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Want results? Frame your work.

Want results? Frame your work.

    There’s a technique I use to get blocks of work done well. I evolved this technique as one of a host of survival mechanisms over the past few years in response to losing more and more time to IFS – Information Fatigue Syndrome. If you read blogs (and you obviously do), surf sites, scan RSS feeds and get tons of email you know IFS – you just don’t know it by name.

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    The symptoms of Information Fatigue Syndrome include “paralysis of analytical capacity”, “a hyper-aroused psychological condition”, and “anxiety and self-doubt”, leading to “foolish decisions and flawed conclusions”. It is a problem which the report argues particularly affects the group called knowledge workers whose jobs mainly involve dealing with and processing information.

    Over eleven years ago, The Reuters News Agency commissioned a study: “Dying for Information: An Investigation Into the Effects of Information Overload in the USA and Worldwide.” 1,300 managers in UK, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore participated in focus groups. At that time, few managers would admit they had succumbed to IFS – it was always some other manager they knew who’d let themselves catch this social disease. The study’s conclusions?

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    • Two out of three respondents associated information overload with tension with colleagues and loss of job satisfaction.
    • 42% attributed ill-health to this stress.
    • 61% said that they have to cancel social activities as a result of information overload
    • 60% that they are frequently too tired for leisure activities
    • People can no longer develop effective personal strategies for managing information. Faced with an onslaught of information and information channels, they have become unable to develop simple routines for managing information.(emphasis mine)

    Now this study was done in 1996 – kind of like studying AIDS in the early 80s, before AIDS killed 25 million people and devastated the lives of another 39 million to date. The malady that used to be confined to the ranks of a tiny percentage of the population – managers and the like – now affects all of us.

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    So here’s technique #1 I’ve evolved to beat IFS: Framing. I build a mental frame around a block of two to three hours. Here’s what the four sides of that frame consist of:

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    • Preparing to Flow. Flow is the opposite of Information Fatigue. You get so focused on some one thing that everything else fades into the background, time flies, you get some real work done. I prepare to flow by pulling out my “pre-flight” checklist, working through the physical and mental cues that get me mentally relaxed and prepared.
    • Turn off email, your browser and all telephones. I know, I know: it seems somehow indecent, unnatural, unnerving and scary to deliberately cut yourself off (What if something happens? What if there’s another 9/11?). But the fact remains: you can’t flow with a stream of interruptions breaking your concentration.
    • Get physically comfortable. Minor irritations like a chair with arms too low or high, the room being too hot or cold will also break your concentration.
    • Know the Desired Outcome, but don’t focus on the results. On one hand you want to know what you hope to accomplish with your time, but on the other, you don’t want to get so focused on that that you stress out.

    Put in a nutshell, by framing important work you can neutralize Information Fatigue long enough to get something substantial done. And knowing how to do that is very, very useful in this age of Information Overload.

    Bob Walsh writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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