Mindful Moments: Stories and Lessons of Procrastination

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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

Lucy’s project development buddy: Pivotal Tracker

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One of the best things about working with Lucy is her enthusiasm for work process tools. We’ve tried a number of them working on bilumi, ProcrasDonate, and a couple other projects together. Pivotal Tracker is the tool that sticks. I’ll let her explain why… but let me just say that the smile on her face when she finally surpasses the tool’s expectations is wonderful (and motivating in and of itself.)

“I use Pivotal Tracker (PT) to manage software development. Pivotal Tracker is an online web service. After logging in to our private ProcrasDonate project, I see a prioritized list of stories (high level modules that may contain specific tasks).”

“I found Pivotal Tracker via a Hacker News poll of project management tools… From the get-go I was sucked in… We decided to use it for our big launch… Using the tool exceeded my expectations.”

Clay and I can add and reorder stories. We can loosely indicate the time to complete a story using “points.” A 1-point story will take less than 4 hours, a 2-point story will take a full day, and so on. We use a fibonacci point scale for stories because PT is just that cool.”

“The list of stories is partitioned into week-long iterations. PT determines how many stories to put in each iteration based on my previous performance. Working full time I tend to complete 10 “points” worth of stories. As my work habits and skills change, the expectations of PT will correspondingly change over time.”

“Pivotal Tracker has expectations. It is my buddy. It graphs how many story points I complete each day from the start of the iteration or release deadline to the end. The burn down graph also shows my expected burn-down rate.”

“For our first release, even when I burned down at a better than linear rate, PT was still quite cautious of my abilities. It still projected a flat burn down rate for the future, expecting me to miss the deadline by weeks. Every day I tried to burn down faster and faster to show it that I could meet deadlines. Of course back then we also added more and more features each day, so I always hovered around linear burn down. I did meet the deadline, and after a few weeks PT’s expectations synchronized with my actual performance. Still, it was super exciting in those first weeks to feel pulled forward by PT’s challenge.”

“PT’s expectations and challenges change as I change, and that makes it more forgiving and less emotional than dealing with a real person. The rewards and punishments are all wrapped up in the graphs, so in the end it is only as motivating as my commitment to the website.”

“PT’s website is excellent, especially because it takes so little effort to use. The stories list and the charts are right there on the main page. Stories are re-ordered using drag-n-drop. Stories are added and edited using AJAX rather than loading a different page. The UI is snappy and flexible, yet stays out of the way. There is a separate project settings page that allows one to enable advanced features such as fibonacci points and checkbox tasks.”

“Not enough peanut butter.”

“I fail PT when I stop using the service or start questioning the track. The fault is mine, but the point of project management software is still to help users have good process. I’m not sure what PT can do in these cases. Being on a team with someone a step outside the actual work is helpful. I suppose PT could know when it’s a good time for me to be using it, and then automatically open itself into a new tab and say something friendly, such as: hey, here’s a challenge, why don’t you burn down this little graph right now!”

“It would also be neat to see a larger timescale of progress shown, possibly on a calendar view. Then we could see when future stories would land given our current work rate, as well as understand past performance.”

“[PT makes me feel] like I have a friendly mentor keeping me on track. Of course, I also had a real person, Clay, managing the stories list and keeping me on track, so I might be mixing up the human and robot influences on my feelings. At the very least, PT’s charts offered excellent feedback on my progress. That kind of feedback can be boring for a human to give, yet make a huge difference in the motivation, focus and peacefulness of a worker.”

“[I would like PT to] provide statistics on my work performance. For example, am I personally accomplishing more over time? How does my performance change in weeks with lots of bugs, or weeks with lots of small point stories? What does my average chart look like? If I was on a team of developers, it might be nice to provide a little competitive motivation, but it would have to be done in the right way so that all sorts of strengths were highlighted, and none of the stats were too important.”

Written by clayward

March 10, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Posted in process, resources, tracking