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Communication, Thought, and Time

Communication, Thought, and Time

Over at Slow Leadership, this week has been all about using your time. I don’t set out to give each week’s postings a single theme, but sometimes it happens that way.

It began with considering the relationship between time, action and thought in a posting I called Taking Your Time. Some people claim that jumping into actions and decisions without stopping to think is the right thing to do. They want you to put your trust in intuition: a vaguely-defined process below the level of consciousness that is somehow more accurate and powerful than thought or reasoning. I guess Freud started it, with his ideas of an unconscious mind, but even he never suggested such a process is better or more accurate than reasoning or logic. That’s believing in magic.

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Science has shown that human beings typically have a limited taste for the workings of chance and randomness. The human mind tries to reject the idea that things happen for no reason—by chance—and tries instead to discover, or invent, a cause to explain each observed effect. People point to cases when blind intuition (not the kind from informed experience based on long years of study and practice) seemed to work and ignore all the cases when it did not. Anecdotal evidence is always partial: it claims support for what is already believed, skips over any contrary evidence, and ignores the equally likely possibility that the times when intuition came up with the goods were due to nothing but chance.

If taking time to think is more likely to produce a sound basis for action than putting your faith in magical intuition, relying on evidence and proof is clearly a better basis for knowledge than emotions. That brought me back to one of my favorite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, and a post called Those Much-ignored Essentials: Time, Thought, and Proof. In today’s rushed, stressed, and pressured working environment, it’s easy to mistake emotional statements for rational arguments. The media, relying on sound-bites and 30-second news stories, rates anything that hits home hard and fast, however irrational, so we’re all coming to place far too much reliance on emotional “arguments” (which are no arguments at all, since emotional claims allow for no alternatives). It’s unfashionable, even heretical, to decline to accept “human interest” in place of hard news, or point out how much sentimentality there is in conventional beliefs about good and evil, but I do it just the same.

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Back to time and the necessity to slow down. I ended the week thinking about communication. If organizations stopped believing that improving communication skills is a panacea for every problem in the workplace, tens of thousands of consultants and trainers would be out of work overnight. In writing Taking Time Out to Listen, I didn’t quite go that far, but I did suggest that haste, pressure, superficiality, and anxiety—all aspects of today’s business environment that undermine the capacity to pay attention—might have more to do with problems of communication than any lack of skill.

The natural process of “tuning out” topics, values, and motivations you don’t care about is given a massive boost by pressure and lack of time, creating blind spots in your perception. As a result, much of what is being “broadcast” by others is filtered out before it even reaches your consciousness. We’re back to intuition and instant responses. If a topic doesn’t grab your distracted attention right away, it’s thrown in the mental wastebasket unread and unheard. And that’s a great way to miss things that later turn out to be important.

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The antidote is cultivating a greater willingness to open your mind and senses to unfamiliar topics, including those currently assumed to have little or no value. That takes time and attention. And so we return to the need for time: time to listen carefully, develop an open-minded and broad-based view of the world, and come to decisions through thought and reflection, not magical beliefs in the power of intuition.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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