Mindful Moments: Stories and Lessons of Procrastination

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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

Create something small, daily.

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This is useful advice for anyone doing creative work. Writers often talk about how writing every day is a great way to progress as a creator (and of course to be more prolific). My adviser, Tom Butter, asked me to make a sculpture every day when I was in grad school.

So for comedy? Jerry Seinfeld’s working technique has gotten a lot of attention. The “do it every day” technique…


Written by clayward

February 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Posted in goals, tips

My dog says I should play less tankball.

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Sometimes I wish I could record my regular field of view as I experience life. If I could then you would now see an attached video of Bear (my dog) interrupting my virtual pummeling of RC-like tanks. The scene shifts (but not the camera) as Bear steps firmly into the living room. “Hey Buddy.” He quick-walks around my legs, squeezes past the coffee table. He leans around my lap and stretches his neck into the flaccid space between me and my laptop screen. His alert eyes, that practiced pout, and a whine so quiet that it can’t be ignored. “Yeah, I know Buddy. We’ll go outside after this game, ok? Outside, Bear?”

Bear sees the way my laptop glows and he certainly looks confused when I turn the speaker on. But he doesn’t get why I stare at the screen. There’s one thing he likes about laptops… they make a definite clicking sound when they close (and maybe then it’s back to fun time.)

Written by clayward

February 15, 2010 at 7:38 am

Posted in addiction, stories, tips

Set clear and easy goals.

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Thanksgiving brings long nights and holiday lights.  Here in New England that means no more ultimate frisbee and not that much exercise.  So it’s a good time for me to hunker down with a cup of hot liquid and get some work done… if I don’t lose focus and start getting glum.  So how to keep on task?

According to Burka and Yuen, authors of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It, setting goals isn’t as easy as it sounds.  “many [procrastinators] are busy setting goals all the time.  They almost always set ambiguous goals, as, “I’ve got to get some work done today” or overly ambitious ones, as, “I want to be president of my own company someday.”” (p. 131)

So this brings us to our ProcrasDonate tip for the day.  Make measurable goals for yourself.  How about “I’ll make an outline for the report I’m working on today.”  Or “I’ll ask my boss for an appointment to talk about how to advance my career today.”

For me – getting little things done is satisfying enough.  I don’t want to risk disappointing myself if I can’t get big goals accomplished.  Getting many little things done is how I can get big things done without realizing it.

Here’s how someone at Web Worker Daily plans for holiday productivity.

Written by clayward

November 26, 2009 at 10:19 am

Posted in goals, tips

A message of warning from ancient Rome.

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The word “Procrastinate” used to have much more positive connotations.  In chapter two of Coping With Stress: Effective People and Processes, Joseph R Ferrari outlines its history:

“The Romans provided the roots of the present form of the word “procrastination” –pro = “forward” + crastinus = “of tomorrow”.  Interestingly, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius warned against delaying unnecessarily.  The earliest known English usage of the word “procrastination” was in 1548, where it appeared in Edward Hall’s Chronicle: The Union of Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancestre and York.  The term is used… without pejorative connotations, reflecting the idea of “informed delay” or “wisely chosen restraint” that was popular in Roman accounts (1).  The word “procrastination” was in relatively common usage by the early 1600s (1)… The negative connotations of the term, however, did not seem to emerge until the mid-1800s, at approximately the time of the industrial revolution, when the word became associated with “sinful” sloth.” (p. 30-31)

Written by clayward

September 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Posted in history, tips