Friday, September 19, 2008

The 10 on and 5 off experiment

This morning was one of those mornings when it seems almost impossible to make yourself do things you desperately need to do. When the brain is just not inspired and stabbing yourself in the eye (repeatedly) seems like more fun than typing one more word. The bummer is I'm not talking trivial mole whacking things being due. I talking revisions due to journals and reviews due to NSF. General Disarray was in the same boat - important things needed to be done, and we were hopeless. We were so hopeless in fact that at one point General Disarray looked at me and asked "So which one us is going to have the medical emergency?" As in, "Dear Important Person, I am terribly sorry my [insert name of important item due today] will be late. [insert professor's version of my grandmother ate my homework and died excuse here]. I promise to have your [terribly important item inserted here] to you by Monday at 5pm".

The plight of your hero and heroine looked grim. Every time we checked in with each other there was serious, serious web surfing going on. Finally, General Disarray suggested something he read over at 43 folders (I don't know why 43 folders and not 44 folders or even 100 folders, which frankly sounds more reflective of the chaos of most people's work lives). The suggestion was this: When you just can't get things done, focus on getting something done for just 10 minutes and then take 2 minutes off. I was skeptical since (I like to tell myself) I'm just too much of a free creative spirit to be constrained by that organizational/productivity crap.(As an aside, I eventually did give up on the color coding and trying not to use my inbox as a to-do list...who was I kidding anyway, I am really just not meant to live that way). But the web entries list of who this would help was like it said "River Tam, this is for you": procrastinators, the easily distracted, compulsive web-surfers, people with a long list of very short tasks (a/k/a “mosquitos”), people having trouble chipping away at very large tasks.  And I was definitely 3 out of the 4 this morning.

The problem was, I was totally not agreeing to only 2 minutes off (there was no way I could complete a round of the video game I was busy playing in 2 minutes!). I tried to negotiate with General Disarray for 10 on and 10 off - afterall even if we could get 30 minutes of good work done per hour it would be a vast improvement over what we were currently accomplishing! (Unfortunately, he knows me too well and understood I had shot for the moon in an attempt to negotiate more favorable terms). We finally settled on 10 on, 5 off . So, General Disarray set the timer and off we went. And what do you know, it actually worked!! I managed to finish writing my review this morning and General Disarray got most of a detailed response to reviewers written for a manuscript he's resubmitting.

And the 43 folders dude was totally right, it did totally save my ass.


Nat Blair said...

Heh, see, there's lots of useful stuff on 43 folders! When things are going better, increasing the time on the timer helps. Usually if things aren't so painful, and it's really the starting that is hard, then 48 minutes on the timer isn't so bad. I have to say, I like this Gen. Disarray guy.

BTW, it's 43 folders because in the "tickler" folder, you have one folder for every day, and one for each month. That is a place to store stuff that has a date inherently attached to it.

Isis the Scientist said...

I just wrote the exact same note, except mine wrote "Due to my busy travel schedule I will not have time to complete XXX important task and require a two week extension of the deadline." Funny thing is, I have been in my office. Busy, but in my office.

Anonymous said...

Love your posts, especially as an ecologist (no disrespect to all the lab bloggers out there, but I wondered what the heck "Cell" was too). As someone who has been suffering the same distraction woes lately, great to hear about others with similar wandering brains. And for the link to 43 papers - thanks.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

OK, I am trying this. I can't seem to access the 43 folders website and can't be bothered to set up a complicated timer manually, so I'll use my iPod. 2 songs worth of working, 1 song of playing, repeat.