Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Panacea for Putting Things Off

Can you recall a time when you wanted to do something important, yet you’ve managed to make enough excuses to leave it for a later date? Putting something off once makes it easier to put it off again, and before you know it, several weeks have past and you still haven’t done it?

I just cleaned my entire apartment and it’s almost time for bed, again. Another day has gone by, and I still haven’t written a blog post for this week. Two thoughts conflictingly popped up in my head:

  • Yes! I’ve successfully put it off for another day.
  • Crap! I feel guilty for putting it off yet another day. I really should get that done soon.

I’ve got a lot going on in my life. But, it’s just became clear to me that I have spent the past five days unconsciously avoiding writing, while spending mental energy coming up with excuses. Each time when I’m about to start writing, I would magically feel hungry, tired, sleepy, thirsty, grumpy, dehydrated, or needing to go ‘potty’. Or I would suddenly have the desire to read, watch TV, browse the Internet, finish random low-priority tasks, clear out my email inbox, go jogging, sleep early and clean the house. As you can see, my box of excuses is infinite.

When I recognized this, I sat down and started writing the article you’re reading now.

A Few Observations

  • The more we make excuses, the more we buy into them, the easier it is to make additional excuses to support our mind-created beliefs. These beliefs become our story, and our excuses become our reality.
  • Delaying is addictive. Even if your intention is to put it off “just this one time”. The act of putting it off sets a chain of reactions that will make it easier to delay this task again. In fact, it becomes more likely that the task will be postponed again.
  • What we repeat in our mind actually exaggerates the scale of the task involved. It snowballs larger and larger, until the task becomes so big that you will never get it done.
  • Constantly thinking about doing something but avoiding the actual act of doing it takes energy. You end up spending more energy pondering about it and making excuses for it than just getting it done. You’ll actually save time and attention energy by just doing it.
  • We can only move on with our lives when we can get past our internal conflict between our story of procrastination and our desire to get it done. You really start to be productive when you can change your attitude.
  • When you break the cycle and start, you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy the task actually takes. You’ll be wondering why you didn’t just get it done in the first place.

The Cure

Stop thinking. Just do it.

The System: Cure Expanded

  • Manage It - List out all the things you are putting off. Or rather, make a habit to write down all the tasks you want to complete. Write down how long you think each task will take. Now, double that time by two, that’s how much time you should budget for the task. The act of writing things down instead of holding it in your memory, frees up mental energy. Make sure, every task is small and achievable within a few hours. If not, break it down into several smaller tasks. Take small steps before running down the finish line.
  • Prioritize It - Give a number beside each item, starting with 1 being the highest priority, the most important.
  • Plan It - Schedule it. Make an appointment with yourself to complete the top 3 items on your list. Don’t schedule more than 3 in a day, it’ll distract you. Schedule other appointments with yourself only when the top 3 have been completed. This idea of focusing on just the most important items first before doing any other tasks help to improve your personal efficiency, while reducing feelings of guilt from non-productive times.
  • Do It - Stick to your plan, get it done. Before an appointment with yourself, make sure to be well fed, take plenty of fluids, go to the bathroom, close your email windows and other distractions. Prepare to be focused.
  • Dig Deep In It - If you find that you are skipping appointments with yourself. Ask yourself why are you deliberately putting this off? What are you avoiding? What are you afraid of? There’s always a reason. If you come up blank, dig deeper within yourself. Be honest. Actively ask yourself this question until you have the answer. Perhaps there’s pain associated with the doing. Perhaps, this isn’t want you really want to do. Perhaps, you are afraid of failure. Whatever the reason is, dig deep within yourself to discover the why. Once you find the reason, what can you do about it?

More Tips to Beat Putting-Things-Off

  • Language - Watch your language when you speak or think about the task. Our language can have a powerful influence in the way we view our surrounding situations. “I should get that done” implies that it’s not something I really want to do but am obligated to do. As a result, our subconscious mind is telling our conscious mind that we shouldn’t be spending time on this task, it’s not what we want. Is that really how you feel about the task? If not, see how you can rephrase the sentence to better reflect what the task means to you. A more positive wording could perhaps be “This is important to me, because it contributes towards the wellbeing of others. I would love to get it done and I have scheduled times with myself to get it completed next week.”
  • Commit - Make a decision to commit to getting it done. A true commitment to doing something will bring with it the energy required to getting it done. Nothing is as impossible or difficult is it seems. Once we’ve committed ourselves to some result and it is a result that we truly want, we’ll feel the desire and push towards action arising intrinsically out of us, naturally.
  • Understand the Why - We often get so caught up in our routine of being busy, running from one task to the next that we forget to ask ourselves why we are really doing something. Ask yourself why this is important to you? Understanding the true importance of something and why it matters to you will give perspective to the matter and bring you the encouragement you need to follow through.
  • Pain vs. Pleasure - It is well known that we will go to further extent to avoid pain than we will at gaining pleasure. Understanding the pains and pleasures from doing or not doing something can act as an effective motivator. What will you lose if you don’t complete it? What will you gain if you do complete it? Sometimes, the act of visualizing the pain from not doing something can act as a motivator to help you get it done.
  • Instant Gratification vs. Long Term Gain - Thanks to modern conveniences and media, we as a society, especially in the western world, have become accustomed to instant gratification. With a flick of a remote, we can browse through hundreds of TV channels. With a phone call, we can have world cuisines delivered to our doors. With a few clicks of a mouse, the books we wanted will show up at our doorsteps. Microwave pizzas, bottled egg whites, and pre-packaged anything can be easily accessible with a quick trip to the local store. These serve as short-term distracters away from what we can gain in the long term. Spend some time to focus on your long term goal that this task contributes towards. Is the short-term gratification worth it in risking your long-term gain? Is it worth compromising for your potential?
  • Visual Reminders - I’ve found it helpful to have visual reminders to do something that’s important to me. One way to do this is writing on a piece of paper what you need to do, and in smaller text why you want to do it. Tape this paper somewhere you will see it: bathroom mirror, in front of your bed, on your keyboard. This doesn’t work if you have many reminders for different tasks, but for a couple of tasks, it can work magically.

Parting Words

Life is as hard or as easy as we make it. The more we think about something (anything, not just tasks), the more amplified it becomes from our perception, because we have given it energy by focusing on it. Let’s not torture ourselves by adding more stress in our already hectic lives. It’s okay to be busy and not have time to finish things. Schedule it, forget about it and stick to the schedule. Treat it like an appointment with yourself. We respect others enough to show up at appointments punctually. Why don’t we do the same with ourselves?

Original here

BMW’s Hydrogen Car Cleans The Air as You Drive

What if your car consumed carbon monoxide instead of spewing it out? Just such a vehicle was unveiled at last month’s SAE Congress in Detroit, which showcased some exciting green trends in the automotive industry. BMW stole the spotlight with its hydrogen-powered 7-series sedan that emits less carbon monoxide than is present in its environment. The car’s engine breaks down and converts carbon monoxide, essentially cleaning the air as it is driven.

BMW’s carbon cutting sedan features a six-liter hydrogen combustion engine that delivers performance on par with its gas-guzzling counterpart. The vehicle takes a step beyond BMW’s efforts to create a hydrogen/gasoline hybrid with astonishing results: tests conducted by Argonne Laboratories show that the car’s emissions are so low that they are undetectable by standard emissions tests.

It’s certainly true that Hydrogen fueled cars have some critical hurdles to overcome, but developments like this infuse the industry with an uplifting breath of fresh air. BMW currently has no plans for production, but the sedan marks sure signs of future-forward thinking.



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'Tank on Empty' is a gas, gas... gasp: Tales from beyond E

A year after launching "Tank on Empty" -- a site dedicated to collecting data and anecdotes about how far cars can drive once the warning light goes on -- the project has managed to land Justin Davis in hot water with worrywarts, motorheads and statisticians ... not to mention his own mother.

No matter, though, as the 24-year-old freelance Web developer has also won a wide audience among Krameresque thrill seekers and plenty of positive attention from bloggers and the press, including a star turn on 20/20 with John Stossel.

Whatever the nitpickers think of the site's data, the personal stories of derring-do and irresponsibility that "Tank on Empty" has collected are a hoot to read ... and we'll point you to a few of the better ones in a moment. First, though, I caught up with Davis last week to see how things have been going with the site.

"Google Analytics says I've had about 600,000 page views and over 110,000 visits since it started," he says. "My server, on the other hand, would disagree -- it's transferred closer to 3 million page views."

The "Tank on Empty" concept is simple: Your light comes on, you hit the trip meter, drive for as long as you can -- or dare -- and then go to the site to submit the number of miles you travelled beyond E. For example, 129 drivers have entered data for the Toyota Corolla, which I drive, logging an average of 44 miles after the light.

Davis continues: "The feedback I receive usually identifies three types of people: The ones who think it's a fun idea (my favorite); people who don't think the information is detailed enough because it doesn't take into account engine size or number of passengers or something (the pedants); and, the people who have to warn against driving on low gas because it'll hurt your car or could kill you or something (the overreactors). It's fun to categorize them as people leave messages."

Then there are those who warrant special categories of their own, such as Mom.

"My mother was driving a couple months ago and the gas light went on," Davis says. "She had heard that those lights usually give you a rather large range (I can't imagine where she came up with this idea) and in the process ran out of gas. ... She's become more skeptical of her light as a result."

As for the stories from those "Tank on Empty" contributors, they prove once again that it takes all kinds:

There's the Brit who insists that Austins never run of petrol ... and he has the mechanic's bill to prove the point.

Rolling into a gas station powered only by gravity is a common theme, as you might expect, but not many characterize the experience as "one of the proudest moments of my life."

Any parent who's ever started Monday morning by staring at a gauge gone empty will relate to the Dad in this college student's tale (bonus for the '66 Mustang).

As Mom's will this one.

Good rule of thumb here: Don't use your car to push one that's run out of gas.

Need we remind everyone that the warning light is only helpful if heeded? And if it comes on before the car stops moving.

And my personal favorite:

"There isn't a month that goes by without a phone call from my wife wanting me to bring her some gas," writes this fellow, who goes on to explain how she acquired the habit. ... "Even with all of my inconveniences leaving work to get her gas, she is a wonderful wife and mother."

She had better be.

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