Hello to the few people persistent enough to be still following me, and also to those that come pay me a visit now and again to see whether I've decided to make up my bloody mind and write another post. Sorry for being so out of sight.

After giving a lot of thought to the idea of writing something, today I landed on a piece of Wikipedia that really struck me, since I naively still keep on searching for that productivity silver bullet that would fix the procrastination issues I've been dragging along for so much time. Here it is in its original form, and I quote:

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow:[3][4]
1.- Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.[5]
2.- Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3.- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4.- Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5.- Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
6.- Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7.- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8.- The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
9.- A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it).
10.- People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
Let's pick each one of those and talk a bit about them, shall we?

Clear Goals

Easy one. Unless we know for sure where we're going, we risk getting to a place we don't want to be at. Some times this rule may be bent a little if we're not really sure something is feasible and there's some research to be done. But the primary objective should never leave our mind, or we risk getting lost. You may observe this everywhere, from simple programming and up to the management layers. It's pervasive among the whole soft-dev chain, but perhaps an Architect would need a clearer state of mind than a Junior Developer. The latter may make mistakes and are easily fixed when discovered. The former may also make some mistakes, but those mistakes may steer the whole project into an iceberg.

Ur fridge is me goal, human


Close that goddamn TweetDeck, for heaven's sake! Stop peeking at your inbox tab every 10 minutes just to see if the "1 unread - Gmail Inbox" label has shown up! Deactivate those pesky notifications from your IM program!

Stop those distractions that prevent you from entering a state of mind that'd allow you to delve deeply into what must be done. This is one of the most harmful and destructive characteristics of procrastination. Even breaking out of that state is awfully hard. Some times is like being stoned without you even having touched a joint. The mind jumps from one thought to the other. It's in its nature, and we can't entirely avoid that. But we can train ourselves to be focused, just as we can train ourselves to lift a 100 kg weigth.

Oh, I'm sorry.. did I break your concentration?

One important tool to this is meditation. I don't know of so many people that practice it, and yet it's not an arcane, nor a difficult practice. Even the book "Pragmatic thinking and learning: Refactor your wetware" mentions and recommends it.

Sit down and take a moment. Don’t think about the mistakes you made yesterday or worry about problems that might come up tomorrow. Focus on now. This one instant in time. Right here.
No distractions.
No chatter.
I’ll wait.
It’s not easy, is it? Much of meditation, yoga, and similar practices aim for the same goal: to offer some relief from that gibbering L mode monkey voice in your head, to live in the moment, and to not divide your mental energy unnecessarily. The internal chatter knocks us off our game.
A study published in the Public Library of Science-Biology2 showed that training in meditation could improve a subject’s ability to pay attention throughout the day.
Their testing gauged how well subjects could allocate cognitive resources when presented with multiple stimuli, all competing for their attention at once. Sounds like a normal day at the office....
On a personal note, I practice Buddhism, and even having tried some smart drugs, I've not found yet something that provides a more relaxed and focused state of mind than meditation (smart drugs work, don't take me wrong.. but the mind's state feels unnatural). On the other hand, daily context and my own mind usually drive me away from having a steady regular meditational practice. Paraphrasing a japanese buddhist monk:

To begin is easy but to continue is difficult.
That phrase perhaps sums up every recovering procrastinator's day, doesn't it?

Balance between ability level and challenge

If the task is a tall order, we may feel we're not cut for it. Some strategies may be applied, but if the job still seems daunting, better go learn something and prepare yourself to face it again some time later. There must be an equilibrium, a point where the task seems easy enough to be faced, yet difficult enough to be a challenge and not some boring menial job. An important strategy to achieve this is our famous divide and conquer.

Besides, if you ever get stuck at some point, and can't see a light at the end of the tunnel, go away from the problem. As Isaac Asimov would do it: Each time he felt like he was facing a wall with no exit in sight, he just went to the cinema, and watched a movie that required no thinking whatsoever. That way, he would allow his mind to work "in the background", so when he exits the movie theater, his mind would've been "reset" and is able to see the problem from a different perspective.

So, are really your options just to keep on banging your head to the wall or to quit altogether?
Think again.

Direct and inmmediate feedback

Goes hand in hand with the previous one. Once we have tasks sufficiently small to be approachable, yet big enough to be challenges, we are ready to start working on them. But if we get stuck at some point, or we choose to have nothing to show until everything's finished, we risk losing stamina to keep going in the best case, or just end up building the wrong thing in the worst.

Baby steps. Build something, read something, learn something. Then go check it out and see whether what you built/learned is right or not. Perhaps you're your own judge, but anyway, just take a couple of minutes to look at the big picture now and again. Check your goals. Check your progress. Be prepared for change. This is the agile way.


The rest of the items that show up in the list are more like characteristics of being "In the zone", rather than some points that we may use as strategies.

  • - Loss of the sense of self-consciousness
  • - Distorted sense of time
  • - Sense of personal control over the situation
  • - Activity intrinsecally rewarding, effortless
  • - Lack of awareness of body needs
  • - Action awareness merging
Nevertheless, if you can observe yourself at some point and say "yes, those are true now, I feel that way", you know that you're on the ball, in the moment, present, in the zone, in the groove, or keeping your head in the game.

Comments (1)

On September 14, 2010 at 7:39 PM , Unknown said...

Perhaps you should remove your human side. Give a try to this:

#rmmod human-shit!.. haha

Anyway, procrastination is a real bitch!


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