I don’t write about productivity because it comes naturally. I’m more the psychologist who started as a headcase, hoping to both treat himself and uniquely identify with his patients.
The following are my failures, some that I’ve learned from, and some I’ve yet to rationalize. Maybe my difficult lessons can help you to succeed. Added later: I hope you’ll stay on for a surprise.
While I may a have penchant for learning the nuances of others’ success at balance, discipline, and focus, sometimes I feel no more effective at applying them than the average plumber Joe. The following are five things I’ve tried and struggled with:
- Getting up at the same time every day – I tried very hard to put into practice Pavlina’s advice on being an early riser. For a few months I managed to get up at roughly 6:30 every day. For a time I used the SleepTracker watch (which actually worked, but I didn’t feel like investing $150 in, so I returned it), but generally I could get up without a problem. When I rose early, I felt great having time for a run and a slow breakfast. But eventually I just gave up, mostly because I’m not so good at…
- Making it to bed when I want to – I’ve tried so hard to step away from my computer at a decent hour, but inevitably it’s never good enough. I’m much better than I was when I was younger, but I’m not great at committing to going to bed either when I’m tired or at a fixed time. I usually do get reasonable amounts of sleep, but that can come at the price of either skipping a morning run or not starting work as early as I’d like (I have this unnecessary belief that 9:00 is the right time to start work). (and for you critics, no, I have little problem getting away when I have company)
- Doing things ahead of time – Parkinson’s Law may be effective but it often can create unnecessary stress. While I’m rarely staying up late at night before something is due, I’m far from clockwork when it comes to doing things that I know of in advance. Monthly newsletters and blog posts, for instance, are things I’m particularly poor at writing in advance. I would love to stick to an editorial calendar or be on top of all of Monday’s items by the Friday before it, but that’s just not going to be the case for me
- Checking email twice per day – I wish I checked my email twice per day (or once!), but generally speaking I’m far from disciplined after my first check of email at around noon. However, every month I’ve gotten much better at this.
You know, I was going to make a #5 that had to do with sticking to my task list. But the truth to this is much like the truth of the other items on this list: it’s not a total failure. For instance, I’m very good at using Outlook To Do’s / flags but I sometimes have to write out big goals for a morning on a sheet of paper or the white board. Try as I might there always seem to be times when I have to write things down. (The bigger problem is I often don’t make it through the list…but I guess that’s human.)
The area where I consistently dream and fall short of success is trying to stick to daily routines (as you can see from the first two items above). I don’t think it fits my personality (or how often I go out at night), but by having more flexibility in my work schedule (and starting the day a little later) it’s become less of an issue.
I can’t finish this blog post in good faith to you, because even though I have failed at a lot of the above (and do continue to get frustrated at myself), I think that every month I have gotten better. And it’s recent things that have helped. For instance, surrounding myself with others who are successful at these things and learning to set expectations on what comes naturally to me have been huge helps. Occasionally revisiting my commitment hacks has been useful. And sometimes I just have to remind myself to slow down or go home.
So this article has gone full circle, and I may have disappointed you. I’ve surprised myself…but I’m still going to publish it. The odd moral to the story is clear to me—if you stick at this stuff, and try to find ways to get past things that have you stuck, you’ll eventually make it there. This wasn’t meant to be a feel good piece, but I’m glad it’s become one.
Have you surprised yourself lately? Isn’t it kind of amazing when you finally hit that tipping point and suddenly have more control over your work, your life, and your time?