Monday 20 October 2014

Getting things done

Like many humans, I'm lazy, insecure and easily distracted. This combination isn't exactly optimal when it comes to motivating yourself to achieve anything. Unfortunately, I also suffer from an over-abundance of (admittedly somewhat unusual) ambition, so I've had to develop some tactics to work around commonplace failings such as the tendency to click pointlessly around the internet instead of doing something useful.

It took me a long time to come around to keeping lists, and the process of persuading me to do so has driven more than one of my former editors mad. Having tried methods including random post-it notes, scraps of paper and "I'll just remember it", I finally started getting my act together with online to-do list HabitRPG  - it has collectable virtual pets, armour and XP. What's not to like? As my needs outgrew my gameified to-do list, I began using a slightly modified BulletJournal.

I am slightly journal dependent. I've slightly modified the BulletJournal format to make it work with these pocket-sized books -in the second, closed, book, the calendar page has split columns. Also: green pens or GTFO
Some people just have a natural handle on the tasks that need doing. In my case, if it's going to happen, it has to be on a list, and I find it remarkably satisfying when I cross items off my list for the day or month. On top of that, my pocket-sized journal  gives me somewhere to note down everything from feature ideas, to which plants were sown when and where, to my weightlifting progress.

My Google Calendar records deadlines, meetings, vet appointments and gives me sunrise and set times. It's synced to Touch Calendar on my phone, while critical dates are also copied into my journal's monthly calendar. I've also reached the conclusion that I'm going to need a wall planner to keep track of sowing and harvest times.

I'm what you might call a straight-line thinker. I don't multi-task well, I'm not brilliant when put on the spot about something unexpected and I benefit from routine. To make up for any lack of adaptability, I form habits. I get up at around dawn and try to get to bed before 02:00. I train and then I drink coffee. I get dressed and go to my office to work, because I rarely get much done if I just sit around in a dressing gown in bed, even though I have a computer there. I try to stop work at a sensible hour and create a division between work and recreation. I make sure I go out and do something on the farm or around the house every other day - if I'm busy with work, I just do a very small thing.

Pick heavy things up. Put them back down again. Repeat every day. Also: learn to fill earthen floors
I do these things regularly. I started flossing regularly by doing just one tooth in the morning (hat tip to James Altucher there). I think of myself as "the kind of person who lifts weights", "the kind of person who writes every day" and "the kind of person who flosses". Every repeat of the routine reinforces that perception.

I'm currently terrified by the amount of work involved in deconstructing this decaying, godawful, and inordinately solidly built old shower in our bathroom. But I've got a cold chisel, and I'm going to start by removing a 50cm square section of tiles, if I can. I can think about the next section tomorrow, or later.

The same applies to writing a story or group test, or to restoring some of the farm's neglected fields to a plantable state. Large tasks can be irrationally panic-inducing, even if you have all the skills required, but in small enough elements, almost anything seems manageable. Bringing a mothballed farm into working order sounds massively challenging. Yesterday's task of cutting away and removing old black mulching plastic from a field? That was hard work, physically, but certainly possible. Just as clearing and tilling the ground beneath it will be. As will sowing seed be. And on to the next field.

At the risk of sounding like a sportswear advert, the most direct approach to getting something done is just getting on with it. Okay, that sounds stupid, but let me continue. This is all about making a decision and acting on it. The more you do this, the more you'll create a positive feedback loop, and a picture yourself as "the kind of person who gets shit done".

Start small, by all means. When you think of a minor task that needs to be attended to, and you have no good reason NOT to do it immediately: do it immediately. You can even write it into your to-do list and tick it off straight away, if you like that kind of thing.

I really didn't feel like working on the day I took this. I had to clear thick grass before I could even start tilling this section of field. Three hours later, I'd got further than I'd ever imagined. It was massively satisfying. My most likely alternative activity would have involved dicking around on social media.
Also: avoid over-long captions
If there's something you plan on doing, whether it's getting fit, learning a language, or writing an article, you'll get better results by making a start now than by making a plan to start next week. You can refine your methodology as you go, but no amount of planning and research can be as effective as actually starting the process.

There's a proverb I rather like at the moment, not least of all because I can take it literally as well as figuratively: the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the next best time is now.

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