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How to Procrastinate

How to Procrastinate

How to Procrastinate

    In December 2005, Paul Graham published an excellent essay entitled “Good and Bad Procrastination.”  It is an essay that is worth revisiting from time to time.  In it, he argued that at all times we can work on one of three things: a) nothing, b) things that are less important, and c) things that are important.  He refers to these as type A, type B, and type C procrastination.  Type B procrastination is destructive while Type C procrastination is actually quite productive.

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    Graham’s essay applies the important principle that there is no free lunch.  By its nature, the act of doing something means sacrificing the opportunity to do something else.  To the extent that we are giving up the opportunity to work on important things in order to work on unimportant things, we are wasting our time.  To the extent that we are giving up the opportunity to work on unimportant things in order to work on important things, we are making good use of our time.  This can be distilled into a few points.

    1.  “Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.”  Graham defines “errands” as minor tasks that have no chance of being remembered.  In the pre-digital world, Errands 1.0 included things like answering mail, housekeeping, picking up friends at the airport, and mowing grass.  Checking email is probably the best example of Errands 2.0, and to add insult to injury most of Errands 1.0 haven’t gone away.  Productivity comes not from making lists and checking them twice, but from eliminating less-important activities in order to work on those that are important.

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    2.  “Clean up in a dull moment.”  This is one of my favorite quotes from economic historian Deirdre McCloskey.  Large blocks of otherwise uncommitted time will tend to get consumed by housework and other little tasks, each of which provides a psychologically comforting feeling of accomplishment and completion but which stands in the way of a larger, more important project (like your dissertation, if you’re a graduate student, or that paper you’re working on if you’re a junior faculty member).  But dull moments will come.  Since you can’t work at a high level nonstop, McCloskey advises waiting for lulls in creative energy and enthusiasm before cleaning the house or cleaning the office or what have you.

    3.  Don’t allow yourself to be driven by interruptions.  Graham notes that Type-B procrastinators are “interrupt-driven.”  Don’t allow yourself to be driven by interruptions, and do what you can to avoid helping people who are driven by interruptions encroach upon your time and attention.  This is really, really, really hard, especially for people who are especially social.  Fundamentally (and fortunately), the degree to which you allow yourself to be interrupted is your choice and yours alone.  Choose not to subject yourself to an unending stream of interruptions.

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    4.  Identify and eliminate clutter.  Here’s an interesting thought experiment inspired by Graham’s essay.  Imagine your goal were to reach your deathbed without writing The Great American Novel.  What, specifically, would you do to prevent yourself from writing it?  Be specific.  As Graham writes, people don’t fail to write by sitting and staring at a blank page all day.  They don’t write because they let their time get eaten up by other commitments.

    4a.  Ask “If this were burned, would I miss it?”  In a 1982 essay for the journal Reviews in American History, economic historian Gavin Wright made mention of a fire at the University of Michigan that had consumed some of his notes for that essay.  As I wade through the accumulated dross of this past semester during a protracted dull moment, I’m coming to the realization that my life would be no worse if it were burned.  Assorted piles of books I’ve ordered, papers I’ve printed, and notebooks I’ve filled could disappear overnight and I, my teaching, and my research would be no worse for it.  If anything, they might improve.

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    5.  Answer this question: “What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?”  This is Graham’s generalization of some questions originally asked by noted scientist Richard Hamming in his famous lecture “You and Your Research.”  This is a hard question to answer because for most of us, it involves some serious soul-searching and some serious reckoning with the decisions we have made.  Here I’m speaking of an all-too-human tendency to want to blame circumstances.  It is easy to blame other people, the weather, traffic, and everything else under the sun for everything that goes wrong, and it is easier (and perhaps, self-delusionally romantic) to assume the role of the tortured martyr whose genius is squelched by external forces.  This, though, denies that we have choices.  Our choices are constrained by the incentives we face, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the idea industry, we should be able to re-arrange our commitments in such a way as to allow us to work on the things that are really important.

    Every decision involves a cost, and organizational methods should recognize that for some people, there are some things that just aren’t worth doing.  With the right focus we can, to quote Graham, get the right things done and “leave the right things undone.”

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    Last Updated on November 13, 2018

    Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

    Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

    Don’t we all want to live a full, happy and satisfied life? For some of us, it need not be a long life as long as it’s been a fulfilling life of achievements, happiness and no regrets. But, how many of us actually go on to experience that entirely? It sometimes sounds more like a pipe dream–a fantasy rather than reality.

    And then you’ll also get comments from some, saying that this ‘fulfilling life’ is only possible if you’re so rich that you don’t have to care about working, paying the bills or providing for your family. While there is some truth to that, I’m happy to say that financial freedom isn’t the only answer to living a fulfilling life.

    Living a Fulfilling Life is Within Reach

    Anyone can pursue a life of fullness, and it all starts with the willingness to learn. How many years has it been since you last attended a class in school? If you’re well into your adult years as a working professional, chances are it’s been a while. Do you remember the times where you had to wake up for early morning lectures? Or the times where you were rushing through a paper or project? And, of course there were the endless exams that you had to cram for.

    As a young college student, I remember looking forward to the time when I would finally be done with school! No more homework, no more grades to worry about, no more stress! The learning was finally done and I could enter the working world.

    Not so much!

    Now that I’ve finally entered the working world, there are moments where I do wish to be a student again; it seemed less stressful then!

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    There is simply so much out there that I still need to learn and experience. Yet I find myself pressed for time. With family commitments, my business and my own social life to juggle, I’ve had to keep on finding for new ways to learn and absorb new information efficiently. Over the years, I’ve found that by learning new skills and knowledge, I was able to find answers and solutions to my problems, which allowed me to achieve a greater sense of fulfillment.

    Learning Never Ends

    The truth is, learning never ends. Generally speaking, it is true that a formal education and the resulting qualifications are important in securing good jobs; jobs that allow you to excel, earn more and perhaps become more successful in our chosen career. But going to school is only one type of learning. All throughout your life, you’re learning in many ways. All these experiences shape and grow you into the person that you are today.

    There are many opportunities to further your knowledge and develop the skills you need throughout life. Knowledge can be acquired and skill-sets can be developed anywhere. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning both for personal and professional development.

    Many people overlook the fact that learning can take place anywhere and in many forms. Most would tend to think of learning as the years spent in a learning institute, which occurs mostly in their younger days. And once you go out into the working world, your ‘learning’ ends.

    This is not how it has to be–in fact, lifelong learning is a gift that keeps on giving.

    The Importance of Lifelong Learning

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    Why is it important to become a lifelong learner?

    A lifelong learner is motivated to learn and develop because they want to; it is a deliberate and voluntary act. Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with more and better opportunities, and improve our quality of life.

    You’ll Remain Relevant in the Workplace

    With advancements in society today, the human life expectancy continues to increase, which means more people are also retiring at a later age. So no matter what stage of life you’re in, being a lifelong learner brings its own rewards. It means we can get more personal satisfaction from our lives and jobs as we understand more about who we are and what we do.

    This can lead to better results and a more rewarding working day in turn. Whether it’s for advancing your career, a personal interest or wanting to pursue new dreams, learning automatically pushes you forward towards progress and enhances your wellbeing.

    You’ll Increase Your Earning Potential

    From a financial point of view, a more highly skilled and knowledgeable worker is an asset to any company. This also leads to faster promotion with associated salary increases.

    Someone who can offer more expertise will be of more value not just to employers but also to customers. Expertise is also, often, a key quality of an effective leader.

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    And since you’ll constantly be accumulating knowledge, you’ll have an edge on those who don’t value lifelong learning and can’t bring as much to the table. Your extra knowledge will translate into transferable skills, which means you’ll always be primed to blow the competition out of the water.

    Learning Gives You Options

    Of course, one of the most rewarding reasons for continuous learning, is that it gives you options! Successfully changing career path in mid-life and spending time informally developing expertise is more common than ever, especially during rapidly changing market conditions.

    Whatever your age, it’s never too late to start fresh in life. When you start educating yourself and exposing yourself to new knowledge and information, you widen your opportunities. This will allow you to do more than what you may currently be doing, or give you a way out if you’re not happy or fulfilled with where you’re at now.

    Our economy is shifting increasingly towards short-term and part-time contracts with more flexible work-patterns. We have to adapt to changes going on in the work-world, make more of ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zones, and break the false ideas about our potential and how we believe life is going.

    Gain More with Cornerstone Skills

    You may be well into your career, but feel like somehow, something is still missing. Or maybe you’re not entirely happy with where you’re at in your career path and feel it’s time to reflect and perhaps do something new. Or you might be thinking of retiring soon, and thinking about next steps after retirement.

    The learning never needs to stop!

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    This can be your chance to go after a dream or interest that you’ve always had (but never had the opportunity, or time, to pursue). This could finally be the time for you to create the change that you know you should have made ages ago.

    Why not take the first step to learn about 7 important Cornerstone Skills, which will help take your life to the next stage?

    Whatever situation you’re in, having these 7 Cornerstone Skills will no doubt equip you to tackle the challenges of life much more efficiently. Don’t let age, your limitations or a comfort zone stop you from seeking greater rewards and self-improvement.

    Transformation and change is in your hands–you have the power to make big things happen, and we can help teach you the skills. Don’t let life pass you by! It’s time to pursue a fulfilling and happy life.

    Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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