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The New Lifehacking #2 – How to Understand Your Current System

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The New Lifehacking #2 – How to Understand Your Current System

My prior article ended with the biggest tip from the New Lifehacking: gain a unique understanding of your current system of habits, practices and rituals, before looking for new stuff. I looked at time management / self management as an example of one area in which we need to gain some insights into how we do what we do, before being seduced by the latest advertisement for a new gadget, or a catchy headline on a blog post.

Not that this is easy to do. If you have ever walked into an auto-supply store with nothing more than a vague idea of what you need, you might know what it’s like to walk out with a list of information you need to return with, plus a cute little thingy to hang from the rearview mirror. The initial trip is a failure because you haven’t applied even the most basic diagnostic tools at your disposal – your eyes and ears.

The problem in time and self management (versus car repair) is that there are very few diagnostic tools available, and we don’t even know what to look for.

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One reason is that the system you use currently didn’t come from a manufacturer with all the specs fully laid out. The fact is, like most people, you started to put together your own time management system in your teens and completed the process in your early twenties. You may have tweaked it since then, but most people don’t – they stick with what works for them, and they forget the fact that they ever put it together; it sinks deep into the world of their unconscious competence.

This amnesia is the reason why people don’t throw down books and walk out of seminars when they realize that they are being spoken to as beginners in time and self management.

To help fill the gap, over the past few years, I have assembled an online 84 point assessment that looks at different aspects of one’s time management system. It’s based entirely on individual habits and practices and offers users a way to assess their skills by answering each question to the best of their ability.

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Here’s an expanded example of the kind of question I included:

If you were to decide to run an errand a week from now outside the home or office, what are the steps you would take more often than not to complete the task?

1. Try to remember the errand later, after first committing it to memory
2. Ask someone to remind me
3. Write it down on a loose piece of paper
4. Make a note of it in my little black book
5. Enter it in my paper calendar
6. Add it to my electronic schedule
7. Add it to my electronic schedule that is automatically backed up

In the assessment I created, I tried to imagine which actions are the ones that are most likely to be successful, versus those which are most likely to fail. The quality of the action taken ranges from 1 to 6, with a level 6 being the highest.

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Your opinion may differ from mine as to the exact placement of each action in this hierarcy, but the point is that it’s not hard to use best practices to build such assessments. Once they are built, creating a ladder from low skills to high, it’s possible to measure your own progress against these standards and lifehack your way to better performance.

In part, this approach is inspired by Benjamin Franklin and his quest to become a better writer. He made a series of continuous comparisons against the best authors of the day and tackled each of the gaps that emerged. Over time, he made dramatic improvements in his writing skill.

At the end of a complete assessment, what emerges is a personal profile. Most of the profiles I have seen have emerged from in-depth live training and they reveal something that you’d expect – systems that vary a great deal from each other, given the fact that they were self-created without much guidance.

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Lifehacks that are driven by this kind of knowledge set the stage for delicately crafted improvements. Instead of trying to force-fit one-size-fits-all prescriptions, you save time and energy by making strategic changes that you want, at a speed of your choosing. You begin to understand why the iPhone that helped one person become productive, destroyed the productivity of another, and did nothing for yet another, and why the same applies to books, programs, web services, etc.

How you start to implement the results of your assessment will be the subject of my next post here at Lifehack.org.

To view a sample assesment, click here to access the first sample quiz I ever put together that instantly provides you with some feedback on one critical skill while teaching a couple of new concepts.

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More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer 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.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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