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Time Management: Procrastination vs GTD and Non-Conditional Scheduling

Time Management and Non Conditional Sccheduling

My Procrastination Bad Habits

I’ve been struggling massively with Procrastination since I’ve been back to work. Nothing has been able to motivate me in the slightest to start “Getting Things Done” – both in the office and at home.

I’m not sure what has brought this on; the long dark winter days; the two week span off over Christmas and New Year; Not enough time; Too much on my plate; A general malaise; Or just generally not being arsed but it’s got to stop. Work is piling up, I have a stack of papers to be processed in my Inbox at home and a growing list of clients to contact at work. The only thing that I am really on top of is my email inbox (empty for 10 days and counting!) which made me feel good but didn’t motivate me to do anything else.

In trying to tackle this growing problem of procrastination I’ve been reading some websites about it (hey – anything to put off work right?!) but nothing has really given me the “Eureka!” kick up the backside that I really need… until now.

I realised that trying to adapt other people’s systems to my own way of working was doomed to fail from the outset. Many of the websites that I found were to do with Student Procrastination (been there, done that) and the business related ones I did find were in the vein of “Stop whining and get on with it” – or words to that effect.

David Allen’s Solutions

I went back to David Allen’sGetting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity“* and re-read the sections about Projects, Goal Setting and Next Actions and whilst this is excellent in getting me to note down what needs to be done, what I want to do, what I’m waiting for etc. it still doesn’t provide me with enough impetus to actually start moving through the actions and getting them crossed off my list.

One thing Allen stresses in his book is not to calendar your Next Actions as definite events and I can understand this point. You choose your “Next Action” in terms of what context you are in, time available, energy levels and the importance level of the Action. If you schedule a Next Action for an exact time and date and then you miss that work-window (a meeting over-ran, you received an unexpected ‘phone call, the car broke down) then this has a knock-on effect that can bring your whole GTD system to a grinding halt. However, this method doesn’t help the procrastinator.

Allen’s method allows a lot of freedom in choosing what, how and when an Action will take place leaving the procrastinator a huge list of things to do and nothing definite to get started (unless a deadline is looming), so his method – whilst undeniably useful for listing all of your “open loops” the procrastinator is left floundering for an initial action to start on.

Why have I started Procrastinating?

Whilst coming up with a solution to help me out of the black hole that is my procrastination I began to ask myself a few questions about why I’m procrastinating all of a sudden, here are a few to get you started:

  1. Am I scared about the required action?
    • Can I actually do it? Do I have the necessary skills?
    • Will I end up showing myself up?
    • What will others think of me at the end of the action?
  2. Do I actually want to complete the action?
    • Will not finishing give me something “to do” to justify my being here?
    • If I finish it what will I have to move on to?
  3. What will happen when the action is finally completed?
    • More work for me?
    • Less work for me?
    • No work for me?
  4. Why am I procrastinating on this particular action?
    • Is it too difficult?
    • Is it too easy?
    • Will it lead to too many other “Next Actions”?
    • Is it something that I don’t like doing?
    • Do I feel as though I should be doing something else?

I think the root of the problem lies in the number of projects I have on at the moment and some of the “Next Actions” associated with them. For example, I have a couple of telephone calls I have to make and I absolutely loathe using the telephone – can’t stand it, hate it with a vengeance – so I’ve been putting them off. For two weeks. This isn’t good for me, the company or the client.

My Solution – “Non-Conditional Scheduling”

Because Allen’s system allows me so much freedom I’ve been ignoring the things that I don’t want to do (which is basically everything at the moment!) and doing the things that I’ll enjoy but won’t necessarily bring me, or the company, the most benefit. As a result of this I’ve decided that I need to do something; and I’ve called it “Non-Conditional Scheduling”.

My “Non-Conditional Scheduling” differs slightly from what Allen classes as full calendar scheduling. All firm actions are still placed on my schedule but so are my “Next Actions” for the whole day.

You can see in the image below that I have split the day into 30 minute chunks. I am still working on the GTD principle of “If it takes less than 2 minutes then ‘Do It'”, although I have increased this to 5 minutes as this fits my work-model more adequately. (Note – below is just an example as I handwrite my schedule for it to go into my organiser file).

Click for larger image
Click for a larger version

So, how does this differ from simply calendering an item? Quite a bit. I give myself permission not to do it. It doesn’t matter if it gets done in the allotted time slot or not but it will get done by the end of the day however, by allotting a time for each action it helps me to structure my day and work through my actions.

For example, I have been procrastinating about the “Product Catalogue” for a week now. By allocating myself a maximum of 4 hours on it today I know that that’s all I’m going to have to put up with so I feel less like procrastinating over it. As a result I’ve done my 4 hours I feel all the better for it which means I’ll be more inclined to work on it tomorrow when (and if) I schedule it.

My break didn’t happen from 12.30-1pm but so what? The call to Sylvia which is due to take 30 minutes will take 5 so I can make up time on the “SLA action” then and I don’t feel bad about it.

This is why I’ve decided to call it “Non-Conditional Scheduling” as the only real condition is that you do the Action… at some point. Even if you don’t do it that day, cross it off and reschedule for some other time.

Eureka!

Okay, so it may not be the best system in the world and it may not be the most sensible, but by allowing myself the ability to block out time and give myself permission to finish a task after X minutes/hours and to move tasks within the day as long as they don’t go over the X time limit I’m feeling more motivated and am progressing thorugh my Action lists nicely. Not only that, it gives me a list of the things I’ve been working on and the time spent to help accountability with my boss – two birds with one stone!

You can download the Weekly Time Plan below. As always, comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

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3 Comments

  •  

    “Randomly came across this post when searching for a solution to my own procrastination.

    I’d definitely agree that the flexibility of the GTD system can work against procrastinators. There’s a book about Omnifocus workflow that says you should always work from the top down from a list, otherwise you’ll skip over the things you don’t like.

    I agree with the telephone calls thing. I hate the telephone but I know there’s phonecalls I need to make. They’re always on my list of next actions but never get actioned.

    I found similar to you, by scheduling my day in the morning to set tasks I sort of adopted the Pomodoro technique by focusing only on those things, as opposed to have a massive list of things to do in context.

    I need structure to my GTD solution otherwise I meander through picking here and there the fun tasks to do. This leaves the other tasks lagging behind and I become resentful over them.”

  •  

    “I have found that my days tend to bemore productive if I simply write down a list of things I intend to do for the day. Much like your list, it helps me focus on just those items, whic makes them more likely to get done.

    And with a good GTD system (mine lives on paper), anything that doesn’t get done one day is available to do later.”

  •  

    “You may want to google “”Mark Forster”” and his book “”Do It Tomorrow.”” The Donation Coders site has a nice summation of his book here: http://www.donationcoder.com /Forums/bb/index.php ?topic=5440.0

    Forster eschews the idea of contexts (which mostly didn’t work for me) in favor of defining “”getting a day’s work done in a day.”” It mirrors some of what you’re already doing.

    There’s also a Yahoo group for do_it_tomorrow that discusses Forster’s method, compare/contrast with GTD and other methods, and so on. Forster also has a blog out there somewhere.

    Anyway — another timesink awaits!”

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