I have a big project I'm working on (secret for now, haven't decided if I should write about it yet or not), and I've been seriously procrastinating.
It's not that I don't want to do it. It's something I arrived at myself, is very inline with my Life Nomadic goals, and will be very exciting to complete. It's my perfect project.
I'd been working on it for a week, though, and had been getting very little work done. To use a rough estimate, I had done maybe 5% of the work in a week. Twenty weeks until completion is way too long.
I would work on it for a few minutes, hit the most minor of stumbling blocks, and then find myself checking uncrate.com for the fifth time that day, to see if some new useless gizmo was being showcased. Then I'd head over to fmylife.com and read some funny trite horror story that someone probably made up to get on the site.
I was sitting around engaging in unqualified wastes of time. One day passed, and although I had checked my one stock twenty times and facebook twenty times, I had only added about .25% to the completion.
Something had to change.
I couldn't just force myself to work. Creative work isn't like moving rocks, where you can hate every second of it and still do a good job. The times when I would force myself to work resulted in such poor quality that I knew I'd have to redo it.
Then I stumbled across a Firefox plugin called LeechBlock, and I had an idea. If I was going to procrastinate, I was going to engage in quality procrastination. I know that when I'm in the mood to work I produce like crazy, so I may as well fill my "wasted" time with useful projects and then when inspiration strikes I can work on my main project.
LeechBlock is a plugin that lets you set specific restrictions on sites you can visit. You can block them entirely, block them between certain times, or allow X minutes in X timespan, like ten minutes every hour.
I entered in every site I could think of that was wasting my time, enabled all of the possible protections against cheating, and uninstalled Chrome (so that I couldn't just use the second browser). I allowed myself fifteen minutes of time wasting every twelve hours.
The very next day I could tell the difference. I totally ignored useless sites, and breezed through the ones I cared about, like my forums. And then I was left with a bunch of time. The funny thing to realize is that it's not the sites that are addicting, it's the habit of checking them. Once you remove the ability to check, you stop caring about most of the sites (not the forums, though. I love you guys).
If I started doing something that was a waste of time I added the site to Leech Block. After my subconscious got the idea that it wasn't going to be allowed to waste time, I started being useful.
I still couldn't get much creative work done, but I read two or three books and several web sites on tax code. I decided that it was necessary for me to become an expert on taxes, particularly as they relate to travel. Some of the travel rules are so obscure that I wouldn't count an an accountant to know them. Plus, I can change my life in small ways to greatly reduce my tax burden.
I spent additional hours reading the direct tax code on the IRS web site. It's actually not so dense once you know what all the terms mean.
Now, for the first time ever, I understand taxes, how they work, and how to minimize exposure. I filed an amendment to my corporation to change it's tax classification (C to S), since I now actually understand the differences. I also created a spreadsheet to journal certain tax related travel expenses and activities.
Believe it or not, I felt guilty because it was so much fun to learn about taxes. I now consider it a hobby.
When I finally exhausted all of the relevant information I could find on tax law, I then started reading about trusts, which are also very interesting (did you know that you can set up a trust and title your car to the trust? Then no one can get your personal info by writing down your license plate).
At the end of the day I went to bed exhausted, with a whole new set of strategies relating to legal structures and taxes.
The next day was today. I was so charged up by being productive yesterday, that I immediately started back on my main project. Now it's sixteen hours after I woke up and I'm just now finishing my work for the day. I did an additional 7.5% of the work necessary to complete the project. That's 150% as much as I did in the first week.
Best of all, I'm now pumped up to get back on it tomorrow. I think I might be able to do another 12.5% at least. I'd like to keep working now, but I'm tired to nearly the point of delirium, which should explain the rambling and possibly typo filled nature of this post.
To wrap it up, here's what I've learned:
If you're procrastinating (zero productivity), don't feel like you have to switch gears into full work mode (100 percent productivity). Just make yourself step it up a notch or two to get the ball rolling.
Two days into my trip to Tokyo, I sign on to Facebook and go to see if it's my move in Words With Friends. I like WWF because it takes up minimal time, seems to actually be good for the brain, and keeps me in touch with some friends I wouldn't otherwise regularly communicate with.
On the right, where Facebook streams the online actions of everyone I know, I see that my younger cousin has played Tetris Battle. Ooh. I like Tetris. Maybe I can play against my cousin and show him a thing or two. I click the icon, find out I can't play against him, but decide to play a round anyway.
Two days later and I'm a higher Tetris rank than anyone else on my facebook list and I actually bought five bucks worth of facebook credits so that I don't have to wait between games. Writing that now seems tantamount to admitting to shooting heroin. What's more pathetic than spending your day playing Tetris on Facebook when you have tons of work to do and are in a cool foreign country? Luckily I came to my senses pretty much immediately after depositing money. I told my friend Elliot that if I play another game, he must confiscate my computer and keep it. For good measure I block apps.facebook.com from my computer. I'll never play again.
My mind has been scrambled the last couple days. I don't know why, it came on very suddenly. I've made massive strides over the two weeks before - I accomplished about six months worth of work over two weeks. I felt on top of the world. I wasn't even very tired afterwards, I felt good, ready to go.
Then yesterday, just bzzt - nothing. Foggy, almost like confusion. Couldn't focus at all. Strange. I said, y'know what? I haven't had a day off in a while, I'm just going to take the day off. Went and sat at a cafe and listened to some audio for about four hours, walked around and saw the city, went and had a massage, and then sat and ate fruit. Spend like 10 hours in a row just thinking and relaxing, which is good, I don't take full days off very often. I had some good ideas when I was out at the cafe and took some extensive notes, so I got some production out of it too without even trying to.
Now, I wish I could say, "And then I was recharged, and today I was awesome!" But no, I woke up in a fog again. Damn this. I track my time and have some routines to keep me running well, but I was foggy despite it, unable to focus really. Suck, what is this?
I was working, but it was half-working. Now, half-working is a big problem in my opinion. Half-working tires you out as much or more than real full working, but you get about 5% as much stuff done. Yes, 5%. Good work requires something like focus. It doesn't necessarily require the highest levels of focus and flow (though that stuff is very good), but it requires working through the mentally difficult parts when they come up. The worst part about half-work is you cruise through the easy enough stuff, then stumble on a difficult part.
This is doubly bad, because when you come back to your work, you're staring the hardest part in the face. This sucks, you need to kind of regroup and double down to get re-started while staring a difficult or complex part of work in the face. But again, I was in that mental fog and so I start half-working on it, and then I wander off again. And I try to come back to the work, but then - bam, there's this hard problem staring me right in the face, that I already failed to conquer twice.