Mindful Moments: Stories and Lessons of Procrastination

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What did Voltaire have to say about procrastination?

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Lifehacker weighs in on perfectionism and procrastination. Jason refers to Voltaire’s comments on the subject… but what were those comments? Love to know…


Written by clayward

July 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Posted in history

Games as Motivation? Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero

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Microsoft office is in a bit of trouble due to the free alternatives out there (Open Office and Google Docs in particular). So, in my opinion, they’re not about to win over many new tech savvy converts for their oh so expensive Office Suite. Maybe that’s partly why they’re prioritizing creative techniques to help less tech savvy users learn their software.

Whatever the reason, putting out a web game to help you learn how to use their programs is a cool idea. Ribbon Hero is a very interesting experiment in a game environment that walks users through tutorials about Microsoft software.

My question for the internet? How motivating is Ribbon Hero to use? Does having a leader board where you can compare scores with other Ribbon Heroes motivating? Is the game fun enough to enrich your learning experience? Does it successfully put you in a cognitive state that helps you learn? The people at Education Arcade have a lot to say about motivation through games.

Most importantly, what can we learn from this software about how to motivate ourselves?

I’m going to sniff around the internet for a bit and see if I can collect some people’s answers on the topic. (As for myself, I was turned off by the videos about Ribbon Hero. So instead of forcing myself to try something that failed to draw me in I’m choosing a more scholarly approach to learning about it.) I’ll update when I have more to share.

OK… the blogosphere hasn’t sated my thirst on this one yet. CNET just describes Ribbon Hero, ZDNET writes a fawning puff piece, and Web Strategist Blog publishes some interesting suggestions for how to improve it. But no description of what it’s like to actually use it.


Written by clayward

April 26, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Posted in fun

The Virtual Workspace Quagmire

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OK, so a lot of us are self employed these days. According to fastcompany.com working smart for yourself is a question of three disciplines: time management, money management, and expectations management. That’s a lot of managing for a one human shop.

Their recommendation for time management? To help make a psychological transition to work without the physical commute. They suggest that a familiar, comfortable and isolated work environment is important. “The key is to train your brain that when you’re in this space, it’s time to work.” Good advice!

But what about our virtual work environments? As soon as our workday touches the internet we’re placed in virtual environments which are usually designed to keep our attention for as long as possible. In short, the internet can take us out of our carefully constructed work environment as easily as any physical distraction can. That’s why I talk about a virtual workspace quagmire (I love saying “quagmire”.)

So how can we procrastinate less when we’re working online? The choice seems to be between going cold turkey, learning from feedback, and creating incentives for yourself. Leechblock helps you block off websites you’ve pre-programmed during set business hours. ProcrasDonate gives you a procrastination gauge at the top of your screen so you can always see how you’re doing and also lets you set up a charitable incentive to improve your time management.

As one of the founders of ProcrasDonate I have tried our system and I actually find it fun to use. But I’d love to hear about your experience using these or other solutions. What works for you?

Written by clayward

April 6, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Posted in tips, work space

Flux time = permission to take longer than expected.

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“Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today” is the maxim. Ignoring it is my personal favorite form of procrastination. “Tomorrow I’ve got 4 hours open. I’ll get this done work then, no problem. And so today I can goof around, right?” Uh uh.

It turns out that people consistently underestimate how much time it will take to get something done. This throws your schedule way off if you’re counting on doing more tomorrow. Plus not staying on schedule can, in and of itself, be demotivating: a bad feedback loop.

So what’s the tip for dealing with underestimation? It’s not enough to just say “This will take longer than I expect” because we already think we’re making allowances for that when we set our initial time estimate. So instead we can budget a separate flux time which we can either use on project that go over time or for goofing around if we get ahead. That’s right… goofing around is OK! Especially if it’s a reward for being on top of things.

It’s easier to see the logic of this when we look at a group that needs help scheduling time… Let’s say you’re setting the agenda to a meeting with a hard two hour time limit. It will help your group to have written expectations for how long each section of the meeting will take. So you make your best guess… this topic will take 10 minutes to go over, this discussion can be capped at 20 minutes, introductions should take more than 5 minutes… etc. Well we all know that meeting items can take longer than we want them to. So are we setting ourselves up to fail by writing down how long they should take? Not if we use flux time. Adding “Flux time: 20 minutes” to the bottom of a 1 hour and 40 minute meeting agenda lets us have permission to spend a bit longer on any meeting section that needs extra time. If a discussion goes longer, for example, then the group can quickly decide to use some flux time to get to a good stopping place before moving on. And at the end of the meeting, if you didn’t use all your flux time then that extra time can be spent chatting or getting back to doing something else ahead of schedule.

Flux time is equally helpful for our own project estimations. Once we get past the ego issue, setting personal flux time as part of any project estimation can be very helpful. The percentage of flux time to schedule will vary, but I’d suggest starting with the most amount of time you’ve ever gone over on a schedule in the past. If you start out with 100% flux time scheduled then that’s totally ok. You can always decrease that percentage as you get used to it. And remember to take that extra time to do something as a reward!

Written by clayward

March 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Posted in goals, tips

Daily Discipline: Not Going Nuts

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There aren’t many people out there who feel like they have longterm job stability. And plenty of us aren’t getting a pay check at all. So how can we feel productive and valuable members of society? Well we can help out of course, volunteer, work on our resume, take classes, engage our community, etc. There are a ton of options. But let’s face it, keeping yourself engaged day to day is challenging. So how can we make it work?

My advice is… do something that forces you to leave your comfort zone every day. I can’t tell you what that is, but I can say that this small discipline will help “break the ice” and keep your spirit challenged and engaged.

This guy, Reed Sandridge, he’s been giving $10 away every day and will continue doing so for 365 days. In a sense he’s a performance artists, a philanthropist, and a social worker. But what I’m really interested in is that he’s come up with a wonderful way to help himself get out of the house. In his own words? “being unemployed, I was starting to go nuts.”

Good work, Reed.

Written by clayward

March 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Posted in goals, stories, tips

Idea: Jog around treasure hunt replaces work.

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Everyone seems to love mining for gold on World of Warcraft… this was the subject of conversation at Brambleberry Manor (help them save their ducks) over the weekend. And since then my subconscious has been processing the latent terror (click, click, click… baby, I just need 10 more gold pieces to finish this mission). So how can we engage the “mine for gold” instinct in a productive (and wrist healthy) way?

Show up to work at ProcrasDonate and we’ll hand you a treasure map. There is no desk waiting for you here. There is work to get done and human scale self motivation systems to do it. Pivotal Tracker is the first step. Daily treasure maps the next?

I show up to work, scan my card and a fortune cookie slip pops out with the todo list that I asked for yesterday. There’s a nice note from my boss about last week’s project which I skip because a new ship is appearing on my ipad treasure map! I head over to pink harbor, tap my card and watch a 30 second missive sent from development. I have a “silver pidgeon” that’s about to expire so I send my own 30 second spot back on priority. I vote for a 2 degree increase in temperature before jogging off to my next appointment.

OK, interning for ProcrasDonate isn’t quite that much fun. But we do create a self directed and flexible project strategy for everyone we work with. So email us at… info (at) procrasdonate (dot) com ….if you’d like to get involved.

Written by clayward

March 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Posted in fun, ideas, work space

Getting past pride, perfectionism, and fear.

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Fear plays a big part in procrastinating. According to Burka and Yuen, authors of Procrastination: why you do it, what to do about it, people use procrastination as an oddball way to maintain their sense of self-worth. The thinking goes like this: by procrastinating, we avoid feeling like a failure even when we do fail. “‘Well, I could have done better if I’d started sooner and given myself more time to do it.'” And even extremely successful people can be afraid of failure.

Why such an elaborate ruse to keep oneself prideful? Because when we’re too focused on being judged or even judging our own results then it is easy to become afraid of those results. Or so perfectionist that getting started seems daunting. It can be easier to put something off than start something that could result in failure.

When we think through the consequences of our actions, us humans are what economists call “risk averse“. We’re naturally more concerned with doing badly than we are excited about doing well. Decisions about starting new projects should therefore not be considered as a strictly rational process.

So is that it? Is it inevitable to be paralyzed with fear and never get anything done? Of course not! We can value the work that we do in and of itself. Failure and success are really beside the point. It’s the effort that we put into the work that we do that gets put on the scale at the end of our lives.

And how can we get reasonable feedback about our time management without going down the rabbit hole of cognitive dissonance? Well, that’s why ProcrasDonate‘s free browser add-on uses positive icons as sorting buttons. It’s why we include an unobtrusive (but ever present) procrastination meter at the top of a user’s browser. Together these empowerment tools create a graphical sense of real-time procrastination data without being intimidating. Likewise the weekly updates with uplifting quotes!

Procrastinating to protect our sense of pride? That’s just fear wearing a monkey‘s dress.

Written by clayward

March 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Posted in resources, theory, tracking