A Benedictine solution to procrastination: pt 1: Organize

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“An ancient proverb states: ‘It is not the size of the tree but the depth of its roots that make it strong.’ Procrastination usually has very deep roots. The problem of procrastination is one that often goes beyond self-discipline and whipping oneself from stasis to stress.” T. Quek

Comparing this to the way of a Benedictine monk, I notice his fluent transition from one activity to the next, at the sound of a bell, without dragging his feet.

Quek mentions 4 possible causes for procrastination:

(1) Disorganization:

  • poor distinction between urgency and priority
  • distractibility
  • forgetfulness
  • ‘lumping’

(2) Fear

  • rational vs. irrational
  • discipline vs. comfort

(3) Perfectionism

(4) Procrastination as an indicator of underlying illnesses (like ADD or mental disorders)

This is the first article in a series of three, where I go into these causes and present a Benedictine inspired solution for them.

Disorganization: The luring illusion of ‘comfort’ tasks

This is characterized by a poor distinction between urgency and importance.

Quek’s theory is that the typical procrastinator tends to procrastinate doing a lot of so-called ‘comforttasks, which are easy to reach, convenient or interesting to perform.
This causes a pile-up of old and new tasks wich start crying out for attention, thus becoming urgent, regardless of their level of importance.
The ‘tyranny’ of all the open loops of important tasks start weighing down on the procrastinator and she will want to perform even more comfort tasks to relieve that stress: a vicious cycle is born.

Distractibility: “What does THIS button doooo?”

Distractions are a multitude of off-task behaviours

This is a HUGE issue for me. Midsentence I fall prey to the lure of Facebook, What’sApp, texting, email – not so much anymore these days because I get so repelled by all the unanswered emails sitting in my inbox – eating, drinking, sudden cleaning urges, old-fashioned daydreaming, or doing non-important, non-urgent comfort tasks, *sigh*…

Forgetfulness: “Yeah, I was just about to do it…”

I can be really short about this: Put your mind on paper (or electronics). Author and guru of GTD (Getting Things Done): David Allen states we can only consciously remember a list of 10 things, if we put in another, then we “erase” the first again.

“The mind is for having ideas not holding them” –

David Allen

It’s key though to keep reminders of things to do in a dedicated place! Not in ten!
In my next post I will elaborate on this, with regards to the GTD-method.

Here’s already a nice teaser for you: David’s terrific video talk for “Dolectures“, on this subject.

Lumping!

Lumping or chunking is the errant perception that most tasks come as an inseperable whole (a “lump”) and cannot be subdivided and dealt with systematically.

Whoa! I feel so relieved to see that my plight actually has a name. How many fears in my life stem from this misconception.
Lumping my writing, lumping my household, lumping my life!

Ok, now that I’ve acknowledged my utter state of disorganization, I feel relieved yet inspired to change this. But: babysteps, one step at a time, towards no more lumping.

How would a typical Benedictine monk go about his tasks? Can I borrow some of his wisdom to infuse into my disorganized life?

  • A Benedictine monk would divide his attention well, praying for discernment in setting priorities at the beginning of his day, after a period of empty mind: meditation.
  • He would neither make a distinction between Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), nor between eating, loving or praying, because he knows that everything is equally important. The mundane is just as key as the heavenly.
  • He would also set emotional boundaries for himself: saying “no” to himself in case of distraction. So when the bell tolls: change of scenes. No: ” I quickly finish this…” or “Hey, I am praying but I actually have to give my abbot a phone call right now”.
  • He would take notes on his little notepad, which he takes with him everywhere, hidden in his habit. (Don’t you like the pun that monks are creatures of habit? A monk’s “habit” is also his cape.) He would then place a reminder on his to-dolist, but there wouldn’t even be the need for an agenda, because his day is being shaped by the ever present bell.
  • And he would not need an intricate productivity system, because his life were already stripped to the bare essentials: eat, pray, love your neighbour, work and recreate.
  • The monk would keep it simple, and progress slowly but steadily. He would give each different activity his undivided* attention, mindfully and slowly going from one thing to the next.
  • The daily timetable or horarium** of the monk automatically prevents him from “lumping”, because his day is already neatly subdivided. The great thing for him though, is that his abbot makes that table already for him, following the Rule of Benedict. We in turn have to let our own wise mind (our own ‘abbot’) sternly but lovingly set boundaries for ourselves, using a timer and planning ahead at the start of each new day.

To be continued!

In the next post we are going to look at fear-based procrastination.

Let me know if you recognize anything in my article, I’d love to talk with you about it! Maybe we can inspire each other with ways to tackle the problem of procrastination.

You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.

*to divide comes from dividere (Latin), which means: to force apart or to cleave.

** Continue reading

Clear your head with GTD

In September of 2006 I had my first encounter with GTD: Getting Things Done, through Father Roderick who was raving about it on his podcast the Daily Breakfast — now The Break.
As you may know Getting Things Done is a great productivity system invented by David Allen.
So, I decided to buy the audio book: Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress-free Productivity on iTunes and I devoured it!
I always used to feel so swamped with tasks mundane as well as extraordinary that I always felt out of control and lagging behind on everything.

In his latest book Making It All Work David Allen says: ‘the mind is a great servant but a terrible master’; if we hold on to everything inside our own mind we’re going to end up being in a state of information overload-mode. That’s where GTD comes in.

Here’s a short outline on what GTD is, how I use it and how it changed my life *blink* πŸ™‚ :

1. Capture

Capturing anything and everything that has your attention.
I do this by carrying around little notepads with me all the time: one for quotes, one for to-do items, one for nice English phrases I come across for my blog. Every day I put all of it into my in-tray. Of course I also have my email inbox brimming over with lovely amorphous stuff screaming at me: ‘Decide what I mean to you!!!’

2 Clarify

Defining actionable things discretely into outcomes and concrete next steps.
The contents of my in-tray go into my system:
I have a few choices:

  • Is it actionable?

Yes:

  • Will it take me 2 minutes or less?

Yes:

  • Do it!

No:

  • I put it in Nozbe, which is my task/project manager

My non-actionable items like quotes or other pieces of information go into my Evernote account

3. Organize

Organizing reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based on how and when you need to access them
My actionable items I further organize within contexts:
@ Computer
@ Home
@ Phone
@ Read
@ Martin (my hubbie)
@ Toast (actions I can still do when I feel exhausted)
@ Waiting for

@ Someday Maybe
That way I don’t have to dig through a big pile of actions and look for e.g. all my calls if I have a phone handy. It saves me a lot of time.

The next, very important step is to pick your Next Actions from your lists of Actions: a Next Action isΒ  the one concrete next actionable item for a project. This is critical!
For example, a lot of people have actions on their list like:
craft party hats for my rabbits (too big, it consists of multiple action steps)
or even worse:
rabbit party hats (very vague)
It’s key to break that down into concrete steps like:

  • look up on the internet: party hat for rabbits ideas (@ Computer)
  • draft designs for rabbit party hats in sketchbook (@ Home)
  • make a list of materials you need (@ Computer)
  • look them up in your cabinet (@ Home)
  • go buy new materials (@ Errands)
  • craft the actual rabbit party hats (@ Home)

So ‘look up on the internet: party hat for rabbits ideas‘ is the next action for project ‘craft party hats for my rabbits’.
In Nozbe, I can star that item so it stands out from the rest.

I can also link my actions to Projects in Nozbe. A project in GTD-jargon is something which takes more than one action-step to complete.
A project can be:
Craft party hats for my rabbits
Organize rabbits’ birthday party
Draft Rabbit book proposal
Research designer clothes rabbits

My non-actionable items go mostly in Evernote:
I scan a lot of things and put them in Evernote.
These are a few of my favorite tags (I have 75 in total!):
quotes
prayer
tweets
funny pics
important docs
declutter tips
checklists
scans of my photobooks

I also have a physical alphabetical archive system. At work I have this awesome filing cabinet with plain hanging folders labeled with my super-duper Dymo label maker — another great asset for GTD-affichonados. Still working on getting one for my home too. At present I have a stack of alphabetically arranged envelope-folders.

It is a dream of mine though to go (almost) entirely paperless.

4 Reflect

Keeping current and ‘on your game’ with appropriately frequent reviews of the six horizons of your commitments (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions — If you are just starting out with GTD, it is fine to just figure out Projects and Actions, the rest will come later.)

The idea is to do a Weekly Review of your system consisting of:

  • Getting clear

Go to inbox and in-tray zero, do a brain dump.
This usually takes up so much of my time that I now decided to get clear the day before I do the Weekly Review.

  • Getting current

Review (Next) Action lists (by context), calendar, Waiting For list (one of my most helpful lists), Project list, any relevant checklists.
Use these as triggers for new actions.
Also mark your Next Actions (in my case with a star)

  • Getting creative

Review your Someday Maybe-list. (This is a list with all the things you might want to do some day but not now, like taking singing lessons, learning Greek, writing a book about rabbits etc…) and lastly:

‘Be creative and courageous: any new, wonderful, harebrained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas to add to your system?’ (David Allen – Making It All Work)

However, this Weekly Review is the toughy for me, the bottleneck in my system, because the Weekly Review you should do — well — weekly, and that’s where I fall through the cracks…
I’m still working towards making it a real Weekly Review, because I’m convinced that I won’t dread it as much as I do now and I will be — as David calls it — Captain and Commander a lot more (i.e. being ‘on’, ‘ in flow’ or ‘in the zone’).

5. Engage /Do!

If you have defined good concrete next actionable items for your projects and arranged them into contexts, it would be a piece of cake performing them.
Unless, that is, you go numb to your own lists, like I do a lot of the time, and you resist looking at the lists altogether πŸ™‚

But if you are really flowing with all the steps you will start to experience ‘a mind like water‘, ready to respond perfectly and appropriately to every stimulus, not overreacting and not underreacting. You will be free of distraction, stress, strain; no undue energy will be spent; you will gain power, focus, flexibility, clarity and openness.

I must say am definitely feeling more in control, more focussed and more clear since I have been using GTD.

If you read all the steps it may seem like a lot of hassle to go through, but once you have set up the system, it actually frees up more time for creativity and productivity and don’t we all want that?

If you have any questions or comments regarding GTD, please leave a comment below. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Also take time to listen to the GTD virtual study group podcast by awesome host and productivity coach Tara Rodden Robinson or @ Context, an interview series with people using GTD, also by Tara Rodden Robinson. You can follow her on Twitter too.