Archive for April, 2011


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  The system is very pencil & paper (rather than digitally-based) could either be seen as out of date, or as a purposeful choice.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.

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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.

My “Unschedule”

This technique comes directly out of The Procrastination Equation, by Piers Steel.

It’s simple: by making time for leisure, it should help me control my impulsiveness (ie – it should help me avoid distractions).

My big vice is online TV.  So I am unscheduling my favorite shows, and allowing myself to watch them as I eat lunch.

  • Monday: The Amazing Race
  • Tuesday: United States of Tara
  • Wednesday: Parenthood (’till it’s over, then I can choose a new one)
  • Thursday: Criminal Minds Suspect Behavior
  • Friday: Community

There are more shows that I really like, and I will need to find a way to unschedule them too.  But I’m starting with these ones.

The other thing I have in my “unschedule” is my weekly social commitments.

  • Tuesday Evenings: A weekly dinner with a few friends.
  • Thursday Evenings: My sports team.

I’ll continue to add to this “unschedule”, but this is what I have for now.

The plan was simple: do work every day at 10am.

At first I was both discouraged and encouraged about how the system was working.

And now…  I am pulling the plug!

This tiny system didn’t work for me, full stop.  I didn’t have the will power to follow through with it on a daily basis, and then I just felt guilty.  So this plan is over.  And I’m going back to the drawing board.