Fighting procrastination daily
A friend asked me to put down my self-organizing tools in writing. There is no reason not to share them with the rest of you.
The text below starts from the daily and builds to the multi-year process. Someone who starts adapting to an organized and meaningful way of living will have no benefit from imaginary plans.
How to run a marathon? One step at a time
Once you learn to consistently focus on the one thing that you are doing now, you can move to a daily plan, then weekly, and so on. Here are some auxiliary processes as scaffolding; it is best to apply those when you feel ready.
I do not claim to invent anything — integration is key. Through (many) years, I have distilled a strategy that integrates many approaches from the worlds of software, fitness, and processes that are grounded in psychology, neurology, and physiology. A list of resources, methods, people that led me to this process
I use (mostly) handwriting. It is the bullet journal that opened my mind to the value of handwriting. There are a great many tools for personal and corporate TODOists. Due to my professional occupation, I am proficient in many.
Where planning by hand won’t cut it, (long term goals) excel sheet fills the gap.
Technological clutter can easily distract from getting the most out of available time — the only true goal.
If that did not convince you — every time you look at a device — the chance to get distracted by some “important” notification is adding up. Go analog.
The immediate task at hand
Post a note in front of you of what you are doing now. Every time you start to drift — look at it, refocus.
Put a timer with blocks of time. I use 30 minutes blocks. Pomodoro technique focuses on 25 minutes with 5 minutes break. Cal Newport’s deep work explains well that it takes around 15 minutes to immerse into work — and highly capable people can stay in a deep work process for 90 minutes. Aggregating that thought leads to a conclusion: have three blocks of 30 minutes. I do not put the timer in front of me but rather a hand watch.
A visual timer can be a distraction — it is (yet) another movement in front of the eyes that (over)loads the cortex. A visual countdown timer adds to the anxiety, at least to some people.
Note: Pomodoro technique dates to more than 15 years ago. Before smartphones, before IG, before endless scrolls that led to ADHD. Huberman Lab episode states, “16 minutes of smartphone for youth, and 2 hours for a grown-up — cause ADHD-like effects.”
Note 2: This post does not mention exact physical mechanisms to enhance focused work.
Phone — outside of the room. The phone is on do not disturb, always. Huberman turns it off; for many (9 to 5) employees, that is not an option.
Break the day into aspects.
Nourish your brain with a good blood flow — this is the only way to be effective with cognitive work. Do it before you use your brain. It takes a while.
Training will boost your brain for the next 24 hours, at least. Train not only before mental work.
I changed this rubric name many times. Obligations have a negative connotation impact on subconsciousness. Work, for some people, could be negative as well; potentially, it could become a throw-all-in-basket. Investment is everything that brings you closer to your life goals. Earning money for food, writing a blog, catching up on that blog post you intended for some months now, coaching your children in math? That’s where most of your day goes. Proportionally to page size, it has the most space (A4); see below.
You allocate time to improve yourself; no one else will. This part is the daily place for courses, training, and reading. Everything that will move you towards your weekly/monthly/annual goals (see these types of planning further).
Cognitive rubric vs. Investment rubric? Investment is what you do for the now (your boss, client, children), and Cognitive is what you do for the future (to get the next job, next client, improve your health).
The number to the left of the task is the estimate for execution. Two columns are the expected start and end time — all three written by pencil.
If a task gets deviated by more than one hour, reprioritize and assign new start and end times at the end of the current task.
Done tasks, cross out with one color ( I use a positive color like green or cyan), subconsciousness is strong — better be ally than foe.
Inevitably some tasks will need to be pushed out due to other priorities that pop up, other tasks that took more time than expected, and are simply not relevant anymore. Cross these out with a different color; they come from the weekly plan anyway, no need to migrate them
Note on cluttering thoughts. Pomodoro technique has some great insight about thoughts during task execution. I have a separate draft notebook where I drop all the things that pop up. One would be surprised to learn how unimportant these things are. It is a mind game to get distracted by this nonsense. Drop it out of your head on a sheet of paper and move on.
The baseline template is a bullet journal.
I have a word document where I keep my long term goals and where I have
- an inventory of tasks that are aggregated from the daily journal
- derivatives of monthly tasks
- monthly tasks(duplicated in digital format from my bullet journal)
Review your week and use the bullet journal migration to move tasks to the inventory. Assign tasks to the current week. Don’t assign too much. I have some excel sheet calculations to guide me on where to stop. When copy-pasting from a word document, excel uses the brackets to calculate the times.
As you can see, you can both plan and track execution throughout the day.
It might overwhelm you at first. For the first few weeks, use word document only. Discipline your mind, and allocate time for planning. Tracking of execution can come as a second step. Remember, what is not measured cannot be tracked.
I still manage a regular bullet journal, and some things (primarily personal goals) get duplicated during the migration process. If they are not worth duplication, they are not worth execution. Whilst bullet journal tracks my current events. The daily notebook is a structured planning extension. I have three components to my life; someone else might have a different number. The above process helps to break and balance these down.
- Go through the regular bullet journal migration process
- Check your annual goal derivatives
- Has any derivative of the annual goal changed? New ones appeared? Anything is irrelevant (i.e., opportunity window closed)?
- Where are you towards your goals
This text becomes too lengthy and out of the timeframe allocated to it. I will make a follow-up on the monthly, annual, and multi-year processes.
Digital devices in general
Notifications — minimized on all applications, both on the phone and computer.
These days both Windows 10/11 and macOS have the option for focused mode. Remove notifications permissions for all your Instagram, Twitter (better use only the web version), youtube, and everything you possibly can.
I understand that some things have to stay on, like Whatsapp — mute all the groups and check it only after the 90 minutes of deep work.