Advertising

The New LifeHacking #4 – Why You Should Ignore Snake-Oil Claims of Instant Improvements in Time Management Skills

Advertising
The New LifeHacking #4 – Why You Should Ignore Snake-Oil Claims of Instant Improvements in Time Management Skills

In the prior article in this series, I mentioned that each of us must create our own improvement plans to make time management improvements. The best time to do this is right after we have done a diagnosis, rather than in the middle of a store looking at a shiny new piece of equipment. The key to making a successful plan is not only to set customized goals, but also to make sure that they aren’t too big and aren’t too aggressive.

David Allen has it right—on a daily basis, it’s better to focus on small next actions than on huge goals that leave us paralyzed. With some big goals this is easy: they can easily be broken down into small, sequential steps. Other more nebulous goals can’t be pre-determined and must be reassessed at each point on the journey.

Advertising

When we make the mistake of not using small steps, it’s partly because we are thinking like Superman rather than Clark Kent. The truth is, a productivity-improvement plan based on us being at our best 100% of the time is likely to fail. Most of the time we are kind of average, and our goals should reflect average effort in order to be realistic.

Changing Habits Over Time

This practice lines up perfectly with recent habit change research that tells us that we need to take small steps in order to be successful. Habit change, as I mentioned in my prior article, is tough. Mark Twain said it well: “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time.”

Advertising

In much the same way, the goals that we set need to be conservative. It’s better to space them out over time, thus reducing the risk of failure. When it comes to changing our productivity habits, this is no time to be setting up stretch goals that need extraordinary effort. Instead, conservative goals and small steps build confidence and momentum. Unfortunately, most time management books and programs simply ignore these lessons, leaving it to the learner to wing it on their own.

This is exactly what most learners do—right at the end of a book or a program, the ideas seem easy to understand, and effortless to implement.

Advertising

If all this sounds like a recipe for failure, it should: it’s better to bring some reality to our individual change effort by making a schedule of changes over time. We can construct a Gantt chart of personal changes that shows the practices we want to implement, and when. Once the chart has been made, the individual items to work on can be transferred to our personal calendars, or embedded in electronic reminders of different kinds.

Given the fact that time management and productivity systems are built on foundations of human habits, practices and rituals, rather than technology, we need to be savvy in managing our expectations. The savviest professionals work on themselves skillfully, by manipulating their habits to make consistent improvements. They don’t chase after the latest trend and can’t be found rushing out to join the line at the Apple store when a new release is announced.

Advertising

It’s not rocket science, but you’ll have to ignore the authors who keep telling you how easy it is to change a personal habit, and how it can be done overnight. It’s snake oil. Don’t buy it.

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

Trending in Productivity

1 How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness 2 Are You Addicted to Productivity? 3 Is Avoiding Difficult Tasks And Doing Easy Tasks First Less Productive? 4 How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data) 5 10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 21, 2021

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

Advertising
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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

Read Next