Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Self-discipline And The Unit System

I've been feeling a need to do a little self-discipline reading recently. As I've said before, the quick and easy self-discipline material on-line deals more with using self-discipline/self-control to change specific problems rather than developing self-discipline in general. A case in point, is a general article I found in The Guardian on the Pomodoro Technique. It deals with self-discipline, but specifically related to time management. Right up our alley.

I had heard of the Pomodoro Technique in my time management reading rambles this year. It appears to be an earlier, better known version of It Takes An Egg Timer, which I read last month. They both seem like variations of what I've been calling the unit system, which I learned about earlier this year. You divide your time up into chunks/units and assign yourself tasks to work on within those units.

Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Guardian article, makes a very clear point about why time management systems like the unit system work for some people. (I say "some" because I don't believe anything works for everybody.) "They are, literally, tricks: the ticking clock takes an internal desire to get something done and fools some part of the brain into thinking it's external, that the clock must be obeyed."  "The illusion, voluntarily swallowed, is that choice has been removed--that there's something stopping you from choosing to abandon your focus and default to whatever inertia would have you do: daydream, websurf, beerdrink." Or, in my case, visit two news sites, Salon, Slate, and play a few hands of solitaire, which is what I used to call my "pre-writing ritual."

Some would say that the timer becomes an external support for will power. Personally, I think it's more the block of time, itself, rather than the timer that is the significant support.

This is a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on the unit system. You're trying to do two things with it, no matter how you keep track of your time (I use a timer on my computer, not a kitchen timer) or how long a unit of time you use (I vary them):

1. As discussed in this post, you're trying to create an external time keeper, a "punch-a-time-clock" arrangement that makes it clear to you that you are at work now.

2. And, as discussed in an earlier post, there is supposed to be research showing that the first 45 minutes working on a task is the most productive. So with the unit system, you're trying to reproduce that feeling of starting work, over and over again during the day.

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