Happy New Year! I couldn’t resist celebrating the year 2015 with a little tribute to Back to the Future 2. I’ve been anticipating this year since my childhood, thanks to Back to the Future 2. Hard to believe it’s finally here. Back to the Future takes place in 1985, the year I was born, and they travel 30 years into the future in Back to the Future 2, which means I’ll be turning 30 later this year (quite a bit later – I was born in December, so I just turned 29.) Combine that with my love of science fiction and comedy, and, well, Back to the Future definitely holds a big place in my heart. I can’t wait for people to start wearing double ties and inside-out jeans, though I’m not holding out much hope for the flying cars or hoverboards.
Guinea Something Good had a nice beginning to 2015, as the generous Travis E pledged enough on our Patreon page to bump us up to more than $80 per month, which means we’ve hit our first milestone goal! That is, one full eight-hour day can now be exclusively dedicated to GSG projects! I want to give a big shout-out to Travis for helping us hit that milestone. Maybe this year we can get to our second goal, and fund two full days of GSG productivity!
Speaking of productivity, I thought this might be a good time of year to talk about beating procrastination – what with New Years resolutions and whatnot. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to figure out the optimum ways to manage my time and get the most out of everyday. The problem is that trying to figure this out by trial and error is extremely inefficient. You can never really tell why something started working or why it stopped working. You come up with theories, but there’s no way to ever really know. You just sort of feel like sometimes you’re more productive than others, and all you can do is just keep fighting to do better.
But this year I found this amazing book by Timothy Pychyl, called “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.” Now, what makes this book special, and not just another self-help book, is that Timothy Pychyl is a research psychologist, and dedicates his research to studying why people procrastinate and how they can overcome it. And apparently, he’s been making podcasts on the subject for almost 10 years! This is the kind of thing I’ve been looking for for a long time. What are the PROVEN ways to beat procrastination and conquer your time? And this is about as researched as it gets.
Well, for me, the most important thing he discusses is what he calls “implementation intentions.” Everyone talks about setting goals and prioritizing projects, which is definitely important, but there comes a point where you’ve laid out all your plans, you know exactly how you’re going to proceed, and yet, you just don’t quite seem to proceed as much as you’d like. New habits are extremely difficult to form because of this. You have good intentions, but when the moment arrives to do the thing you told yourself you were going to do, you put it off. And eventually you realize, it either never gets done, or it’s just so sporadic that a new daily habit will never form. And that’s it. You’re left with this constant struggle, or worse, you give up completely. You blame yourself and your lack of willpower. But what you should really be blaming is the fact that you never planned HOW you’d accomplish your goal. Specifically, in the moment, without relying on willpower. In fact, you should be planning on how you can accomplish your goal when you have absolutely NO willpower. That way, no matter HOW you feel, you’ll STILL accomplish your goal. And that’s what “implementation intentions” are about.
It’s actually very simple. An implementation intention simply ties your goal to something external in your environment. For example, say your goal is to start exercising everyday. Instead of relying on the time you “feel like it,” you simply make an agreement with yourself that everyday, right before you shower, you exercise. And you don’t let yourself shower or start your day until you’ve exercised. That takes a lot less willpower than you’d think. Because in your head, you know that you’ve agreed not to shower until you’ve exercised. So you just don’t step into the shower. And you go do what you need to do so you can shower. It not only puts the impetus to complete your goal into your external environment, but it’s a nice reward system, too.
For me, the most important way I’ve implemented this idea is through a repeating timer. I mainly work from home, and as such, working a full eight hour day is a really important goal for me. I hate ending the day and feeling like I didn’t get as much done as I could have, just because in the moment I didn’t feel like it.
Now, I’ve blogged before about how just setting the eight hour day as my number one priority, above everything else, allowed me to accomplish that goal. And it did. But it wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. Because I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep until my eight hour day was done. I got to a point where I was going to bed at six or seven in the morning, and it became insanely difficult to break that sleep schedule. I needed a more reasonable solution. And with implementation intentions, I found it.
What I had been doing to keep myself on task was to set a timer and not allow myself to think about anything but what I was working on until that timer was over. And that did the job, but as soon as the timer went off, I had leeway to put off getting back to my next work session. And without rigid break times, I just was never able to put a full eight hour day together, without staying up to make up for lost time.
I’ve tried setting a rigid schedule, as though I were at an office working for someone else, where my work times and break times were laid out in advance. But this proved ineffective, as well. This had no room for error. What happened if I missed the start of my work session? What if my break time ran long for some reason? Sometimes I’d give up, and not work. Sometimes I’d throw the whole system out. It wasn’t flexible enough.
Well, the repeating timer is the answer to that. Less rigid than the minute-by-minute workday, and less room to procrastinate than the loose “time yourself and then take a break” method.
Basically, here’s how it works. I set a timer to go off every 15 minutes on an app I got for the iPad. If I’m working on something particularly taxing, when the timer goes off, I switch to another project, to give myself room to breathe. If I’m in the zone, I’ll just keep working on what I was working on. After 3 sessions of 15 minutes, I take the next 15 minutes as a break. Because the timer automatically goes off, and I have nothing to do with when or how it’s set after the initial button press, the break WILL end after 15 minutes. But – here’s where the flexibility of this system comes in. Let’s say, for whatever reason, I don’t get back to work as soon as that timer goes off. Well, then I’m not ALLOWED to go back to work until the NEXT timer goes off. What that means is that for 15 minutes I’m preparing for when that next timer goes off. And when it finally does, I’m completely ready to go back to work. Because instead of thinking of excuses as to why I don’t need to yet, I’ve been thinking about how lame it is that I missed my mark, and I’m waiting to get back to it as soon as I can.
The other implementation intention I have in regards to my work day is that I need to get started two hours after I wake up. This gives me plenty of time to get ready, eat, caffeinate. But as soon as two hours has passed, it’s work time.
This has actually helped me adjust my sleep schedule, as well. Like I said, it was an incredible challenge to get back to a normal sleep schedule. But now what I do is, everyday, I set my alarm clock to 10 minutes earlier than the day before. I put my alarm in the bathroom, and I don’t let myself turn it off until the shower is running. That way, any feelings of “I could just sleep for ten more minutes in my nice warm bed” are countered by the currently running shower, and the thought that, “well, I can warm up in there.”
Anyway, for me, this has been hugely impactful on how successfully I’ve been able to create and maintain new habits. My own spin on this is that I also keep a record everyday to keep me accountable on my habits. I only add one new habit at a time, and I only do so when I’ve upheld the other new habits I’ve started for seven days in a row. If I miss a habit, I set the record back to 0 and have to start again. Keeping record of my “score,” in combination with the implementation intentions, has really turned me from someone who “really wants to do better” into someone who IS doing better, everyday. And as long as you keep your eye on where you’re going, and how exactly you’ll get there, and you focus on progressing just a little bit everyday (and not set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much at once), you can turn your New Years resolutions into new habits.
If you’d like a wallpaper of the image above, I made one you can download here!
Happy New Year!