We all know the feeling. So much to do, so many places to be and things to accomplish, so we do… nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Ok, maybe not entirely nothing. We might convince someone they are wrong on the internet in a heated Facebook debate. Or, find a terribly important thing to clean thoroughly, in minute detail. Or, give ourselves repetitive strain injury because we refresh the Instagram feed so often.
Then begins the downward spiral of further overwhelm, panic, guilt and shame, leading to further overwhelm, panic, guilt and shame… Yeah. You get it.
The thing is, it might not be procrastination. Or rather, it might be procrastination due to overchoice. What’s that, you say?
Overchoice (choice overload) occurs when many equivalent choices are available, and making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice.
Having too many approximately equally good options is mentally draining because each option must be weighed against alternatives to select the best one.
It’s very much related to Decision Fatigue – the deteriorating quality of decisions in any given day or other long session of decision making. We have a limited number of quality decision making ‘tokens’ each day, as it turns out. And when we spend them, they’re gone, til we can re-set and accrue new tokens (ie, sleep).
Author Tim Ferriss recommends a Choice Minimal Lifestyle, with 6 basic rules or formulas that can be used to limit overchoice and decision fatigue, and seriously cut down on the resulting procrastination.
Why not start this path by setting a very simple set of steps you can do in an unthinking Morning Routine? Same hygiene practice, same sort of clothes (or set them out the night before, or 5 outfits ready on hangers at the weekend!), same breakfast.
Try it for 7 days, and see how you get on.
Quarterly Goal Setting works in 3 month blocks, and is useful for when you’re just beginning to get a handle on either business or personal goals – working with a whole year can be a little overwhelming. Or, for when you have been doing this Goal Setting thing for a while, but you just want to grab a little tighter focus and work through your plans in a smart, step by step kinda way.
As I write this, we’re moving from February to March, which is the end of the first quarter of this year. Personally, I plan in Long Term (5 years, currently), Medium Term (1 year), and Short Term (Quarterly) goal setting blocks.
You can begin this way if you already have long or medium term plans, or spend some time and sketch them out. This is useful for being able to sort of work backwards, and break things down into what needs happen in the short term to achieve them. This can also help to get it in your brain that this stuff is achievable, as the leap from here to there can seem HUGE, at times.
If you just want to do something today though, you can just begin now with setting some quarterly goal setting. All my goals are broken down into categories that make sense for my life, and I encourage you to do the same. For reference, my categories are:
When it gets to your quarterly goal setting within each category that makes sense for you, make sure each goal is as actionable and specific as possible. Ideally, you will define the specific steps to take, who is responsible (eg, any collaborations etc.), what tools are needed or available to be used, and a very particular deadline.
Within these time blocks, the process works in cycles.
Begin with a Review – what has been working for you so far? What hasn’t? Is it worth figuring out how to make those things work better, or is it time to focus on and develop the things you know to be effective? What has been holding you back? Do you have tools or resources available that you’re not making use of?
The answers to these questions can be written in Your Bullet Journal, or just thought about. But we all know which will be more useful… spoiler alert, it’s the one where you physically write things down and have them on file for future reference.
Next you can Dream – what do you really want? Which category/categories do your dreams fit into? What would you pursue if you had unlimited time and money? What does your ideal day look like? If someone was watching the film (movie) of your life, what actions would they be thinking were the most obvious, and willing you to take?
Now you make a Plan – write out some goals, and don’t forget to make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely – SMART. This will give you a clearer sense at the end of the quarter of whether or not you’ve hit them, or not.
Congratulations! You now have a Plan based off your quarterly goal setting. Each week, you can look at these goals to see where you are, where you want or need to be, and what the next obvious step to take is. It also helps to pick out the top 3 goals you want to progress this week, and then work them down into daily action steps.
End with a Review too. As you near the end of a Quarterly goal setting period, you get to look back and see what’s working and what’s not. Some useful things to consider include any habits you want to start/remove, milestones, obstacles, ways to overcome obstacles (plan to succeed), and a reward for hitting your goals!
“I would not have a god come in
To shield me suddenly from sin,
And set my house of life to rights;
Nor angels with bright burning wings
Ordering my earthly thoughts and things;
Rather my own frail guttering lights
Wind blown and nearly beaten out;
Rather the terror of the nights
And long, sick groping after doubt;
Rather be lost than let my soul
Slip vaguely from my own control —
Of my own spirit let me be
In sole though feeble mastery.”
― Sara Teasdale
I like that poem. It highlights, for me, my own struggle to gain mastery of my life.
That starts – always – with me coming back to centre, and continuing my work to gain mastery of my self.
The definition we’re going for is more ‘comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity’, than ‘control or superiority over someone or something’. Although both can fit, depending on what mastery is needed in your life.
For example, I would like to gain mastery in the area of my professional expertise – Irish heritage – that is a ‘comprehensive knowledge or skill’. I already have authority, both professional and personal experience, and a certain amount of expertise. But I’m not yet at ‘mastery’, to my mind.
Now, this does beg the question of when is enough, enough?
Some folk will tell you that to gain mastery, you need to practice a thing for 10,000 hours and you’ve got it down, but that’s debatable. You can read some of that debate here.
For the second definition, I personally apply that to myself only. I mean, I’ve no interest in control or superiority over someone else. That’s a LOT of hard work right there, even besides the obvious ethical considerations.
And it usually pertains to controlling my ‘negative’ aspects; post-trauma and mental health problems, and all the associated issues that come with that.
So mastery can mean ‘becoming a master’ at something, or ‘mastering’ your personal issues in a positive way. For either of these, doing a little every single day is the right way to get started.
For the first challenge, to become a master in a particular field, requires practice. That seems obvious, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Practice for mastery requires not just Naive Practice (repeating what you already over and over), or Purposeful Practice (with well defined goals, focus, and regularly pushing past your comfort zone).
To truly gain mastery, you’ll need Deliberate Practice; which is purposeful practice, but with the element of coaching or teaching added to it, through a clear training program with a professional in the established field.
And the second challenge is truly an ongoing thing (for me at least), and a constant process of improving little by little, going off track a bit, and just continually bringing myself back to the process again.
For this, I keep coming back to my daily routines – particularly the Morning Routine.
I can’t emphasise strongly enough how vital a routine is for me, in my quest for mastery of my personal issues in a positive way.
What works for you?
We could all use a few time management tips. Like, I know I could use some time management tips. So here’s 7 of the feckers.
Definition of ‘get organized’: to arrange one’s things or one’s affairs so they can be dealt with effectively. eg. He never knows what he has scheduled or where anything is. He needs to get organized. (Merriam Webster)
Start with your Productivity Baseline… so you can see where you’ve improved. Then get going on more effective time management, with the following 7 steps.
Write it all down. In whatever system you use, take a note of EVERYTHING that you need to spend time on.
You can create this task list for the day ahead, for the week, or for the month. A year is pushing it a bit far – too many variables.
Whatever time frame you choose though, take a few minutes at the start of it (or the night before) and load all your tasks into a brain dump page.
Now, decide your categories. What are the groupings that make sense for you. For example: Family Stuff, Work Stuff, Personal Stuff. Or to sub-divide a work list, for me the tasks fall into the categories of Courses, Clients, or Content Marketing.
There might be some cross over between categories, so in my bullet journal I allocate a colour per category and just mark them out. (see pic)
You have to complete most important task first. Especially if it’s something that’s part of a bigger project or goal that’s important, but not urgent. We all have a tendency to push those out, and the guilt/shame/fear/overwhelm of having that looming can really eat away at ya.
Doing the Hardest/Most Important thing first is the golden rule of time management.
For each day, identify the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to get to, and do them first. My advice would be to go for:
If you get those done each day, you’re already winning like, no matter how much the rest of the day might get away from you, as it often does.
And for the rest of the tasks, just list them by number, in order of importance.
Now you have your priorities straight, you have to make time for them to get done. How does your daily schedule look?
If you don’t have one, that’s ok. You can do it day by day, or set one for the week, and adjst as you go.
On a page (in your Bullet Journal, ideally, and if you don’t have one – get started here) – write out a list of all the hours in the day. I prefer vertical, it gives more space, but whatever suits you is grand.
Block out anything essential, like sleep 😉, commuting or the school run, meetings/appointments, eating, that sort of thing. Stuff that has to be done and can’t move around, time wise.
Mark in some down time, ideally not on the phone or computer – it’s important to do this first, especially if your task list is busy or overwhelming… because you NEED the relaxation time to make sure you’re being effective with the rest of your time.
Then block out your time that’s left (1 or 2 hour time blocks work well for most things), and slot your tasks in.
If they don’t all fit – well, you only have that many hours in your day, and you’re doing the work that HAS to get done at least. It’s an important lesson to enable you to see what you need to let go, or delegate.
What is it that distracts you? If you don’t know off hand, it might be that it’s a habit you’re unconsciously losing time to every single day. Even if it’s only a small thing. All those minutes, fifteen minutes, half hours really add up over the course of a week or a minute.
When you have work to do, you need to focus, and that means identifying and eliminating your distractions.
So, turn off the phone, or put it out of the room. Disconnect the doorbell. Hang a do not disturb sign. Put on noise cancelling headphones and some strong beats or classical music with no lyrics.
Get to work and stay working.
Pick your first priority and get to it. Set a timer, and resolve to work on that one thing for that amount of time, without distraction or switching focus.
How long is on that timer depends entirely on any number of factors such as how much you are dreading doing it, the type of task, your experience with deep work, and many others. For example, I find that getting started is the hardest part of any work, and I know I’m not alone in that.
If I really don’t want to do something, I will set a timer for say, 5 or 10 minutes, and agree with myself that I’ll do it for that long, and then see how I feel. Mostly, I’m ok by then and just keep going. Occasionally, it’s just not the day to be doing that thing, and I know I have at least tried. I move on, and try again the next day with the same technique.
For longer or bigger projects that require concentration, like study or writing or design, it can help to set a 25 minute timer, take a 5 min stretch/water break, do another 25 min, and so on for the course of 2 hours, then take a longer break. This is called the pomodoro technique.
Or, if you don’t want the distraction, just set yourself a timer for 60 or 90 minute blocks (you’ll really need to stretch and give yourself a mental break after 90 minutes, please).
No really. This is maybe the most important step here.
Some people think sacrificing sleep is a smart way to get a couple of extra hours into your day. This is not smart. This is the exact opposite of smart.
You most likely need 7-8 hours of sleep for your body and mind to work effectively. Overnight, bits and pieces of information are transferred from your tentative, short-term memory to stronger, long-term memory. This is a process called consolidation, and the research is clear.
After people sleep, they retain information and perform better on memory tasks, ie, you can work more effectively.
So, rest more to do more.
Increasing your productivity is a priority for most of us, in whatever area of our lives we want to focus on.
What’s your baseline though?
Do you know where you’re at – realistically – with your productivity right now? Well, that is your first step.
There’s a couple of ways your can go about this. The easiest, for creative or work based productivity tracking, it to get a programme on your computer that does it for you.
I use Rescue Time personally, which promises to help you “find your ideal work‑life balance”. They’re right in saying though, that with so many distractions and possibilities in your digital life, it’s easy to get scattered.
So they will help you “understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive”. I’m there for that.
The Rescue Time programme is free (there are paid options I believe, but I don’t bother with those personally), and just sits on your computer, judging you.
Nah, just kidding. There’s no judgement here. It’s a really useful, and sometimes very stark look at your productivity, or lack thereof, each day though.
It’s been invaluable for giving a long hard look at myself, and figuring out what I’m wasting time on, how much time I’m spending on ‘busy work’ that’s not actually moving me towards where I want or need to be going, and exactly where I can improve.
Like I said, it’s essential to know your productivity baseline right now, and take an honest look at that, before you can begin to improve it.
“What gets measured, gets managed.” – Peter Drucker
If your productive work is off the computer, don’t worry, you can still get the baseline down. You have a phone right? Or some sort of digital device with a clock function on it?
Right so, this sounds way too simple. But it works.
When you get up in the morning, you just refresh the timer on your phone (or whatever), and start a new day. Then you just press start when you begin to do something productive – however you’re counting that – and pause when you’re doing things that are not productive.
At the end of the day, you check your productive time, and write it down or otherwise record it somewhere safe. Then you do it again the next day.
For this to work properly, you’ll need to:
And watch as your productivity grows, just by the actions of monitoring and managing it. Of course there’s lots more you can do to improve it, but establishing your productivity baseline is the first step.
So, start today. Tomorrow at the LATEST.
Be honest, be fair, and go easy on yourself for dogs sake. Drop any ‘perfect productivity’ expectations right now. Nobody is perfectly productive every single day.
This is an observation exercise, not a stick to beat your damn self if you don’t seem your day has been productive enough.
(Do you hear that, Lora’s Brain? That’s sound advice. We should take that advice. Right so.)