Some Observations On Inertia And A Cool Online App For Getting Things Done

A routine can be a powerful thing in productivity.  It helps instil a sense of inertia and, as I’ve talked about in posts like this, or  this one , keeping the ball rolling is usually a lot easier than initially getting it to roll.  The counter-intuitive reality behind doing things is that:

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Activity leads to other activity.  It creates its own inertia.

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

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The counter-intuitive part of this is when you’re sitting on a sofa and think, “I’m really tired.  I  just have to rest for a second and mentally gear myself up for this”.  Inertia is working at keeping you sitting on the couch.  If there’s a TV on or an internet connection – it’s working double time.

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The reality is that just getting up and doing the thing actually takes less energy that expending the energy debating with yourself about whether or not you have the tools or the energy to do something.

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The caveat is that this assumes we’re talking about moderate activity.  If you’ve just run a marathon, I’m not advocating staying on your feet if you need to rest.  I’m talking about procrastination versus physical exhaustion.

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Procrastination is an energy suck

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Completing projects is invigorating.  It’s that energy that comes from getting something done and thinking, “All right – what’s next?” It takes way more mental energy to keep putting something off than to just deal with it.

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Here are some tips that may be helpful:

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  • Have goals.  If you don’t know what you’re trying to do – you’re not likely to figure out the how.
  • If you have something you’re procrastinating – try to tackle small parts of if consistently.  You’re going to get more mileage out of small daily improvements than trying to cram something into a marathon session.
  • Monitor progress.  This goes along with goal setting but it’s important to check back and see how you’re progressing.
  • Be accountable but pragmatic.  Either to yourself or other people, to get things done, it’s important to be held to your goals.  Along with monitoring progress, being pragmatic (rather than judgemental) about your progress will help as well.  If things aren’t progressing they way you’d like – beating yourself up isn’t going to help the process.  By monitoring things you can see what works and what doesn’t work and adjust as necessary.

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I Done This

Neither a typo or an obscure pop reference, I want to thank my friend Daren Burns for bringing this to my attention.  I done this.com is a cool free online productivity tool that combines some of the tips that I’ve mentioned above,  Here’s a quote from the web page:

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“iDoneThis is an email-based productivity log. This evening, you’ll receive your first email from us asking, “What’d you get done today?” Just respond to our email and we record what you wrote into your calendar. Use your progress from yesterday to motivate you today.”

By helping to monitor progress and helping keep consistency and accountability, this could be something to help get the ball rolling for you. If you have something you’ve been putting off doing (like practicing) try it for a week and see what happens.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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On “It is what it is”

I had a moment to catch up on some things this weekend, and returned a call from a friend of mine at CalArts.  We had a very nice conversation catching up and discussing Higher Education funding, trends, pedagogy and the like and she was kind enough to tell me this:

“You know, in a conversation we had once – you gave me some advice and told me that, ‘it is what it is’.  I thought about that a lot – and about how you’ve brought it up a number of times in our conversations – and it’s something I find myself coming back to as a mantra when I’m facing something difficult.”

She had asked me about where that mindset came from, and I’m sure it’s rooted in growing up in a working class small town in upstate New York.  Compared to many people around me I had it relatively easy.  My parents both worked hard – my dad taught middle school and my mom worked in a factory – and they owned the house we lived in. (A note: Despite a lot of nonsense talk generated in the media earlier in the year, as people living on an educator’s salary, we did not live high on the hog.  We burned wood for fuel (that we cut stacked and dried on our own), did all our own repairs and (for a while) raised animals for food. The two-story house I grew up in with a garage and a 2 story workshop on a 1/2 acre of land sold for well under 40k if that tells you anything about the economics of the region.)

Other people I knew had it really hard.  Farmers (and often their children) who worked from dawn to dusk with spouses working additional odd jobs just to make ends meet.   We had “valley runners” – a term of no endearment reserved for families who would relocate multiple times a year to stay one step ahead of the law.  I’d always see the kids in my classes; they’d show up for a couple of months and then be gone to the next county.  When I’d see them months, or years later, they had always changed for the worse.  They picked up a number of skills they needed to survive when you’re always on the run  (typically manipulation, but sometimes cons or petty theft), that were depressing enough for an adult to have to rely on to get by – much less a child.

Mainly though, I knew a lot of good people who worked hard and were often presented with really difficult situations.  And the response to those situations was to work through it.  I can’t count the number of times that I heard variations of, “No use crying about it – let’s get to work.”

For those of you who resonate with this sentiment, and have never read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, it might be worth a moment of your time.  One point Aurelius’ (and other Stoics like Epictetus) bring up repeatedly is the value of seeing things for what they are.  That often means removing the emotional issues associated with the matters at hand and trying to deal with them objectively. (Albert Ellis made an entire career out of this method of inquiry with his REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) approach).

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Getting emotional about certain things (particularly difficult things) only adds to their difficultly.

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In my world view, some things are simply facts andviewing those things as such makes it easier to see them for what they are.

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For example:

2+2=4.

How do you feel about that? (or do you feel anything?)

It’s difficult to get emotionally invested in it because it’s merely a fact.

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Now here’s the idea applied: where a student might hear, “You’re going to have to put a lot of time in to getting those sweep arpeggios down the way you want.” I hear “2+2=4”.  There’s no emotional involvement  and so there’s less to get tripped up on.

There are a million reasons to procrastinate, and generally only one or two to get something done.  If you’re facing something really daunting there’s a several part process I can share to help make it manageable.

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Getting it done

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  1. Know why you need to do what you’re doing. As Viktor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how”.
  2. Deal with problems individually.  Many problems are multi-tiered so break them down into individual components to make them easier to manage.
  3. See the problem for what it is.  Gain a scope of what it is you are trying to do and prioritize what has to happen to complete it.  (For example: If you’re trying to get better at sight-reading – you’re going to have to work on it a lot over a longer period of time.  If you’re trying to get two bars of a solo down – it will probably be a much shorter over-all time investment).
  4. Have milestones and a deadline.  Know what you’re going to complete by when.
  5. Prioritize and address what you can.  Don’t get hung up on big steps here, this stage is all about the specifics of each step (i.e. the grunt work).
  6. Reassess and return.  As milestones are reached verify your progress and start again.

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I remember reading a David Lee Roth interview where he was talking about how having a drive was the only thing that was going to get you through endless vocal practicing in your bedroom.

There’s nothing glamorous in the work that goes into doing anything well, but it’s necessary to acquire the skills needed to do those things.

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In other words, it is what it is.

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Thanks for reading.

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“When You Come To A Fork In The Road Take It”

A number of the motivational posts I’ve posted  here center around a few key concepts:

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  • Having a clear vision of what you want to do (goals)
  • Aligning perception with reality (having an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Daily work on those goals
  • Limiting distractions, and obstacles in the way

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The reason I come back to these posts to the extent that I do (and why I address it with myself as much as I can), is because it’s incredibly important to make the most of your time and enjoy it because time is all you’ve got.  All the talent, skill, strength, brains or money in the world won’t stop you from dying eventually.  Since all those things (talent, skill, strength, brains and money ) are acquired over time, in the end all you have is your time and how you’ve used it.

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Life is short and the only thing of value.  Don’t waste it away.

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We live in the most technologically advanced era the world the world has ever seen, but despite (and/or because of) that technology we also live increasingly isolated existences.   As a society, we often equate texting with talking and surfing the web to connecting with someone (or something).

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All we’re really doing is staring at a TV with an infinite number of channels and typing.

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There’s only limited interaction and a one way transmission of data.   It’s  addicting, comfortable and seductive and brings about the complacency and relaxation everyone looks for at one time or another.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax, but I am saying that being sedentary in anything you do carries it’s own inertia (physical and psychological).  The more you turn off your brain, the more likely you are to turn off your brain – even when you don’t want to.

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My father’s grandfather worked coal for the railroad every day of his teenage and adult life.  It was long hours of backbreaking labor and by all accounts, he was an incredibly powerful man.  When he retired, he decided that he was going to retire from everything.  He sat in his favorite chair and went from someone who was active and engaged to someone with very minimal physical exertion and no real goals for the future other than not working.  He died a couple of years later. I can’t prove that they’re related, by in my mind they are.  By my dad’s account, he basically just decided to stopped living.

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“When You Come To A Fork In The Road  – Take It”

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And this brings me back to meaningful living and navigating the overwhelming number of options available to us.   Indecision is a natural byproduct of being overwhelmed.  While I’m all for making an informed decision before taking action, if you spend too much time informing yourself, you won’t have any inertia to carry out what you initially wanted to do. The unexamined life may not be worth living – but the over-examined isn’t either.

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In any battle with indecision, at a certain point you have to punt.  If you get overwhelmed with options, pick one and run with it until you have to switch to another.  If you have a good grasp of what it is that you want to do, you’ll make changes in direction as you require to get back on track.

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It’s less important what thing you do first as long as you do something.

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Thanks for reading.

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