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Avoiding The Butterfly Effect, The Supersaurus and Procrastination

Avoiding The Butterfly Effect, The Supersaurus and Procrastination


    In Chaos Theory, “The Butterfly Effect” explains how small changes in conditions can produce results very different from predictions. If good weather is predicted on a day at one side of the world and a butterfly flaps its wings on the other, this could actually cause a storm rather than the good weather as predicted. The flapping of the wings changes the air pressure very slightly causing a weather pattern completely different from the one originally forecast.

    Sometimes one simple action can lead to great results — or avoid catastrophic ones. Have you ever delayed paying a bill, resulting in a fine? The next day you have to leave the office to pay the fine. As a result you miss a meeting, delay handing in your reports and your hair gets wet because you were caught in the rain…and you were supposed to go out for cocktails after work! One simple action could have avoided the storm that followed.

    There may also be a project that you just can’t seem to get started on. You postpone picking it up, make excuses, distract yourself with menial tasks in the hope that it will disappear. Why do we do this?

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    One of the chief reasons we avoid work is fear. We are afraid the task may be too big or too difficult for us.

    Fear – Panic – Dread!

    The task looks enormous. Never mind an elephant — this is a Supersaurus! You see yourself as a tiny dot looking up at the largest dinosaur that ever roamed the earth and think:

    “How in the world am I going to get this done? This is impossible, it scares me so much that I’m now going to pretend that dinosaurs (especially the Supersaurus) never existed and I’m going to start ticking all the nice little tasks that I enjoy off my list. Call Mary, yes I can do that, have a little chat and arrange the social club outing much more pleasant that super lizards…”

    But what happens? The super lizard won’t go away. He plagues your dreams.  You push him back into your subconscious and you pretend there will be no repercussions — but, alas, one day you are reminded.

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    You are called to a meeting. A meeting in which you are reminded that, in fact, the Supersaurus does exist and all of the other people at the meeting know of his existence. You have no choice now but to face him head on…so what do you do?

    Gaining Clarity

    The fear comes from ignorance. Not having defined exactly what that the Supersaurus is, you sit down and open the files, you look at his size, you understand his form and composition, and then you assess its greatness and then break it down.

    What exactly needs to be done? How long is it going to take? When can this be scheduled into the day? Once you are clear about the size of the task then you can begin to break it down into a manageable size — you know, like a cow or a goat rather than a massive dinosaur.

    Taking Action

    The most important part of avoiding procrastination is the “Do Habit”. The planning and the scheduling is important — vital, in fact — for the smooth running of any project. But without actually standing up and doing something about it nothing will ever progress.

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    The Do Habit

    Create a habit of doing. If it’s a project in work or a book you are writing, stop planning and start doing — even if you can only do ten minutes a day. Just do it. After all, ten minutes a day adds up to more than one working day a month. Every little bit helps, so make a plan and create space for the task every day.

    As Bob Marley (and probably someone equally as important person before him) said:

    “Every little action, there’s a Reaction”

    Start the momentum.

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    Don’t allow your wings to flap aimlessly and cause a tornado.

    Start consciously fluttering…and the small little actions may just create amazingly big results.

    (Photo credit: Lesser Gull Butterfly via Shutterstock)

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    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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