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.
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.
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.
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.