Having Goals and Obstacles

While perusing my now even longer list of RSS feeds in Firefox, I found an article about Acrobatic Rabbits. It was a shareware blog, so I was curious. It basically describes how the blogger’s rabbits don’t have the will to even attempt to escape simple wire meshes. Simple obstacles are all that is needed to prevent the rabbits from going where the owner doesn’t want them to go.

The last paragraph was insightful:

Just like a technically inadequate fence keeps rabbits inside, many people are kept inside their comfort zone by all sorts of barriers that are often mostly in their heads. How many part-time shareware authors keep dreaming of quitting the day job, but never do for all sorts of reasons? Reasons that, upon closer inspection, that are merely obstacles that could be scaled without too much trouble.

I have goals. Some aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I would like them to be, but they exist. But why is it that, for example, last month I was able to determine that I don’t practice programming nearly enough in order to gain experience and skill, and today I find that it is still the case? I could blame it on the fact that I haven’t been able to do so since I have work and school, both full-time, but that would just be placing blame somewhere else. If I want to do it, then I should just do it. I should be able to schedule time to exclusively work on coding, and then keep the commitment. I think the main obstacle isn’t necessarily some outside force so much as my own perception of how much of a force it is.

Thinking about the programming issue, I know that it is definitely possible to schedule time for it outside of class, homework, and work. I just haven’t done it because I let other things slip into my schedule without consciously saying that I am giving up something else. In Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about how we need to be able to not only say what we are doing, but also be ok with what we aren’t doing. Other time management and productivity authors have talked about the importance of saying no to opportunities that may not necessarily be opportunities.

This weekend, I wanted to try to do a Game in a Day. Unfortunately I spent Friday night playing a video game for way too long and didn’t get to sleep at a decent time. So I woke up later, which caused my entire day to start later. I was hoping to get the Game in a Day out of the way within 5 hours, giving myself the rest of the day to work on game reviews for Game Tunnel and my homework for class.

It is now early Sunday morning. I ended up sleeping in the afternoon so my sleep schedule is off. And so far I only got one game review done. No code written for the Game in a Day. No code written for my homework. It isn’t like the review was too ambitious, and it didn’t really take me all that long to write. I unfortunately spent a minute here and a minute there doing Other Things, like checking my email or talking to people online.

On that note, I am glad that I have this blog. It helps me realize that even though I never lied about what I’ve done, I wasn’t being honest with myself. Until I wrote all that down, I was feeling overworked and was subconsciously blaming it on all the things I needed to do or other people or time committments. Writing it down helps me by placing it in front of me to consciously analyze it so I can see what it is I can actually DO about it.

As Lao Tse says, “Your actions are your only assets.”

Getting Things Done: Next Actions

I am currently reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. I am not even half way through it, and yet I am already increasing my productivity by applying what I am learning.

The beginning of the book gives a general overview of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. I managed to pick up a few ideas, like the idea that everything that takes more than a few two minute actions should be considered a Project, or the idea of the Next Actions list. Up until recently, I simply made todo lists. I found that it helped me to remember important tasks. I was always forgetting things, and todo lists were a great tool to overcome that problem.

Of course, it didn’t take me too long to add a due date to some tasks. A game review needed for Game Tunnel? It wasn’t enough to say that I had to do it. I had to also say that it was due in two weeks. Homework #3 needs to get done? I need to know when, or else it might get put off.

This past week I started listing the next action needed on the different tasks. At work I keep a todo list of projects, but I started listing a Next Action next to each one. If a project involves building a server for someone, it might be held up because I need to learn more details about the build needed. The next action for that project is to call the person and ask about it. If I am waiting for more information about hard drives from a colleague, my next action is “Wait for colleague to get back to me.”

Before supplementing my todo lists with Next Actions, I had a vague sense of what I needed to do. Make a command line Tic-Tac-Toe game. Do the homework for my Tuesday night class. Items like this were somewhat high level, which is still good to know, but left me feeling stuck when I wanted to actually start any one of these projects.

Now, for each project I have on my list, I know exactly what I need to do in order to make some progress. And some progress is better than none. As Steve Pavlina said in his article Overcoming Procrastination “If you simply start a task enough times, you will eventually finish it.”

My current system isn’t very efficient, but it is definitely better than only a year ago when I was drifting through life. While I don’t want to get caught saying that it is “good enough” I don’t want to put off doing anything just because it isn’t perfect.