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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.

One of my difficulties with goal setting is that the idea of breaking something down into smaller steps makes so much sense.  But even when I do this – it doesn’t necessarily make the tasks any easier.

But as I read The Procrastination Equation there was one thought that really hit home for me: if you can’t write a whole section of a paper, then just start with the headings.

The headings?  I can write headings.

And now I realize that I’ve been subdividing my tasks all wrong.  I’ve been breaking it down into sections of text.  When I should have been breaking it down by type of work.  And having each type of work build on the step before.

One of my three outstanding projects is a paper.  And I dislike writing, specifically academic writing.  So in this blog post, I’m going to rework my goal setting for this paper.

My previous system was by section: background – methods – results – discussion – conclusion – abstract.  And then I broke each section down into subsections (if applicable) and then I broke down each subsections into pieces of text.  But the problem is that these aren’t really discrete tasks.  Writing one paragraph means referring to other paragraphs, and possibly editing them etc etc.

So this is my new system:

  1. Write Headings & Subheadings: This creates sections of text, where I can itterrate the following steps:
  2. Select Paragraph Topics:  Goal is to select a topic for each paragraph in the section, that’s all.  But this will sneakily outline the section.
  3. Outline each Paragraph in Point Form:  For this step, I can use my own language with my own quirks (rather than formal academic language), because I’m the only one who needs to understand what I’m saying.  At the end of this step, I will have a very detailed outline for the section.  And it’s possible that by simply rewriting the outline to turn each point into a sentence, I can end up with a pretty good first draft.
  4. Write a first draft paragraph, marking spaces for references but not worrying about finding the refs.  Referencing bogs me down, and stresses me out.  So by taking away the references, it should make writing easier.  But if I know exactly where the reference is (ie, it’s not taking any more energy from me) then I can include it.
  5. Add in 3 References, and repeat this until the document is fully referenced. I can handle a couple references at a time.  This should be a focused-enough goal, that I can do it.
  6. Read the section aloud and edit it for flow.  Make sure I have topic sentences for the paragraphs, and good transitions between paragraphs.

That’s it for now.  I’ll have to add to this list later on…

But the list follows my usual approach to writing, but REALLY breaks it down to give me lots of micro-goals.

Remember the Milk

Lists are my friend.

I create lists for everything, because they’re fun.  I usually have a number of lists on the go: ideas for Christmas presents, gym workouts, creative ideas, movies I want to see, movies I think I should see, housekeeping chores, etc etc etc (the list goes on).

One thing that I did in the New Year, as part of my last attempt to get my procrastination under control, was to sign-up for a free digital list-making app:  There are a bunch of different to-do list websites out there, and I looked at a few of them, eventually selecting remember the milk (RTM) because it’s free and because it’s simple.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a digital to-do list.  You can start with the most basic features, creating a to-do list.  It’s really easy to use.  But the beauty is that it has many complex features that are entirely optional, and you can explore them as you please, some of the features include:

  • making multiple lists (as many as you want)
  • creating deadlines for your tasks
  • making tasks repeat on any interval you’d like
  • tagging your tasks for easier searching or sorting (there is a tag cloud built into the site too)
  • prioritizing your tasks
  • creating “smart lists” that show a collection of tasks based on the search criteria you set up
  • sharing your lists with other users

The best thing about this site is that the developers seem to be focused on keeping it simple.  For example, you can only prioritize your tasks at three levels (or no priority at all).  This is great, because I don’t want a complicated system – I just want to know when things are high priority (red) or low priority (light blue).   Because their software is simple, it forces me to keep things simple.

As far as my success in using this.  It helped me a bit.  It’s been great for keeping me on track with financial payments.  I used to procrastinate paying bills simply because it is unpleasant, which meant that I would often pay my credit card bill after the due date.  I KNOW that this is stupid, and that it kills my credit rating.  But I would still do it.  But this small reminder on my RTM account is keeping me more honest, and I’ve been paying my bills on time as a result.

But I’ve also had trouble with it.  If I have a lot of overdue tasks (they turn bold and underlined) then I’m more likely to avoid checking my account.  It gets a bit overwhelming.  I just need to be better at using it.  RTM is just a tool, I’m the one who decides what to do with that tool.

Final words: Remember the Milk is a great little piece of software.  And it’s free!

Everyone always suggests that time management is a simple system of breaking big tasks down into little tasks and then spreading out those little tasks over the time you have.

Sounds easy.  Sounds logical.  Sounds painless.

Except that I’ve never been able to do that.  I just don’t get those little tasks done according to the timeline that I had set for myself.   And then I feel like I have to “catch-up”.  And then I fail at the catching-up.  The stress just snowballs.  The end result is invariably the same as if I hadn’t set up the plan in the first place: at the last minute, I come up with a bare minimum plan and then I systematically complete each section as best as I can.

Recently I tried to do this again with one of the projects that I need to complete.  And it played out exactly as I’m used to.  My good intentions were for naught.

So then, this past week, I changed the rules.  I sent out emails to a bunch of friends asking for help.  My friends are going to be my deadlines.  They are my external clock.  This is how it works:

  • I create the schedule, I break up my project into smaller pieces and I set deadlines for each smaller piece.
  • For each deadline, I pick a friend to send my work to.
  • The friend looks over the work and gives me some feedback.  Not a ton, because I don’t want this to be a huge amount of work for them.  Just something simple that keeps me thinking.
  • The rule for me is that I MUST meet that deadline.  If the work isn’t finished, then I must send it anyways and deal with being embarrassed.  Once I select the timeframe, it is unmovable.

So far, I’ve set and met one deadline.  (Success!)  And I have another deadline coming up next Tuesday.  I’m trying to keep them pretty frequent, but I’m also trying to plan around other activities so that I don’t feel guilty for going to a family dinner or doing other non-work things.

I’m also not planning all of the deadlines up front.  I want to have enough pressure to keep me thinking of the next deadline, but not too much pressure that I feel “paralyzed” by all the deadlines that are looming.  It’s a slightly lighter load than I think I can handle, but I think that slowly building success is the most important thing for me right now.

Two weeks ago I gave myself a plan: at 10am each morning, I would open word and start working on one of three projects that I need to do.  The idea behind this was to start creating a routine for myself.


At first I thought that this was a total failure.  I just couldn’t get myself to do it.  And then I felt guilty and stupid for setting myself up.

But on the Friday of the first week, I changed my definition of “work”.  I let myself count emails as work – specifically: productive emails.  At first I was a bit annoyed at myself for this: it seemed like cheating.  But then I decided that it was an ok change.  After writing productive emails, I found it easier to start working on my actual work.  So yes, emails aren’t as productive as my actual work, but they were like a ramp for me: making it easier to be productive.

So this last week I’ve been playing by the new rules.  I just need to be doing work at 10am.  It doesn’t matter what type of work.  But after doing easier work, I then need to open word and do work on one of the three projects that I have outstanding.

This is a system that I can do.  And I think that this is system that I can build on.  If this is my wall push-up, then I think that after I while I could turn it into a knee push-up: making it a little harder.  But first, I will focus on the wall push-ups.

First Post: Possibly Ironic

So I suspect that this blog may itself be a tool for my procrastination…

My story is simple: I procrastinate.  A lot.  To the point where I think it has destroyed my life.  Currently I’m unemployed and I spend a large quantity of time watching tv online, and even more time feeling stressed about the work I should be doing.

Yesterday I stumbled across a test for procrastination (part of Piers Steel’s research on procrastination, and found here), and I scored 100 out of 100.  The results told me that I was a “master procrastinator”.  Which is something that I already knew.

So today I am turning over a new leaf…  And part of that will be to talk about my efforts in this blog.  Why?  Because it’s cheaper than therapy.

Establishing a routine was suggested to me as part of my survey results from  It makes sense – I’ve tried to establish a routine for other things, like exercising, but I’ve been resistant to it for getting work done.

If I’m honest with myself, the reason I’ve been resistant to setting a routine is that it will stand in the way of my favorite procrastination activities, like tv and facebook and surfing my favorite sites.

The reason it would stand in my way is that I would never prioritize these activities, so I would never include them in my routine.  Which scares me.

So I’m going to keep these fears in mind, because I want to be successful.  And I think that I will set myself up for failure if I come up with an “ideal” routine that I couldn’t stick to.  I need to recognize where I’m at, if I want to improve.

Once upon a time I couldn’t do a push-up.  And the way I got better wasn’t by trying to do oodles of push-ups.  It was by starting small, and increasing my challenge in nice achievable steps.  I’m going to apply those lessons to this, and start with a small routine that I can expand on later.

Step 1: A smidgeon of a routine

The equivalent of a wall push-up, something that I can definitely do, I just need to commit to doing it.

Every morning, at 10am.  I will do something productive: I will open Word and work on one of the three projects that I have outstanding.  It doesn’t matter how long I work on it, but I can’t just “fake it” by opening it and then going back to procrastinating.  I need to actually do some work.

How does one stop procrastinating?

I really don’t have a clue.


My overall plan is simple: keep trying until I am in control of my life. The key word in this plan is “trying.”  It means that I need to actively seek out new techniques and then honestly put in the effort needed to try them out.