track specific documents, and being able to log time that was spent away from the computer.

Complexity as a Double-Edged Sword
RescueTime is endlessly customizable.  These are a few of the ways you can personalize your account:

  • Set the productivity levels for each activity, or use the default values.
  • Group activities into categories, including categories that you create.
  • Designate blocks of time (or activities) that were spent on certain projects.
  • Change which charts show up on your dashboard.
  • Look at different timescales: current year/month/week/day
  • Set goals.
  • Change the hours of when this program is on (to match your workday perhaps?)
  • etc etc etc

This is all great, making the program more relevant to the user – but they also require your time to sort through different activities and adjust the various settings.  Also, the dashboard can be a bit overwhelming, it slices and dices your data in so many different ways!  It takes a bit of time to explore the charts and figure out what they are really telling you, and what you really want to know.  Overall, the complexity is a good thing, but the program isn’t very intuitive, I really think that the user interface could be much improved.

Does it improve productivity?
Sure. but…  …only if you use it in a way that works for you.

For me, the rescuetime blocker is worth it  – but first I have to honestly list my distractions as -2 productivity, and then I have to actually turn on the blocker.  (Currently I’m bribing myself to turn it on every day.)

The rest of the site is interesting too.  I think it’s helpful to see exactly where I waste my time, and how much time was wasted – but I then have to interpret that data and use it for my goal setting or other planning activities.

 

Final Word
RescueTime starts off as free, so I recommend that everyone try it out.
As for the Pro account, I recommend that you think before buying, as it’s probably not for everyone.
For me, I’m glad I bought into it.

Update: 4th day of Bribery…

Day 1 (Sunday) – Earned 1 point, for running outside (5k, as a walk-run).

Day 2 (Monday) – Earned nothing, ended up watching TV all day.

Changed the rules at the end of Monday, to add new points: 1 point for turning on Rescuetime’s distraction-blocker for the morning, and then another 2 points if I turn it on again in the afternoon.

Day 3 (Tuesday) – Earned 6.5 points total (3 for using Rescuetime in AM & PM; 1 for working on my paper <4hr; 0.5 for starting with organization).   I did a lot of “productive procrastination,” doing some housework and playing around with an idea that I have for a hobby.  Obviously, using rescuetime doesn’t automatically translate into getting work done on my paper.  But “productive procrastination” is better than watching TV online.

Day 4 (Wednesday) – So far I’ve earned 1.5 points: turning on Rescuetime in the morning and starting with organization. My goal for today is to earn the extra 2 points for rescuetime, and to earn the 5 points for 4 hours of work on my paper.   I really want to watch 2 hours of tv, and I think I’m going to let myself do that – but I’m really focusing my willpower to make it *only* the 2 shows, no more.  Unfortunately, that means I don’t get any points for avoiding tv.

 

This system is working for me.  I think it will take a little while for me to settle on a reward system, but that’s ok.  I am giving myself a week to adjust the system as needed, and then I will stick with it until I earn my first reward.  After each reward, I can tweak the system to better match my goals and abilities.

 


Part of the inspiration for this blog was my results from the procrastinus.com survey; which called me a “master procrastinator”.

I have since gone out, and bought The Procrastination Equation book, by Piers Steel.   And this is my very-quick review.

Overview
The first half of the book talks about procrastination from many different approaches.  It’s talked about in relation to economics, history, our environment, technology, workplaces / institutions, etc etc etc.  The second half of the book introduces the equation itself and introduces strategies to combat procrastination.  The strategies are all backed up with scientific references, and are targeted to different parts of the procrastination equation.

The Good
The content of this book is fantastic.  Specifically the second half, where all the anti-procrastination strategies are discussed.  The author does an excellent job explaining the strategies and giving examples.  The best part is how it can be personalized; it’s easy to select the strategies that best apply to me as an individual.  This personalization comes from the structure of the book – by relating the strategies to each part of the procrastination equation, you can see how they would fit together to create a multifaceted anti-procrastination plan.

The Bad
Personally, I found that the writing style was a little bit simplified.  In particular, I rolled my eyes a little bit when the author was talking about the three example people that he’d created.  The content was still there, and very clear, I just would have preferred to have more of the science-y info.  (I guess I’ll have to look up some of the book’s references if I want to go deeper in to the content!)

The Ugly
This book hit very close to home.
As I was reading it, I could see the consequences of procrastination in my own life.  I could see how my procrastination behaviour relates to my personality and to my work.  This is all a good thing, because it means the book is a good one for me to read, but at the same time – it can be hard to face your flaws.

 

Bottom Line: If you are suffering from procrastination, then this book is a worthwhile read.

Bribery

I recently gave up on my attempt to create a routine, because I didn’t have the willpower to follow the schedule that I was trying to create for myself.

So this is a new way to try and create a routine for myself – I’m approaching the problem from a different side.

The plan is to bribe myself, both for completing major project milestones and also for work I do each day.
Part of this is that I’d like to see which method works better for me.  My hypothesis is that bribery for doing the work will be better than bribery for having finished something.  But right now, I’ll try both – and just see what’s what.

Reward

I have selected a few things that I would like to buy.  They range from $7 to $50, but are all desirable.
Each reward is worth 100 points (regardless of price), and I will select only 1 reward at a time to work towards.

Points for Productive Actions

These are tasks that I can do every single day to earn points.  By repeating these tasks, I am hopefully creating a routine for myself and then strengthening it until it truly becomes “routine”.

  • 0.5 points = starting my work day with organizational activities, specifically with looking at my calendar book and writing down some microgoals (only get the points if I do this FIRST)
  • 0.5 points = planning dinner, and picking up any necessary ingredients
  • 1 point = working out on my own, for example: running outside or lifting weights.
  • 1 point =  doing some work on my paper (but less than 4 hours)
  • 1 point = turning on Rescuetime’s distraction-blocker for the morning (from when I turn on the computer, to noon).
  • 2 points = turning on Rescuetime’s distraction-blocker for the afternoon (from the end of lunch to the end of the “work day”, at least 120 minutes but ideally longer).  Note, only get 2 points if I ALSO turned it on in the morning, otherwise the afternoon is only worth 1 point.
  • 2 points = watching only 1 hour of television on a weekday (ie, my selected lunchtime show) – note that Big Bang Theory is excepted, if I watch it with my family.
  • 5 points = doing at least 4 hours of work on my paper (doesn’t have to be all at once, can be broken up into intervals).

Points for Project Milestones

Rather than just rewarding the final completion of this project, I’m breaking it up into smaller milestones.  For each milestone, I can earn two possible point totals:

  • 6 points = if the milestone is completed according to the deadline I had set for it.  This relates to my paper.
  • 3 points = if the milestone is completed, but not by the original deadline that I had set for it.  This also relates to my paper.
  • 4 points = if the milestone does not have a deadline.  This relates to my lower priority project: I’m trying to work through a book to teach myself some new skills, so that I can explore an idea that I have.

System Adjustments

I first started thinking about this system last Thursday, and I’m going to give myself till this Thursday (April 7th) to make any last adjustments to my available points.  After that, the system is fixed until I earn my first 100 points.

After each reward received, I will take some time to adjust the system.  I should be able to change the point totals to better influence my behaviours: the points should relate to my priorities.  High points available for tasks that are harder for me, and/or tasks that are more important.  And then lower points available for tasks that I will do anyways.

Eventually, if this system works to change my behaviour, I will adjust the list so that I’m still challenged.  My hope is that the easier things will become routine and I won’t need to be bribed to do them.

 

EDIT: On April 3rd, I adjusted my scale, as follows.  Added points for using Rescuetime’s distraction-blocker, and expanded my “run” points to include other solo workouts.  I also integrated my project milestones into my points-based system, rather than having a separate reward available for completing milestones.