August 5, 2015

Killing Your Procrasturbation Habit With Your Calendar: It Works!

Millions of North Americans are stuck in endless cycles of procrasturbation. Symptoms of procrasturbation are fatigue, an overwhelming to-do list, and a tired hands resulting from managing to-do lists. Can using your calendar kill the destruction caused by procrasturbation? I think so - here is my story. 

(Note: You may want to have some tissues on-hand to wipe the tears of joy away as you realize that you too can be free of your guilt-ridden procrasturbation habit.)

A few months ago, I felt stuck in a rut of getting absolutely nothing done, while feeling stressed about everything I needed to get done. My job was beginning its ramp-up. My boyfriend and I moved in together. The summer was filled with personal and business travel. I had a fair amount of work to do on my cars. These were all good things, but I felt stressed because I wanted to do so much - and it seemed impossible to complete everything I wanted to!

So to I started organizing, innocently enough, with a to-do list...

...but then I got trapped in a guilt-ridden, shameful cycle of seemingly endless procrasturbation.

Procrasturbation, OH THE HORROR!

So what is procrasturbation?

I define procrasturbation as:
"Spending a large amount of your time and energy planning and organizing all the tasks you need to complete, but then feeling that you’ll never really ever finish everything because your task list is so insurmountably large. So instead of diving in and beginning to work on your tasks, you reorganize your task list over and over in the hopes of finding a more optimal path to completion - and end up stuck in a cycle of reorganizing without ever getting anything done."

Put another way:

Procrasturbation is repeatedly stroking your massive to-do list over and over again in the hope that doing so will finally allow you to polish off your task list to completion. 

But therein lies the rub - stroking your to-do list over and over again feels satisfying in the moment, but ultimately, it leaves you feeling empty, and your task list forever incomplete.

After procrasturbating for far longer than I care to admit, with Netflix streaming endless “Family Guy” episodes in the background, I decided to go back to basics.

The To-Do  List to the Rescue...?

I got an old-school paper notebook and a pen, and I began using a daily hand-written to-do list.

The procrasturbation cycle, in to-do list format.

This was partially successful because:
  • Sitting down every morning to write my list made me think about how much I could realistically accomplish every day. It was a small, but very effective mindfulness exercise.
  • I felt satisfaction every time I checked an item off on my list.
  • I offloaded the work of juggling what I needed to do off of my brain and onto paper.
The end benefits were:
  • I felt less stressed, more rooted in the present, and more able to use my mental energy on necessary or fun tasks rather than expending my mental energy in a cycle of managing/worrying about tasks.
  • I began to have more blocks of free time to do whatever I wanted to because I knew that everything I needed to get done would eventually get done.
I was doing well, but I still sometimes felt that life would get out of control sometimes, and stress would creep back in as a result.

The Calendar Solution

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on Kevin Kruse's post titled, "To-Do Lists Don't Work".

His idea is simple: ditch the to-do list, and put everything - EVERYTHING - in your calendar.

Apparently, millionaires and the ├╝ber-successful who walk among us do this. I thought I'd give it a try. I mean, who DOESN'T want to be a millionaire, right?

I want to be this guy. See how happy million$ make a guy?!

I’ve been using this system for only a short time, but WOW! I love it so, so much! The past few weeks have been a miracle of worry-free working and worry-free personal time in evenings and on the weekend! And I’ve been feeling great satisfaction at completing so many things.

So why is using a calendar so much more effective than a to-do list? Kevin goes into great detail on why it works, which you'll want to check out.

My experience of his idea comes down to this:

Using your calendar forces you to plan all your tasks like a to-do list does - BUT - it forces you to take each task’s honest completion time and urgency/priority into consideration.

To-do lists failed me in these two areas:
  1. Task completion time. With a to-do list, there was no consideration taken for how much time each task was going to take. So what kept happening for me was that the tasks that took more time to complete never got done, because I kept automatically completing the easy/fast tasks first. The longer/larger tasks just keep getting pushed over to the next day.
  2. Task priority and urgency. To-do lists didn't factor in priority and urgency of tasks effectively. There are techniques to do this with to-do lists out there, but personally I’ve not found one that works to my satisfaction.
Using the calendar, however, gave me two powerful levers to manage my time effectively and efficiently:
  1. Length of calendar entry. A calendar entry forces me to be mindful and honest with myself by requiring me to estimate how much time it will take to complete a particular task. As a result, I am able to much more accurately plan how each day unfolds and what is realistically achievable.
  2. Start time of calendar entry. This is an indirect way of managing priority and urgency. An urgent task with a strict deadline can be scheduled in the near future. A low-urgency task can be scheduled for further out in the future. I could then manage my high-priority tasks by balancing them effectively in between my high-urgency tasks.
(You can read more about the difference between priority and urgency here.)

I have a lot of interests and passions in life. I love working on and driving my cars. I enjoy spending time with friends, family, and my partner. My work keeps me busy. I want to write more and make more videos.

But one of the most important things to me is to have time to simply sit and smell the roses. It’s very important to me to have unstructured time where I don’t have to do or think about anything in particular. I think that a secret to being generally happy in life is to have lots of contrasts on a day-to-day basis. The contrasts are what allow you to enjoy all that life has to offer:
  • Work is a joy for a time after a period of rest. But without rest, work becomes a burden.
  • Rest is a joy for a time after a period of work. But without work, rest becomes a burden.

For me, sitting and smelling the roses is only enjoyable when I come out of a period of work or busyness - and using the calendar as Kevin Kruse has described allows me to have alternating periods of work and play with regularity.

Without ever changing between work and play, life becomes monotonous and tedious. The calendar allows me to, strangely, schedule unstructured time for myself. And when I'm in my unstructured time, I don't have to think about all the tasks that I still need to do. I'm free!

Ever since I started using the calendar approach, I have been able to give myself more unstructured time without sacrificing all the other things in life that I need to do and love to do. My working hours during the day are packed to the gills with tasks and work… But then after working hours are over, I get to do absolutely nothing!

The best part of using my calendar, though?

I think it just might be the silver bullet that finally kills my procrasturbation habit once and for all!

The proof that it works will be when, in approximately 3 months, I write a short followup to see if the calendar method is successful for me over the long term. (I've put it in my calendar just now!)

What about you? Do you have any time management tips that work for you? Or perhaps a horrid, shameful procrasturbation story of your own to share? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!