Does this scenario sound familiar:
You’ve been working on a big project for a long time. Maybe you are writing a book or develop a major marketing campaign. You try to move ahead every day, but sometimes you just stop. Even a small task seems overwhelming. And when you take a day off, you feel guilty.
What’s going on?
The Time Tyrants have taken over your schedule (and maybe your life). Here are 5 ways to stand up to them — and accomplish more on your own terms.
(1) Get rhythm…your own rhythm.
When you’re working on a book, job search, business start-up, dissertation, or special assignment, you often feel that the project has begun to consume your entire life. You can’t afford to take a break, you say, let alone a day off.
But experienced professionals understand their own rhythm.
I once heard a talk by a writer who had written several book-length projects. She said, “Sometimes I’m really productive. I write five pages on my book! Then the next day I’m drained. So I review what I’ve written or organize my research files.”
This writer knows her work style. She doesn’t listen to the “experts” who tell her to force herself to write pages a day, no matter what.
Some writers can churn out 3, 5 and even 10 pages a day of quality writing. But she can’t.
(2) Recognize when resistance means, “time for a break.”
Do you ever find yourself staring at a blank screen, wondering why your mind refuses to create new ideas?
If you’re starting a new project, you might need warm-up exercises. Writers typically develop a handful, such as “Write a memo to yourself about the project” or “Find an object in your home and tell a story around it.”
But if you’ve been working nonstop for several days,weeks or even months, your mind may be screaming for a break.
When I get going on a project, I resist taking a day off to read a new mystery, go for a hike, or watch a good movie. But I’ve learned to turn off my Inner Time Tyrant who says, “You need every moment you can get.”
So I take off. The next day (nearly always!) I wake up eager to work. I accomplish everything I need to do… and more.
(3) Discover the difference between randomness and laziness.
Psychologists who study our up-and-down activity blips have found a certain randomness operates in human productivity levels.
For example, an employee “Bill” varied his arrival time at work. When Bill was late, his boss yelled at him. When Bill was on time, the boss offered praise.
Sure enough, Bill responded. The day after the boss yelled, Bill was on time. And the day after the reward, Bill slacked off and arrived late. So, concluded the boss, praise doesn’t work. And punishment does.
There was only one problem. A computer demonstrated that Bill’s arrival times showed a pattern of random variation. In fact, the computer could predict quite accurately how Bill would perform – with or without praise and blame.
The same pattern has been found among students: some days you learn faster while other days you just don’t get it. And some days you’re productive and efficient, while other days you’re sluggish.
If you’ve studied statistics, you probably guessed that we’re talking about regression to the mean. People usually have an average level of productivity. When they work hard one day, they tend to slow down the next.
So here’s an exercise. Suppose you have a writing project. You set a goal: write 500 words a day. For other projects, find a daily activity level that’s easy to observe and measure.
For the next 30 days, track how many words you write (or how productive you are in the task you’ve chosen). Some days you’ll write 1000 words, other days none, with lots of variation. Each day just record your word count, without judging your output. At the end of 30 days, calculate an average. And calculate again after 60 days.
You may find that your natural average is 300 words a day. You can lower your daily goals – or recognize that you work best with your random pattern.
Obviously, if you have a deadline, you have to increase your output. Professional writers typically write 1000-3000 words a day. Their mean might be 1500.
But if you’re making acceptable progress toward a goal, you can begin to understand, accept and work with your natural rhythm.
(4) Remove the word “laziness” from your vocabulary.
When you’re berating yourself for lack of progress – stop! Review your numbers. Chances are you’re right on schedule, although you may feel your doing nothing.
(5) Ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this? And do I want to?”
I call this question the Magic Question because I find we tend to over-use the word “priority.” Do you really need to complete the project at all? And if so, do you really need to be perfect in every way?
Sometimes the answer is “yes.” You have a book contract. You need to maintain quality to satisfy your loyal audience (and of course pay the mortgage and the light bill).
Regardless, beating yourself up and feeling guilty won’t work. If you’re constantly falling behind, maybe it’s time for a change of career – a chance to enjoy marching your life to a new beat.
But sometimes you realize the Time Tyrants have infiltrated your computer and your life. You’re not being lazy. You’re just looking for a way to get free from someone else’s agenda make room for what’s really important.