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Time and Procrastination: Using Technology To Become Efficient With Your Time

Time and Procrastination: Using Technology To Become Efficient With Your Time

Ever since I started school I have had to battle my procrastination. Sometimes it almost feels like a disease; one that is treatable at times, but just seems to never go away. Because of my bad procrastination, I adopted systems like GTD,  a calendar and scheduled and time-blocked everything,  reminders of important tasks and due dates “dinging” from everywhere. What I found is that unless I am on top of my game and choosing to “be productive”, I easily fall back into the pit of procrastination, where time is never “of the essence”.

Objective and subjective time

I’ve read quite a few books and essays on the psychological effects and reasons of procrastination. Something interesting that has stuck with me is in the book Procrastination by Jane B. Burka (not an affiliate link) having to do with the way that “procrastinators” perceive and interact with time. According to Burka there are two ways that we deal with and understand time: objectively and subjectively. Objective time is “measured by clock and calendar” and is predictable where as subjective time is measured by our own personal understanding and is outside of clock time.

As you can see, if your personal subjective time isn’t lining up with the world’s objective time you can have some serious issues, especially since your boss, your professors, and your spouse tend to base everything off of objective time.

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I have this problem with objective time and after reading through Procrastination I decided to break myself of it by employing some different techniques when it came to my “time management skills” or lack thereof.

Track, track, track

    Some bright person once said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and that holds completely true with managing your time. The first thing that I had to do to understand how I use my time was track almost everything. For instance, I found myself being late in the mornings for work and always blamed it on something external; like the winter weather, traffic, how long it took to get gas in the morning etc. It wasn’t until I started tracking how long it actually took me to take a shower and get out of the house did I understand that I needed to get up about 20 minutes earlier. It sounds stupid, I know, but to someone who thinks they understand time and where it goes, it takes the detail of tracking the real world to understand it.

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    You can track your time many different ways but some of the best apps that I have found for Android and iPhone are great when you are on the run and need to get a quick statistic to use for planning. There are a ton of options on both platforms but in the free category I would go with Eternity Time Lite and aTimeLogger for iPhone and Time Recording – Timesheet App and Track Task Time for Android. All of these offer the user the ability to track multiple activities, create their own categories, and gives them reports and statistics they can use to help understand just where there time goes.

    You can also track your time use on your PC or Mac with RescueTime. RescueTime basically tracks what applications you are spending your time with and can give you a realistic view of where your computer time is going.

    Starting now and time blocking

    One of the most elusive ways that procrastinators abuse time and do not sync their subjective time with objective time is underestimating how long a task will take to complete. I’ve been told my many former and current software project managers that when they ask a software developer how long it will take to get something done they usually multiply their answer by two or three to set realistic expectations. Many of us are confident (sometimes overconfident) and do not set realistic time constants on ourselves.

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      This is where starting a task or project immediately and then time blocking the rest of it is a great way to balance time. The idea is simple, when given a task or project to complete,  jump in and start working on it for at least 25 minutes. This allows you to understand how big the task or project is which allows you to make realistic predictions of how long it will take to complete. This is syncing your subjective time with objective time. After this you can time block the project.

      Time blocking, the idea of blocking out a certain amount of time on your calendar for a task or project, has been around forever and works well if you have a realistic view of how long something will take to complete. After starting your task or project, take out your favorite calendar app and start “blocking” out time in your schedule to complete the task. Usually, if I think something is going to take 2 hours to complete, I block out about 2.5 total hours. This gives me some starting and stopping leeway. I also suggest only blocking out 50 minutes at a time to prevent burning yourself out. It seems that 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest/play when you are in a working period is ideal.

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      When it comes to generic timers for PC or Mac I highly recommend FocusBooster. It’s an Adobe Air application that lends itself to the Pomodoro technique of task timing, but you can use it for setting your working time on a task or project. For calendaring, I have to admit that I solely use Google Calendar for all my calendaring needs as it is everywhere I go and I can sync it to just about any device I want to. That isn’t to say there aren’t a bunch of good calendaring options out there, it’s just that Google Calendar has met all of my needs thus far.

      Conclusion

      Having an understanding of how to sync your subjective time and the world’s objective time can save you a ton of pain in your personal and professional life. But, if you are anything like me you will need a some help along the way to understand where the objective time goes. Hopefully if you understand the difference between your “inner clock” and the real world, track how long it takes you to accomplish tasks, and think more realistically about how long it take to accomplish something and schedule accordingly, you can say goodbye to procrastinating your time away.

      More by this author

      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on March 21, 2019

      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

      Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

      You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

      But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

      To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

      It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

      “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

      The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

      In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

      Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

      1. Start Small

      The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

      Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

      Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

      Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

      Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

      Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

      It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

      Do less today to do more in a year.

      2. Stay Small

      There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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      But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

      If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

      When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

      I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

      Why?

      Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

      The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

      Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

      3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

      No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

      There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

      What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

      Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

      This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

      This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

      4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

      When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

      There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

      Peter Drucker said,

      “What you track is what you do.”

      So track it to do it — it really helps.

      But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

      5. Measure Once, Do Twice

      Peter Drucker also said,

      “What you measure is what you improve.”

      So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

      For reading, it’s 20 pages.
      For writing, it’s 500 words.
      For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
      For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

      Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

      6. All Days Make a Difference

      Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

      Will two? They won’t.

      Will three? They won’t.

      Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

      What happened? Which one made you fit?

      The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

      No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

      7. They Are Never Fully Automated

      Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

      But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

      What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

      It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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      The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

      It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

      It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

      8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

      Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

      Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

      When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

      The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

      Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

      9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

      The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

      Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

      You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

      But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

      So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

      If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

      This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

      The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

      Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

      10. Punish Yourself

      Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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      I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

      It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

      You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

      No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

      The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

      But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

      11. Reward Yourself

      When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

      Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

      The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

      After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

      If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

      Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

      If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

      In the End, It Matters

      What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

      When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

      And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

      “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

      Keep going.

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      More Resources to Help You Build Habits

      Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
      [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
      [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
      [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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