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« Procrastination | Main | "I'll Just Get the File Out”: Conquer Procrastination for Ever »

Predicting your day

I’m trying out a “brilliant idea” which struck me yesterday. For a few days I had been experimenting with the idea of writing out a to do list for the day and then putting it away in a drawer (real or virtual) and only looking at it at the end of the day. The idea was that it would mobilise the unconscious mind to get on with the tasks without the necessity to be constantly referring to the list.

The only trouble with that idea was that it didn’t work. On Friday I managed to spend the whole day without doing a single item on the list. I did plenty of other things but the “hidden list” seemed to repel me rather than attract me to its contents.

So on Saturday morning I was pondering whether to continue with the experiment, when inspiration hit me. Instead of writing out what I felt I ought to do on Saturday, I would write out a list of what I actually thought I would do that day. I then put that list away in a virtual drawer, and found that it had precisely the effect on me that I hoped the original “hidden list” would have on me but didn’t. I found myself doing the things that I had predicted. At the end of the day I had done every single item on the list without referring to it once.

I’m doing the same thing today. And as you can see “Write a blog entry” is one of the things on the list. I also managed to get moving on a whole heap of papers which badly needed sorting.

I’ll be very interested to see how this works out. As always, comments are welcome - particularly from people who would like to try it themselves, or have done something similar in the past.

Follow-up to this posting

Reader Comments (12)

Your blog entries are always interesting, Mark. I love the way you're open to trying new techniques and writing about them, even if they don't work. I think it's very honest and respect you for it.

I love procrastinating (I use the term 'faffing') too and saw this clip at the cinema - which I just found on YouTube.

Very funny and very true. If the reason of your faffing is to make the real task easier, somehow we allow it and are happy to spend time faffing rather than getting on with the task.

I'll definitely try your 'getting the file out' technique.
August 3, 2008 at 16:31 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Interesting technique to try...hmm

what about making a list of things you ought NOT to do? If on were to make a list of things you usually find yourself doing that are not in your best interest. Like 'I will not watch TV', 'I will not read the news'.

Write down the list of activities the day before....and then review it after the day has passed.

One might need to tweak the way the items are phrased in order to get maximum subconscious effect.

I will not watch TV --> I will procrastinate watching tv until the day after tomorrow.


I will not read the news tomorrow -->I will read tomorrows news the next day

And if you keep looping these commands daily you can procrastinate on things that are worth procrastinating on.

This I've got to try
August 3, 2008 at 21:11 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Knight

Love the video clip! I might make a blog entry of it.
August 4, 2008 at 9:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

How is your list of things NOT to do going to differ from all those New Year's resolutions we make every year and fail to keep?

If you want to make it in the spirit of my posting, then instead of writing a list of what you ought not to do, write a list of what you actually think you won't do today.

I think you'll find it's much more powerful.
August 4, 2008 at 9:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
After reading your 'Dreams' book, I am surprised that you were surprised that the list of the things you ought to do did not work but the list of things you would do worked well.
Thanks for the useful tip and for carrying out the experiment.
August 4, 2008 at 12:49 | Unregistered CommenterDavid W
Hi Mark,

I actually when and tried out the NOT-do list yesterday. I wrote up a list of 5 items. Two items were in the spirit of your post, they were things I thought I wouldn't do. I'm now at the end of the day and I haven't done them, so that came true so to speak.

The other 3 items were actually daily internet/workflow habits I wanted to alter (checking email and other webservices throughout the day for example). Interestingly, I did find my self wanting to check these sites throughout the day, but the 3rd item I forgot completely. I didn't even consider it. That was an interesting result for me, since it was such an ingrained activity. It seems like that by purposefully procrastinating on the first two were sufficient to shift how I worked through the day, that I didn't even need to inhibit the urge to do the 3rd. The urge simply wasn't there to resist.

I know this approach doesn't fit completely with the gist of your original approach, but it does differ from New years resolutions. Resolutions are usually unspecific and not usually supported by workable preplanned strategies. These types of resolutions are doomed to fail from the start. Somebody who resolves to stop smoking in most cases doesn't think out a plan to combat all the triggers associated with their smoking habit, for starters. That's why simply setting the goal ' I will stop smoking ' doesn't really offer enough punch to actually stop a smoking habit. The way the goal is phrased doesn't act effectively subconsciously either, because the brain has to think about smoking a lot in order to prevent it from happening. And the more you think about something, the more likely it's going to occur, even if you don't want it to.

The act of listmaking however, has as is known a way of subconsciously directing behavior to comform with what you wrote. The more specific the goals, the better the results, at least theoretically. And when you are tailoring your daily listmaking to maximize subconscious adherence, you need to phrase it in a way that is effective.

That's why I experimented with writing down phrases in a positive tense and in a way that circumvents the subjective pain of having to cease a certain behavior. For instance 'procrastinating on reading today's news until tomorrow', could potentially trick my brain into not feeling the urge to read the news, since it knows I will get round to it. But of course, once you get to tomorrow, you don't have any motivation to read yesterday's news. This potentially tricks you into fading out a habit painlessly.

Based on one day's experimenting, I got optimistic results. I managed to completely forget an activity I have done every single day. Interestingly, this was the only item I phrased in the way I just detailed. I'll keep on applying this for a while and see how it goes. Two items I thought I wouldn't do, I didn't do. And for the other two items, I had set time-bounded rules (One of them was not checking social media sites until 10pm). I had to apply some cognitive effort to resist from doing them.
August 4, 2008 at 23:21 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Knight

Thanks for this interesting post. I actually think that I will post an update later today of how I have been getting on.

As you say, the question changes the reality.
August 5, 2008 at 8:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark, I like this idea. I think it's a great way of implementing structures in your life to make a path of least resistance (Robert Fritz) - a concept I'm a big fan of.

I'm implementing this with another person (the wife) who I'm accountable to, and I'm trying out giving each other "briefs" of what we predict we are going to do the next day.

I'll get back on the success of that!
August 19, 2008 at 9:40 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Koh
Interesting post, but all the clever methods in the world don't solve the REAL problem: a lack of self discipline. Any substitute, physical helping hand or list making is merely a prop to the ego.

The real secret, as I have found over many years of self-employment (the only true test of how your thinking and attitude affects your income) - is simply a steel will. It allows you to achieve the other options that germinate success... focus & persistence.

If you haven't got a mental strongbox, no gimmicks will substitute.

However, I'm not immune to perfecting my determination - that's why I'm here and enjoying Mark's ideas. I also use lists, but mainly Checklists. But I find a to-do list works by itself. If I don't do a task on my to-do list, and leave it, then I don't need it until it becomes an elephant at my doorstep. In reality, most tasks get done without a list.

How do you build an steel will? Easy, Just fail a lot and suffer. If you have a backbone, then you will be determined not to repeat the failures. A property magnate in our country once remarked that he was driven by the fear of failure. Even after he had amassed $600 million in assets. I found it curious that this attitude was the driver, but maybe it was ingrained after years of use.
August 25, 2008 at 21:15 | Unregistered CommenterKen Silver
Hi Mark.

I'm happy to say that the system worked out pretty well for me! Though initially I felt discouraged to see how little I did in reality, it was a good way to realistically see how quickly (or slowly) I worked. It's a stark contrast to the "endless to-do list" activity I used to do, because often, I overestimated the amount of work I could do, and ended up with backlog by the first day.

When I predicted my day (especially bouncing it off verbally with the wife) I found myself more objective with regard to estimating the length of time it would take to complete each task I predicted. I drew a lot on previous experiences. Reflection, then, played a big part in this.

I think "Predicting you day" is in the same vein as a reverse calendar (Dr. Neil Fiore's "The Now Habit"), where you are forced to work backward and hence judge time more realistically. This, and "predicting your day" would be good tools for personal and project management.
August 31, 2008 at 19:18 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Koh
This reminds me of the diet that I just started with the 4-Hour series. In one example, a participant lost weight quite naturally by taking a picture of his meals before eating. Mind you, this wasn't a food log-no calorie counting of any sort, and no comments or deliberate efforts were made to alter the diet. In the end, a steady, non-reactionary, and successful weight-loss regimen that put the individual at his comfortable weight.
Rather than a predetermined list, what do you think of using twitter or a journal simply to document all the choices and tasks one attempts to do before doing them? Like a running commentary as a surgeon might partake in for the sake of his class, or Captain Kirk documenting his first walk around an alien planet, or maybe something not nearly as dramatic or pronounced as that-perhaps an automated twitter update for every task completed?
I think my response to predictive list of ought to dos vs what I'd likely do's would be similar. For one, the 2nd is more a challenge or dare. "Knowing you, you'll probably just serf the web til noon." might still happen, but in defiance or to remain good company for oneself, I'd probably take that as a bet, and try to win it, if you get my meaning.
January 19, 2011 at 21:03 | Unregistered CommenterJames Levine
When looking for another post, I found this one.

Peter's method of writing down what he intends not to do for the day is different from New Year's Resolutions not to do them because of the time frame.

Narcotics Anonymous (according to one TV series) focuses on the day. When the main character is afraid of slipping, after a year or two of being clean, his partner focuses on the day. "Did you do drugs yesterday?" "No, I didn't." "Are you going to do them today?" "No, I can hold out that long." "Are you going to do drugs tomorrow?" "I can manage that long."

One day is predictable. You know what the temptations will be. It's also long enough that you can call for help before it ends, to prepare for the next day. A year is too long. May as well give up now.

When I wanted to learn to water-ski, Dad said I had to swim 100 yards first, even though I'd be wearing a life-belt. (Back then, teen-sized vests that weren't too bulky to ski in were expensive.) I made it maybe 25 yards before thinking that, while I could probably reach the turn-around, I'd never make it back, so may as well give up now.

(Fortunately, I swam enough at summer camp that the lifeguard signed a note, and I got to water-ski the next year. When I stumbled, the water pushed the life-belt down over my hips. While waiting for the boat to come back, I swam over to the belt and decided that maybe Dad was right about life belts being no substitute for swimming ability.)
January 10, 2017 at 16:27 | Registered CommenterCricket

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