The following is a guest post by my friend Barb Raveling. She has authored an amazing book that will help you conquer bad habits and achieve meaningful goals. If I were still practicing as a clinical psychologist, I would recommend it to all my clients, so I commend it to you!
Do you ever have a hard time working on your goals? Is it a struggle to finish this year’s curriculum, keep training for that 5K, or complete that project for work?
I know it is for me. For some reason, even though I really want to accomplish my goals, I can’t make myself work on them.
It’s too hard, I think. Or I don’t have enough time. Or it’s not fun. Or even, I’ll never succeed anyway, so why bother?
When I get into this mindset, I don’t have enough discipline to make myself work. My best hope is to renew my mind so that I actually want to work. I do that by answering questions.
Here are 10 questions I ask myself when I’m dreading the very thought of work.
Questions for Your Journal
What would you like to accomplish today? Be specific.
Why do you want to accomplish that?
Why don’t you feel like working right now?
What do you feel like doing instead?
If you ignore your project and do that instead, how will you feel afterwards?
What will you have to sacrifice to work on your project?
How will you feel when you complete this project and why will you feel that way?
When you think of how you’ll feel, is it worth the sacrifice to work on it?
What’s the first thing you need to do if you want to work on this project? (Example: Get out your notebook, open the computer file, look up the telephone number, etc.)
Why don’t you do that right now and see how it goes from there?
When I ask myself these questions – and usually I do it on the pages of my journal – I find my desires changing so that by the end of the questions, I actually want to do that dreaded project.
Here’s an example of how I filled out the questions below to write this guest post.
1. What would you like to accomplish today? Be specific.
I would like to write this guest post for Melanie’s blog.
2. Why do you want to accomplish that?
Because I told Melanie a long time ago that I would write it and I want to write anyway to help people find out about my new book,The Renewing of the Mind Project.
3. Why don’t you feel like working right now?
Because it’s too hard. I don’t know what to write.
4. What do you feel like doing instead?
Wasting time on the Internet.
5. If you ignore your project and do that instead, how will you feel afterwards?
I’ll feel defeated. It will reinforce the idea that this guest post is too hard to write and it will make me want to keep putting it off.
6. What will you have to sacrifice to work on your project?
I’ll have to sacrifice my comfort, my desire to have the easy life, and my desire to write the perfect blog post since I know I can’t write a perfect blog post!
7. How will you feel when you complete this project and why will you feel that way?
I will feel incredible because this to-do item has been on my weekly to-do list for three months now! It will feel so good to cross it off my list and not have it hanging over my head!
8. When you think of how you’ll feel, is it worth the sacrifice to work on it?
9. What’s the first thing you need to do if you want to work on this project? (Example: Get out your notebook, open the computer file, look up the telephone number, etc.)
Decide on a topic.
10. Why don’t you do that right now and see how it goes from there?
Can you see how these questions would make you actually want to work on your project? By the time I was finished, I was thinking, “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad to write this post. I’ll just do the first thing and see how it goes from there.”
I did that and it took about 30 minutes to write the post I had been procrastinating for two months! If you struggle with procrastination like I do, I hope you’ll give these questions a try.
If you’d like more questions like this to journal through, check out The Renewing of the Mind Project. It’s filled with 48 sets of questions and Bible verses to help you with pursuing goals, starting habits, stopping habits, and letting go of negative emotions such as anger, worry, insecurity, and stress. It can also be used as curriculum for a Christian growth group or personal study for older teens and adults.
You have some things you have to get done today, some projects that have deadlines looming, and the day-to-day tasks that you should attend to. Then there’s the big list of things you’d like to get to sometime.
When it comes time to decide what you should be doing right now, it’s overwhelming.
Ask me how I know!
As a busy mother of six (five I’m still homeschooling), blogger, and aspiring entrepreneur, I have struggled to answer this question:
And I don’t disagree with that. But it didn’t keep me from continually looking for “the answer.”
Months ago, I heard about another scheduling app. I wasn’t interested at the time. I was pretty satisfied with the app I was using and I had, thankfully, become more reticent to try app after app. At one time, I was a true addict. I added the link for the app to ToDoist with no due date.
Even as I decided to sign up for a beta version, I didn’t think Skedpal was anything new. Once I got my account, I began setting it up and watching the training videos.
I spent time learning the system and setting up, only to anticipate that it would be like so many other automatic task apps. In other words, I expected Skedpal to tell me to do something that I did NOT want to do–at least when it told me to do it. That would either be because of my natural rebelliousness or because I would be told to run errands at 10 p.m. And then I anticipated dropping the app.
But I was wrong.
Skedpal, for me, IS what I have been looking for. After using it for a week, I considered abandoning everything to work for Skedpal–so great was my fervor for this little program. (Hey, Skedpal developers, don’t worry. I’ve gotten ahold of myself).
Now, if you’re anything like one of my productivity pals, you’re asking WHY? What makes Skedpal different and how has it completed my productivity puzzle?
#1 Skedpal calculates everything that your poor, tired brain can’t.
You give it absolutely all the information that you have in your brain and your trusted systems. Specifically, you tell Skedpal:
the timeframe within which you’d like to complete a task with a deadline
how long you think the task will take you
the priority of the task
your schedule (using an import of Google calendar)
your preference for when to complete the task (more on this in a minute)
Within seconds, Skedpal calculates an ideal schedule for you. You KNOW what you should be doing right now. It really is like having a personal assistant who gets you.
#2 Skedpal helps you break big projects down into doable chunks.
I haven’t been one to make use of subtasks very often. But with Skedpal, it’s easy and rewarding. You can’t enter a task that takes hours and hours into the system. Instead, for longer tasks, you have to add subtasks (in order) and how long each part of the project will take. This has been unbelievably helpful to me as I work on my homeschooling curriculum. Not only am I making my project manageable, but I am coming up with a reasonable estimate for how long it will take me.
#3 Skedpal makes free time a reality.
I have wanted to have Sundays free for so long, but it just never seemed to happen. It didn’t seem possible to work ahead when I had planned activities that interfered with my normal routine. But Skedpal makes sure that I am getting things done within my work hours, because it doesn’t have late evenings or Sundays as a scheduling possibility.
I can’t even express the wonderful feeling it is to relax, do things with my family, and do things I never felt I had time for–all guilt free. Everything else is completely under control.
#4 Skedpal makes work motivating.
I was sure that I would rebel against the Skedpal schedule. But to my surprise, I realized that the program had chosen the perfect time for me to do various things like grocery shop and do my laundry. Before Skedpal, I would tell myself that I would do it “later.” That often meant I was doing these things at the last minute, on Sunday, or when I was really, really tired. When I look at my Skedpal schedule, I realize that there IS no better time to do it, so I don’t put these tasks off.
The second reason that Skedpal is motivating is because it has that randomizing effect. I get so excited when I hit the reschedule button. I don’t know what it’s going to tell me to do and that’s motivating and even FUN.
#5 Skedpal works beautifully with your established routines.
I already know that Thursdays are blog days and any Saturday time that isn’t committed to kids is reserved for curriculum writing. Skedpal works with these routines like no other scheduling program. You create a time map for each of your routines.
For example, when I added this post as a task to Skedpal, I added it to my blogging time map. Skedpal then knew that I preferred to work on it on Thursdays. What makes Skedpal even smarter is I can tell it my preferences within that time map. For example, I prefer not to do blog writing on Fridays. But if I have to write a sponsored post and I’ve had a particularly busy week, I tell Skedpal by marking times with colors that I will work at those times if necessary. In other words, it’s realistic! Sometimes you have to work longer hours and within Skedpal, you make times available for that. I should note that Sundays and late evenings are NOT an option, however.
You can easily add recurring tasks to Skedpal. This is how I handle the little tasks that are too small to add to Skedpal on their own (30 minutes is the smallest time required). I have a daily recurring task called Admin. During this time, I empty my physical and email inbox, and refer to my ToDoist tasks for the day. I have been amazed by how easily I complete my ToDoist list now that my “big rocks” are already in my Skedpal. All that are left are one-off’s that I am happy to complete.
#6 Skedpal helps you have a realistic workload.
If Skedpal can’t fit all your tasks within the timeframe you’ve given it, you’ll get a warning. That’s huge. Most of us go through life having no idea if we can add one more thing to our list or not. So we usually say yes and then fret about how we’re going to get it all done or we wonder why we haven’t been able to read a book for fun in ages. Skedpal puts an end to that.
From now on, if I receive a possible to-do from someone (or even from my own overactive brain), I will add it to my Skedpal and see what happens. If it doesn’t fit, the answer will be no. If a lot of my scheduled tasks turn red (meaning that they are urgent), the answer will also be no.
If I have a conflict with my existing workload, I can make changes to make things work. I can extend a deadline, cancel an event or activity, or I can work extra when I get unexpected free time. Meanwhile, I am stress-free. Can I say how HUGE that is for me?
A few negatives
Sync with Google calendar is not automatic. I honestly don’t mind that, but some of you might. The other issue is that you cannot choose which Google calendars you want to sync. I ended up deleting one calendar that I didn’t want blocking scheduling.
The program includes a timer which is used to help determine how much time you need scheduled to complete the task after your current work session. This is both good (it helps me focus) and challenging (there is no mobile app yet and I forget to turn off the timer).
Even though there isn’t a mobile app yet, I can easily see what I’m supposed to be doing, because I have a Skedpal calendar as part of Google’s.
Skedpal is still in beta and have urged me to offer feedback. I’m sure they would be happy to hear yours.
Here’s the pitch…
This is the point at which if I were an affiliate of Skedpal or if Skedpal sold for $29.95, I would make the big sales pitch about all you were getting for your money. But, wait for it…
At least for now. I’m so grateful I could kiss the developers. But at this point I’m so crazy about it, that if they stopped supporting it, I might have to hunt them down. 🙂 Just kidding.
My husband with his little 3-item to-do list does not need this program. If you do, because you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing right now (besides pinning and sharing this post), give it a try. Watch the training videos and keep tweaking your time maps until you sigh with relief as you gaze at your perfectly planned schedule.
I get it. You have so many posts coming into your inbox or feed reader and you can’t get to them all. I’ve already shared the top 10 posts from Psychowith6 for 2014, but that list doesn’t include some of my favorite posts. If you have missed any of these, I’ll give you a good reason to click through and read.
It never ceases to amaze me when people say they see me as being better than I really am. I’ve gotten some great feedback from homeschooling families who can relate to what I share in this post. And the truth is, I’m not even airing the really dirty laundry! I’m not a perfect homeschooler, but homeschooling is perfect for me.
I watched an Andy Stanley Bible study video that really motivated me not to wait on what matters. I was so inspired that I summarized the truths into a one-page poster that anyone can use to get motivated every day. Reading it can be like taking a vitamin–it’s good for you!
I love books that help me to simplify my life. My m.o. seems to be to make it complicated. Choosing just one thing in each area of my life to focus on gives me so much peace. I was thrilled to figure out how to create a form for tracking this way of thinking about tasks. If you crave more simplicity like I do, I recommend you take a peek–even if the form isn’t your cup of tea.
Does it make sense to do what everyone else does so you get the results everyone else gets? I don’t think so! This post may inspire you to do the opposite of what you’re doing or simply to be proud that you’re doing things your own way because it works!
This is such a fun book for kids to read and I was surprised when a real life Mr. Popper helped us with our homeschooling. I think your kids will enjoy this post even if they haven’t yet read the book.
I love to pin single posts that collect a lot of valuable resources in one place, so I created one. Pin this for later and you’ll have access to all kinds of goodies to make your kids better readers and writers.
Did I miss any of your favorites here? I love hearing from readers.
I know. You’ve read it all before and you’ve seen it on TV. You know that you can’t get the most out of life if you have too much stuff. But you’re no hoarder. Sure, your closet and drawers and craft spaces are a bit cramped, but you’re not one of those people who never gets rid of anything.
“Why read another decluttering book?”
That was pretty much my attitude until I read the book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD that I described in my favorite productivity books of the year post, I was completely enamored with its focus on practicality rather than Pottery Barn-beauty. After all, if it’s too much trouble to get something out of its pretty little container, you won’t use it. And if it’s too much trouble to put it back, your space will be messy in a hurry. That was me, so I was inspired to get rid of a lot of my excess stuff.
Here is why the book is not only helping me purge my home, but is helping me be more productive.
First, let me say that the spiritual aspect of the book is not for me and won’t be for most of my readers. My friend characterized it as anthropomorphic. Indeed. The author thanks objects for their service, for example. I’m all about gratitude, but I will give gratitude to Whom it is due. The majority of the woo-woo stuff is at the end of the book, thankfully, and by then you’ve come away with some real inspiration for simplifying your home and life.
#1 I’m only keeping things I love.
The author recommends asking yourself for each thing you own (especially clothing and books) if it gives you joy. For me, joy is a fruit of the spirit and not something I have as a result of wearing a particular sweater. But I got the point. I have enough clothing (and most of my readers do as well) that I don’t have to wear things that I’m not crazy about. I now ask myself,”Do I love it?”
The change that question has made is remarkable. Where I used to ask if it was “still good,” I now follow up the do-I-love-it question with “Will I wear it?” The result is I have donated or thrown away half my clothing. I was hanging on to thong underwear that I HATED, for heaven’s sake. Why? Because I had room for it. I knew I would never wear it, but I hadn’t asked myself honestly if I would. The second example was a formal dress I wore to our niece’s wedding. I wore it to a formal event for my husband’s business meeting out of the country as well. As I was packing it to take home, I realized that though I love the dress, I wouldn’t wear it again. The next formal occasion will likely be a family or business event and I won’t want to wear the same dress. I will want to buy new. So I donated the dress.
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I’m already enjoying a time savings. I didn’t realize until I got rid of so much clothing how much time I spend deciding what to wear. I’m a pretty decisive person, but when you go through things that you don’t like for one reason or another, it wastes time. Now I know that I love everything in my closet. As long as it’s appropriate for the season, I can grab and go and be happy.
The second way it applies is in principle. Just as I am not hurting for clothing, I am not hurting for free time. I do not work in a factory 12 hours a day. I don’t walk hours to get water. I am swimming in free time compared to many. So why am I spending time doing things I don’t love doing? Now don’t get me wrong. We all have to do things we don’t love doing. We have responsibilities or we can’t afford to delegate the things we don’t like to do. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about discretionary time. Shouldn’t it be spent doing things you really love?
In the same way I asked myself if I would wear something, I am asking myself if I’m going to do it any time soon. If not, I don’t really love it (at least not right now). It needs to get off my calendar and my to-do list.
#2 My family is only keeping things they love.
The author is pretty clear on not purging for someone else (though I’ve done it without the items being missed…). Instead, I decided to teach the kids what I’d learned. I encouraged them to go through all their clothes and only keep things they really loved and were sure they would wear.
I was in awe of what happened. The kids gave away brand new clothes I had purchased for them. In the past, I would have encouraged them to start wearing these clothes so I wouldn’t feel like a fool for buying them. But it had never worked anyway. I learned that no matter how much my boys want me to shop for them, I won’t do it. They will be coming to the store, choosing clothing, AND trying it on. They ended up keeping only the clothes I see them wearing.
My husband hung out in the bedroom with us while we went through clothes. It so happens that he keeps clothing in half the boys’ closet. He has had some of the clothes there for at least 25 years! I have NEVER been able to get him to part with them, though he doesn’t wear them. This time I asked him if he loved each piece. He insisted on touching most of the clothes (just as the author suggests) and he got rid of more clothing in half an hour than he has our entire married life!
I applied the same principle to the kids’ books. If they didn’t love them and weren’t going to read them, I had them remove them from their bookshelves. Now know that I’m a book lover. Some of the books I rescued to go on the future grandma shelf. The fact is that I do love some of those books and do plan to read them again. So that counts.
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I’m saving myself some time. The younger boys protest each week that they don’t have anything to wear to church. Why? Because they have too many clothes. They can’t decide. Now that their closets hold only clothes they will actually wear, I don’t have to run to the rescue every week. This time savings will continue to accrue as I purge more and more of our unloved things. We will have half the mess to clean up!
Second, I’m teaching my children a principle that will serve them well as they manage their own responsibilities.
#3 I’m folding clothes the right way.
I thought I WAS folding clothes the right way. I had purchased these folders for the kids that allowed them to put clothing neatly away. But it turns out that I was making more work for myself. Not only does folding the traditional way obscure what you own (so you end up buying more stuff than you need), but it makes a big mess when you remove something from the drawer.
Here is a demonstration of how to fold shirts the right way!
The graphic at the top of this post shows my workout clothes drawer with everything folded using this method. The bottom part of the drawer is folded more loosely because I don’t have as many shorts I love as shirts. I still have quite a few shirts, but I love and will wear them all. Promise! One thing I have noticed, though, is that I do go back and remove something I thought I wanted to keep. You will, too.
The kids took to this method immediately and love having organized drawers. In fact, their drawers look so empty that they didn’t make for good photos!
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I save time choosing clothes from my drawer and putting them away. I also don’t have to get on the kids as much about getting their laundry put away.
Second, I am realizing how important it is for everything to have an accessible space. That goes for tasks, too. One of the hacks I shared is to make sure your work space is comfortable. Make sure your tools are easy to use and put away and you will be motivated to get more done. I actually enjoy putting my clothes away and I enjoy writing every morning because the space is accessible.
After tools, I get most excited about little tricks I discover for saving time or getting more done. These are six of the discoveries I made last year that you may want to try:
#1 Make your environment inviting
I am extremely cold averse. As I was setting up a writing office in my basement, I kept thinking about the cold and about how unwilling I am to use my scrapbooking desk because it’s right by a door that lets all the cold air in. So I bought my own space heater that can direct warm air my way and HELLO, I’ve my fanny in my warm chair ever since.
Maybe temperature isn’t your problem, but lighting or seating is. Make the needed change and see if you aren’t more productive.
#2 Use a year-long wall calendar
I bought a jumbo, full-year, dry-erase calendar for the wall above my desk. Suddenly a year didn’t seem so long–especially when I added important dates like vacations, blog post deadlines, and goals. The advantage of seeing time this way is I am less likely to procrastinate! It’s also easier not to overload your calendar when you see the big picture. I originally planned to write two blog posts a week. When I saw it on the wall, I realized that would mean much less accomplished on my homeschool curriculum. I cut back my planned blog frequency for most weeks to one.
#3 Get more sleep
When I did Body for Life, I cut my sleep back to seven hours. I really did feel great during that 12 weeks, but I convinced myself that I only needed seven hours of sleep. Truth is, most of the time, it ended up being six to six and a half. I was wrong about what I needed physically and emotionally. As hard as it is for me to be sleeping by 10 p.m., I have been sleeping from 10-6 consistently for some time now and I feel amazing! I feel really stupid that I was making such an obvious mistake. I no longer feel exhausted by afternoon and am still productive.
#4 Randomize tasks when motivation fails
There are times when I just don’t feel like doing what I’ve scheduled for the day. This is especially true the later in the day it is and the more tasks I feel I need to do. At these times, I go to Random.org or use the iPhone app and generate a random number using the number of tasks I want to address as my range. The rule is I have to do at least something on whichever task I land on. If I can’t do that task for some reason, I do the next one on the list. This method has the advantage of helping me to complete tasks I would ordinarily procrastinate on.
Give it a try!
#5 Do the most important things in the morning
I kept thinking I didn’t have time to write curriculum (one of my most important things) in the morning. I work out, eat breakfast, chat with my husband, do personal devotions, and shower first thing before doing chores and homeschooling. I saved my writing time for the afternoons and it worked! I was motivated and energetic to write in the early afternoons. The problem was that something else always seemed to crop up in the afternoon, so I couldn’t write. I realized that those other activities wouldn’t interfere with my writing time if I did it early morning.
So I decided to workout in the basement and immediately go to my basement writing desk. It worked! I consistently get an hour of writing in during early mornings. I did have to give something up and that was chatting with my husband. For many people that wouldn’t be a wise tradeoff, but my husband works out of our home. I talk with him all day, including a little later in the morning. He enjoys reading his Bible and the paper while I write.
#6 Organize by day
I used to do certain types of tasks on particular days of the week and I got away from it. It makes life so much easier and more efficient. When a finance-related email comes in, it’s dated for Mondays. I can do them all in batches without adding a context tag or wondering when a good day is to do them. I am also doing blogging tasks on Thursdays. Everything else that isn’t urgent is ignored. What an amazing feeling of peace that gives me! To top it off, I feel like I have an abundance of time to get my tasks done. Trying to do a big mix of tasks adds to my feeling of overwhelm.
I love productivity books, blogs, and podcasts, but I REALLY get excited about productivity tools that make my life easier. Here are six that I was crazy about in the past year that you may want to try too.
Scheduling is the number one way I get things done now. But because I always tend to overestimate what I can accomplish in a day, I LOVE Timeful. I can automatically determine what I can reasonably do and at the same time, get suggestions of when to do certain tasks or habits I’m working on.
A second benefit of Timeful is that I have a record of what I’ve actually done during the day as I have a Timeful calendar set up to sync with Google.
This is an app I recently discovered and it’s perfect for reminding me of things I want to do regularly. Unlike most other apps, it isn’t annoying. The UI is gorgeous and the app functions like a nice friend who gently suggests I do something I said I wanted to do.
I use this app every day for chore management. I’ll explain how in a future post. But the app saves me enormous time refereeing squabbles with my kids! I also use it when I’m feeling stuck and unwilling to follow my schedule. I’ll explain how in tomorrow’s post on productivity hacks.
Focus at Will is a website and app that produces music to help you focus and get more done. Unlike most music websites, Focus’s mission is to keep you from noticing the music at all. In fact, if you notice it, you’re supposed to skip to a different track.
Focus offers a free trial. During mine I determined that Ambient noise works best for me. While I was enjoying increased productivity, I wasn’t enjoying the music. So I tried listening to Pandora while I worked. MUCH better! I enjoyed the songs so much that I would stop and sing along and then I would research the artists and would be sure to take the time to give a thumbs up to songs I liked. Whoops.
I went back to Focus@Will and absolutely love that I can set a timer for a work period and can then report how focused I was. Unless I’m interrupted by someone, I find 100% focus. If I’m around the kids, I wear headphones. If not, I play it over my computer speakers. I would love to know if it works as well for work away from the computer. If you try it, let me know!
I bought this tablet with a keyboard that looks like a netbook on Cyber Monday for a mere $260. I cannot express how crazy I am about it, particularly because it uses the full Windows operating system. One of my huge frustrations with the iPad as a writing tool is that isn’t possible. I am using it only for reading and writing. I had a large monitor and full-size keyboard that I wasn’t using, so I set up a desktop work station at home like this.
When I’m ready to write on the go, all I have to do is turn it off, unplug it, and pop it in my purse. One of the first things I downloaded was Scrivener which I also can’t recommend enough for writers.
A friend sent me a link to this at the end of the year and I was so excited about it, I had to order it. What I love about it is the huge emphasis on goals. Every month and every week, you are asked to specify your goals, why you want to achieve them, and the steps needed. There are also half-hour blocks all day for planning time. Sometimes I want to see what I’m doing on paper, rather than on my little iPhone screen. This is just the ticket!
The paper of this planner is like silk. It works perfectly with my Frixion pens.