Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Procrastinating 101--Getting it Done, With and Without Technology

Procrastinating 101, our Tuesday feature on Put it to Bed, is currently focusing on what we can learn from Joseph R. Ferrari's Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done.  Today, Chapter 6, "Does Technology Make it Easier to Procrastinate?"

In a nutshell, Ferrari's answer is "Yes."  And "No."

In the course of his examination of technology and its effects on procrastination, Ferrari shares these tidbits of information about technology's harmful effects on productivity:

  • The New York Times, in 2008, reported on a study showing that 28% of the average work day  of those employed by high-tech, computer-based companies was taken up by unnecessary, non urgent technological interruptions.
  • The Chicago Tribune, also in 2008, reported that 46% of today's workers blame cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet for increasing demands on their time--actually lengthening their work hours.
  • One group of researchers studying the use of the Internet as a form of procrastination--"e-procrastination"--linked this behavior with low impulse-control, a sense of low control over one's time usage, and risky web-based behavior.
  • A separate group of researchers found that Internet use can "interrupt one's tasks and flow of thoughts, resulting in problematic outcomes."
  • We can blame Steve Jobs for Apple's development of two sinister applications, one for Mac laptops called "iProcrastinate," which links to various procrastination opportunities, and one for the iPhone called "Put Things Off," which allows the user to delay tasks for chosen periods of time, from one day to a month.
On the other hand, Ferrari says, technology can help curb procrastination.  He gives these examples:

  • The "Neverlate Alarm Clock,"--described on Alarm Clocks Online in this way:
    At last! A bedside clock radio designed with a class schedule in mind! 9am class Monday-Wednesday-Friday? Late lab on Tuesday? No classes on Thursday? No problem! The Neverlate™ 7-day Alarm Clock™ accommodates your schedule. Set it once and forget about it all semester. Never sleep through class again!  Bonus Feature - The Neverlate™ 7-day Alarm Clock™ also has a nap timer!
  • A free downloadable program called "Instant Boss," characterized as
    a motivational timer for timing work/break cycles with alarm reminders and dialogs to help you manage your time better and get more work done, while at the same time not depriving yourself of much needed break time. Instant Boss is perfect for procrastinators and workaholics, alike.The defaults are 10 minutes of work, 2 minutes of break, and this is repeated 5 times for a total of a 1 hour work cycle.These values can be changed to suit your needs.  
  • Programs some employers use to limit the amount of time available for email checking.
  • Use of multiple computer monitors simultaneously.
    I've heard that people's effectiveness goes up as much as 50 percent when they can view e-mail and their client account screen at the same time.  In a case like this, technology helps us be more productive.
  • A "clicker" for Power Point slide presentations that times the presenter, vibrating when the slide should be changed, and alerting her/him when a few minutes remain in which to complete the session.
  • Software that Ferrari says is available which allows us govern our own use of email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., predetermining periods of accessibility.
Some of what I found most useful in this chapter probably doesn't really belong here.  It is not particularly relevant to the issue of technology, but is rather advice for procrastinators that Ferrari has culled from a Web search, and from Samatha Ettus' 2008 book The Experts' Guide to Doing Things Faster.   First, from the Web, he passes along these tips for being better organized and procrastinating less, which he elaborates on in the chapter:
  • Create a sense of time urgency for the tasks you need to get done.
  • Figure out how long the task will take.
  • Jot down a to-do list.
  • Hold yourself accountable for getting things done.
  • Keep your desk and workplace decluttered.
  • Throw away the trash.
  • Recognize the times in your work plan when you must focus on other tasks and your routine will be disrupted [sic].
  • For truly unpleasant tasks, give yourself fifteen-minute blocks of time to accomplish them.
  • Prioritize.
  • Don't be a "people pleaser" and feel that you must say yes to every request that you receive at work or at home.
  • Reward yourself if you accomplish 80 percent or more of your to-do list.
For some stupid reason, I can't read these kinds of simple-minded lists enough.  Maybe it's part of my procrastination habit.  Or maybe it's the word "tips," which has been shown to be related to "search engine optimization," in the blogging world.  Put "tips" in your post title, especially in the company of a specific number and a sexy problem--for example, "14 Tips for Managing a Breakup," or "23 Tips for the Tsunami-Challenged"--and you've just doubled your traffic.  But I digress.

From Ettus, Ferrari offers these suggestions for ways to use 10 minutes to improve our lives:
  • Do some exercise.
  • Open a bottle of wine with ease.
  • Make a brownie.
  • Chop vegetables safely.
  • Take the kids out to eat.
  • Teach your dog a new trick.
  • Get fast-but-fresh food.
  • Clean your microwave.
  • Pay three bills.
While I take issue with a number of these items--for example, how does one go about making "a" brownie?  Where do these people live and with what kind of children that they could "take the kids out to eat" in ten minutes?  Would they be chopping vegetables unsafely if they had less time?--the idea of using ten minutes well is intriguing.

Ferrari goes on to share Kath Lockett's Executive Style Management advice that we "schedule the first hour of the day as an appointment with yourself."  She recommends dividing that hour into six ten-minute blocks, and using each one to tackle small nagging tasks at home or at work, that will incrementally improve our working environment and its set up.

The way my life has been going lately, that strategy would only work if I were willing to arise at, oh, say 5 a.m.  But since I recently identified a rather pressing need for more sleep, that's not going to happen.  At least not now.

But I am going to be looking for ten-minute intervals, here and there, to spend digging out.  If I use a timer, does that count as anti-procrastination technology?

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