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Life is a Series of Units

Life is a Series of Units
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    … His way of coping with the days was to think of activities as units of time, each unit consisting of about thirty minutes. …” – About a Boy, Nick Hornby

    Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job; how do people cram them in?” – Hugh Grant as Will, About a Boy the movie.

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    How do you divide your time? We all get the same number of hours to work with. Some are just better at managing them.

    The character Will from Nick Hornby’s novel “About a Boy,” which was made into a movie starring Hugh Grant, divided his days into units of 30 minutes. Every activity was broken down by how many units it takes to complete. Though his methods are a bit extreme, using a series of units to map out your day can be a highly productive way to work.

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    Think about your day and how each task or activity breaks down. What is the optimal unit for you – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes? There are many options of how you can structure and map your time using units. For example, let’s take 30 minute units:

    • Work 3 units, break for 1.
    • Work 6, break for 2.
    • 3 units for project A, 1 unit for email and calls, 3 units for project B, break for 1.

    Mapping out your day can be a great way to break up projects and tasks into smaller manageable piece. You can also schedule work around your daily cycle – those times when you’re most creative and productive, or tired and drained. One option is to use a spreadsheet program to create a map of your day, similar to a time map, broken down into your chosen units. Then fill in the blocks with your tasks.

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    Another option, and my preferred method, is to use grid paper to block out units for each day. This gives you a visual gauge of your day, and can be a way to track your productive times and less productive times. Dedicating specific units for email, checking feeds, and phone calls also helps manage “interrupts” in your flow, while you work on other tasks. You can also make sure each project is getting the proper amount of attention.

    Your map of units becomes a guideline to your preferred work schedule. Remember to be flexible in the beginning, until you learn your work cycle, and map out the units accordingly.

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    Another important thing to remember is when you’re using terms like “map of units” and “getting in control of your units” be sure to explain what you’re talking about. As I’m sure many of you thought while reading this, the whole thing could have an entirely different meaning.

    Tony D. Clark writes, draws cartoons, designs software and websites, and spends a lot of time talking others into working from home, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest focuses on helping parents who want to do meaningful work from home and have more time for their families, and their dreams.

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    Leon Ho

    Founder of Lifehack

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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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