In the true spirit of
procrastination New Year's reflection, I've been thinking back over the various productivity and organisational strategies I experimented with in 2006. Some of them worked really well, some were a complete waste of time (which doesn't mean they won't work for you!) and some of them I never really stuck with long enough to find out. And just for you, my dearly beloved readers, (well, okay, actually mostly for me), I'm going to dredge the depths of my memory and make a little list.
Things that worked just great, thanks for asking:
Steve Pavlina's tricks for becoming an early riser. Thanks to these I got up at 7 am every day for around six months. Then I discovered a much easier solution (see the footnote).
Also from Steve Pavlina's site, the trick of convincing yourself you are only going to try something out for 30 days and then you can go back to your old ways. It's much easier to deprive yourself of a bad habit if you tell yourself it's just an experiment. And at the end of 30 days, it's usually pretty easy to just keep on going. This is how I stopped myself biting my nails. It's how I stopped myself surfing the internet at university (for three months). And it's how I'm currently giving up sugar.
Going cold turkey on bad habits. I have finally faced up to the fact that I have an addictive personality. "One more minute" or "just a little bit" are not phrases I can afford to keep in my vocabulary. The only way I gave up nail-biting was to not do it at all even a little bit (for a month). The only way I have managed to cut down on the number of desserts I eat is to cut out sugar completely. The only way I stopped wasting huge amounts of time surfing the net at university was to pull out the connecting cable, hide it on the top shelf of my bookcase, AND use the Invisibility Cloak and these tricks to make it extra hard to "just check the news".
The Printable CEO. It's great for getting me back on track when I fall face forward into the procrastination puddle and start to drown.
Timing myself work. I currently work in 30 minute blocks and reward myself at the end of each one. For me this really only works with a real flesh-and-blood timer. It's no good just using my watch or the computer clock. I have to see the numbers ticking down towards zero.
Doing whatever is most important (or least likely to get done) first thing in the morning. That way I start off the day feeling productive and don't have the task hanging over my head all day. During the first half of 2006 I used this trick successfully to spend an hour learning Greek or Egyptian vocab every morning. Currently I am using it to get a good chunk of thesis (re)writing out of the way before I start the day.
Things that didn't really work for me:
Getting Things Done. Like I said, I have an addictive personality. When I tried out GTD, I found I could waste entire hours and days on making and revising lists, reading GTD forums, and trying out productivity software.
Joe's Goals. I loved it for a while, and I still think that it's an awesome idea and that the software is very well designed. Unfortunately, on days and weeks when I know I am being unproductive and procrastinatory, I avoid the site entirely, so it ends up only being a record of when things go right.
Writing binges. Admittedly they get stuff written. And I don't know whether I would have made so much progress on the thesis without them or not, but they tend to cause me two major problems. The first is that I get so sick of writing that I follow the binge with a couple of weeks of total avoidance and procrastination. The second is that I start to confuse quantity for quality, and get deluded into thinking I am most of the way to having finished a chapter when really all I have is a whole bunch of crappy free-writing.
I'm still on the fence about:
The unschedule. I've only been using it for a few days, and I like the concept. I also like the way it makes me feel less guilty about days when I get very little done. But I'm not sure that it is really motivating me to be more productive or not. I plan to try it out for a little longer.
Contingency Management. Every time I have used this, it has worked wonders. But the thing is, I have to be really desperate before I'm willing to delay checking my email or drinking my morning coffee or whatever I've made contingent on getting work done. So I've only used this strategy in last-minute-deadline situations when, to be honest, I probably would have done the work anyway out of sheer desperation. Maybe I need to give this strategy a trial in peacetime too.
What worked (or didn't work) for you in 2006?
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
In the true spirit of