The Problem with Procrastination

There’s a popular confusion that exists around the phenomena of procrastination.

First of all, people who study the challenge it poses often fail to account for the fact that procrastination is a psychological object. As such, according to Kurt Danziger, the history of the word’s usage must be studied as well as the term itself, because meanings change over time.

Unlike physical objects (like a broken arm), there are a wide range of interpretations flying around but little guidance about defining the phenomena while it’s actually taking place. In other words, it’s far too easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are not procrastinating when you are, and vice versa.

Here’s an example of an interesting study which asked:

Do you overcome procrastination by breaking projects into pieces and rewarding yourself for completing a piece?

In the results paper published several months later, the authors report:

The professionals in the right tail with the highest productivity scores were particularly adept at overcoming procrastination, getting to the final product, and focusing on daily accomplishments. Low ratings on these three habits were typically reported by professionals with the lowest productivity scores.

Notice that the reported result lacks enough specificity to be useful. In fact, there may be some circular reasoning: describe yourself as overcoming procrastination and the survey rewards you with a high productivity score…which means that you are adept at overcoming procrastination.

Also, you have no idea what definition of procrastination the surveyors meant the subjects to use, or the one they actually used.

Finally, if you hope to become less of a procrastinator you can take a guess – the cure has been defined in the question as “breaking projects into pieces and rewarding yourself for completing a piece.”

But is that the only cure?

It’s a bit like asking: “Do you take aspirin when you get a cold?” If you answer negatively, then the conclusion a weak survey would draw is that you get a lot of colds. The possibility of other cures and of being completely free from colds don’t enter into the equation.

This may seem like splitting hairs but once you see psychological objects for what they really are, you  are able to see them everywhere, and are forced to question findings like these. Kurt Danziger ended up challenging a great deal of social science research based on statistical techniques used for the physical sciences. He was not a favorite son in the academy.

While we are fortunately free from numbers in the example I have cited, we must still use his logic, especially if we are serious about making real improvements. Ultimately, we need to translate all improvements into actions otherwise they may as well be flights of fancy.

 

 

Speeches in Washington DC

During the month of May, I’ll be visiting Washington DC to give a couple of speeches. The latter is free to the public, although space is limited.

 

 

 

Let’s Form a Community

What would a community of the busiest one percent look like? Could it benefit those who find themselves alone,  looking for company among those of like practice? And, could they also learn what practical approaches could be used to make a tangible difference at the same time?

If you believe there’s value in answering the above questions,  you may also know that no such group exists.

But it may be coming soon here at 2Time Labs.

Recently, I had the experience of creating an online community of HR practitioners across the Caribbean. In fact, I have been building an active mailing list of such professionals for over a decade. Now that the technology exists to bring them together, I started climbing the learning curve last year to bring them together on a single platform.

The community just left Beta testing and its success leads me to think that we can do the same here at 2Time Labs.

Interested? Contact me here and let me know why, and whether you would like to be part of the team that pulls this vision together in the next six months.

Let’s change the game.

 

LiveLab 02 – Defining an Email Health Calculator

How would you define the state of your email inbox? What would it be like to have an indicator of its current condition? With it, you could decide how to intervene.

Today, most of us use a crude metric – the total number of unread messages. But is that good enough?

Here at 2Time Labs, I have always thought there should be a more refined method. But I only started to develop one by including a few lines in an overall productivity diagnostic tool.

That initial attempt was turned into a first draft, which was the trigger for me to make a call to Dr. Michael Einstein, an email expert.

Eventually, we recorded a set of conversations which were edited down to three episodes (57-59) of the 2Time Labs podcast.

These were quite challenging, involving and number or formulae, plus a slew of assumptions about email management.

Here is the first episode in the series. In each episode, I documented the progress we were making on the index in the show notes. Of course, you can just skip to the end-result but how much fun would that be?

I encourage you to leave your feedback on the episode’s page itself.

 

LiveLab 01 – Comparing Auto-Schedulers

In this first show in the new series, I invite Dr. Melanie Wilson back on the podcast to help me create a comparison between six modern auto-schedulers and to build a tool that helps people choose between currently them.

We spent several hours together and ended up speaking for several hours, edited then split into two episodes (55 and 56).

Her book – A Year of Living Productively –  was released just before the show aired.

I also took the opportunity to launch a Patreon page for anyone wishing to support 2Time Labs with a financial contribution. The reason why you may want to consider getting involved at this level can be found here.

Here’s the episode.

 

Explaining the New Podcast Format

As I explained a few months ago, I’m coming up with a new kind of podcast.

It’s so different, in fact, that I produced an episode just on this topic… by itself. In half an hour, I explain what I’m trying to do in this new series.

It consists of deep dive, multi-episode shows rather than light-weight quickies which just repeat a bunch of stuff you already know. There’s much to think over in these shows.

Here is the link to Episode #54 – Introducing a New Format – a LiveLab!

A Fresh Focus on the Ultra-Busy

I just announced a very narrow re-focus for the work we do here at 2Time Labs.

As I look through the time-based productivity blogs and chat rooms across the internet I notice a certain superficiality surrounding the needs of Ultra-Busy people. As a result, there are lots of people claiming to address their needs but most of what I see are trivial solutions and stale answers.

They are unsuitable. These responses miss the mark because they lack the nuance to escape the usual one-size-fits-all thinking that pervades popular thinking.

The fact is, the Ultra-Busy person is a unique animal. If you happen to be one, you know that you routinely manage hundreds of time demands (i.e. unfinished tasks) at any moment in time. You also enjoy a few (less than ten) hours per week of discretionary, unplanned time.  You probably even plan your nap, exercise and recovery times.

To others, you appear overly-ambitious. Driven. Crazy. But you aren’t. You just don’t hang out with a lot of people like you, unless you attend Harvard Business School or belong to a similar high-achieving community.

Here at 2Time Labs we have used the unique nature of people like you – the Ultra-Busy’s – to innovate several ideas. For example, the first of our Five Pillars states that Ultra-Busy People realize that they need custom solutions. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. We simply extended that logic to all people and found it to be true in the classroom and in academic research.

But now, we are openly claiming that not only our inspiration comes from Ultra-Busy’s but so will our focus going forward. If you see yourself in this group, stick around to discover how we serve people like you.

More specifically, check out the following new pages: Home, Start Here and About.

Also, let us know if they resonate with your experience via the Contact page.

Why now? We are currently planning a new online community for Ultra-Busy people who are ready to craft custom solutions which are a match for their commitments. It will be (perhaps) the only place on the internet where they can meet others just like them.

Stay in touch by downloading a Special Report and we’ll let you know when we are ready to invite Beta Testers.

 

 

 

Forget About “Simple” Solutions

I recently wrote an article for the Jamaica Gleaner which echoed the following quote:

It seems to echo the message in a book I haven’t read yet: Meltdown – Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It.

The fact is, most people’s system for managing time demands is home-grown, complex and invisible. Personal mis-diagnosis is therefore the order of the day.

Our work here at 2Time Labs is inspired, in part, by helping people find better solutions to the unwanted time-based productivity symptoms they experience in life. In that vein, this article argues that there is no such thing as “basic” time management training.

By the time a learner enters the classroom, cracks open an ebook, or listens to a podcast, their methods are already complex. Nothing “basic” can help.

Click here to access the article.

Recent Research and the Zeigarnik Effect

Recently, the link between overwhelm and the Zeigarnik Effect (explained in my book) has become more apparent. There are tantalizing signs of its importance in recent research, which I plan to highlight as it emerges.

There are few writers or researchers who are connecting these dots, due in part to the way the studies are being conducted – for the benefit of academic research, rather than everyday application.

How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever found yourself unable to fall asleep during a trying time at work? Or distracted in the middle of a conversation or meeting by thoughts about other stuff you still need to do?

If so, you may be a victim of the Zeigarnik Effect. Its exotic name comes from the Russian researcher who discovered it in the 1920’s while observing the behavior of waiters in a restaurant. Their ability to recall pending orders, but not the ones they had just delivered, caught her attention.

The disparity relates to the effect which bears her last name. It’s the nagging feeling you get once you mentally create a “time demand”: an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Your subconscious, which stores each one for later retrieval, does more than sit back and wait for you to act. Instead, it begins to ping your conscious mind with a stream of reminders.

If this were to take place on rare occasions, it would be a cute phenomenon. However, if you are someone who is ambitious, you may find the reminders increasing until you start to experience a sense of overwhelm. After all, her research states that the way to get rid of the Zeigarnik Effect is to complete the task. For busy people, it’s impossible – they create hundreds. Like everyone else, they can only finish one at a time.

So, is there an escape? Fortunately, there is, according to recent research conducted at Baylor University.

Dr. Michael Scullin and his team compared two bedtime behaviors in laboratory experiments. Before falling asleep, one group of subjects wrote their to-do list for the next few days. The other recorded the tasks they accomplished during that day. The result? This small change in technique helped the first group fall asleep faster by over 9 minutes. Why did this happen?

To understand the underlying reason, we must visit the University of Florida. Drs. Roy Baumeister and Ed Masicapmo added to Zeigarnik’s research, showing that the effect disappears when a person has a trusted system in place to manage time demands. This makes intuitive sense. There’s no need for your subconscious mind to interfere if it believes that all your tasks are being properly managed.

How does this apply to falling asleep faster? Well, offloading your tasks to a written to-do list is one way to assure your subconscious that you are on top of all your commitments. In other words, it trusts a piece of paper more than your ability to remember. Satisfied, it leaves you alone, allowing you to doze off.

But what if you possess a high IQ, genius-level memory? Can’t that be used? The answer is short but elegant – “Sure… if you happen to be a kid.” While I doubt that any readers of this column are under 12 years old, we should understand why they are an exception. The fact is, they only have a few time demands to recall. Plus, they have teachers, parents, friends, and siblings reminding them what to do.

It’s only later, when they get older, that problems occur. But they aren’t caused by age which is not a factor until their retirement years. Instead, long before then, the challenge is to find a method to cope with the relentless swell in time demands our generation faces.

What else can be used beside paper? Digital devices also work. In addition, some people offload their tasks to other folks, like their children. “Remind me to pick up your cake tomorrow, Junior.”

But the only approach which succeeds in the long term isn’t a single technique or tool but a mindset of continuous improvement, plus specific knowledge of how humans use such tools. Start by getting committed to implementing ongoing upgrades. Then, understand that your choices need to follow a pattern.

While researching the latest edition of my book I found that improvements happen in serial fashion, but they all start with an attempt to use mental reminders. When that technique fails, we graduate to better skills one step at a time, following this sequence.

Level 1 – Memory

Level 2 – Paper Lists of Tasks

Level 3 – Simple Digital Apps

Level 4 – Complex Task Management Apps

Level 5 – Digital Calendars of all Tasks

Level 6 – Administrative Assistants / Autoscheduling Programs

As you look over this list, identify your current level. With this knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the next upgrade – the one that will help you stay abreast of your dreams and aspirations.

However, be aware: the Zeigarnik Effect shows up at any level. It’s a fantastic warning mechanism which lets you know when a change is overdue. Unlike your friends, colleagues and even your conscious mind, it can’t be fooled. It will do its job, preventing you from falling asleep quickly until you wake up to its incessant, nagging call for greater personal productivity.