Last night, while browsing All Japanese All the Time, I stumbled across a website filled with articles on self-improvement: http://www.stevepavlina.com Much of it is aimed at defeating procrastination, managing your time better, and conditioning yourself for success.
I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed with the things I was trying to do–learn Japanese, use Japanese, draw for my artbook… In writing, this list doesn’t seem like much, but when broken down it really does require a lot. Adding in things I want to do but have put on the back burner for now only make the list even longer (editing my websites, making videos…).
So after reading a few articles on the site, often picking and choosing from within the contents of each article I read, I decided I needed to alter my strategy.
I have already been calling it “The Plan” rather than a “schedule” because the latter seems to make me recoil. Using the words “The Plan” makes me more eager to actually use it, not only because it seems to sound nicer, but because when I actually use it, it works. It works every time.
I have been learning to remove distractions and batch tasks/activities. Using Evernote helps to keep things organized, and I have visual reminders on my walls and written on paper as well, but I still found myself feeling unorganized. So I took a look at The Plan again in order to see where I was going wrong.
Removing Distractions and “Installing” Fail Safes
One of the major problems I discovered in The Plan was the lack of a reminder about the timing of each item (task) listed. The best example of this is my bedtime. At night, I tend to come back to my room after dinner and draw or browse the internet, and especially if I’m just browsing, I lose track of time. I have chosen my bedtime to be 9:30, but if I’m not tired already by before 9:00, I’ll keep going until I do–or until I realize it’s after 10 or 11:00.
1) Set a reminder on my phone to go off at 9 PM. This reminds me that it’s time to get ready for bed.
This is a sort of “fail safe” where even if I don’t realize what time it is, my phone will remind me, ensuring that I get ready for bed. This increases my chances of actually going to bed on time.
The next thing I wanted to address was the unknown time which I would use to put new vocab and kanji into my Anki decks. Because I hadn’t specified a time to do it, I always felt like it was in my immediate queue.
2) Set aside a day to add new kanji, vocab, etc. to Anki. Perhaps a Friday? That way I don’t have to worry about it any other day. And since I do it weekly, I know that it will be done.
By setting aside a specific amount of time each Friday to add new vocab to my Anki decks, it eliminates my concern about it. I know that I have that time set aside to do it, and I don’t need to worry about trying to fit it in right after I came across the new vocab.
Next I considered my tendency to want to procrastinate doing my AIS lessons. One time I set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes, and I was surprised at how much I got done. So I figured I needed to readjust The Plan to specify exactly thirty minutes rather than a two-hour block of time of “general-ness” in which I have plenty of time to slack off.
3) Set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and do an AIS lesson. Only do that lesson for the 30 minutes. After the timer goes off, I can choose to continue or to do something else.
Giving myself the freedom to choose what I do next is a bit of slack in and of itself, almost like a reward. And I’m much less likely to procrastinate when I have only thirty minutes to do the lesson.
Another thing I found that was draining my time and ruining my efforts to stick to The Plan was the many tabs open on Firefox. Each tab was a reminder of something I needed to look at sometime soon; something I needed to reply to, or something I wanted to reread or re-watch. I realized I needed to take Koichi’s advice from TextFugu (reconfirmed later in Steve’s site) and batch these items.
4) Only consider dA, Lang-8, Youtube, etc. (and Twitter!) during certain times of the day that I decide, such as during breakfast.
Having many Lang-8 tabs open bothered me because I wanted to respond to them in a timely manner but didn’t know what to reply with, so I would look at Twitter, and then perhaps Youtube, and then deviantART… Allotting certain times of the day for these things lets me, again, not worry about them the rest of the day. It also keeps me from wasting time by just browsing. 😛
Finally, one way to remove a distraction is to literally remove it:
5) Hide or turn off my laptop if it’s necessary to do so!
I have found that if I’m having trouble staying focused on one thing, it helps tremendously if I simply shut my laptop and shove it underneath the pillows on my bed. In its place on my desk I put notes and things, and when I think of something I need or want to do on my laptop (usually internet-related), laziness kicks in. It’s “too much of an effort” to pull out the laptop, clear off my desk, and open it, so I keep working instead.
Comparison: Noticing Where I Can Improve
Another thing that has helped to keep me focused is this article I read a few weeks ago. It is called “9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist” and is partially what inspired me to make a more detailed version of The Plan.
One of the major things I noticed even before reading the article was the difference in productivity, or at least the amount of completed works (including sketches) that I produced in a given amount of time in comparison to some who I would consider to be more professional than myself in those terms.
The professional could quickly produce, for example, ten sketches uploaded to Tumblr in one week, while I could produce one or fewer. While I would be Tweeting about random things, at the same time the professional would be Tweeting about going straight to work on their picture (and granted, they do Tweet a lot of random things as well :P). Comparisons like this are helpful because they challenge you to see where you can change your habits and tendencies from those of an amateur to those of a professional.
I have begun asking myself when I sit down and look at the picture I’m working on, knowing I need to work on it but I don’t feel like it or want to watch a YT video or something, “What would a professional artist do?” Well, most likely they would work on the picture. So I work on the picture, and feel proud of myself afterwards because I have made progress or even finished the picture, whereas I wouldn’t have if I had chosen to watch Youtube videos. It’s all in the choices. If you want better results, make better choices.