Tips for working with procrastinators

We all procrastinate, but why? When I try to boil it down, procrastination is fear and avoidance. It inhibits action but pushes away the gnawing anxiety of starting, the tyranny of the empty page or the empty canvas. Why do we tend to procrastinate more on big things like term papers or design work but not on small things like doing the laundry?

Procrastination does not remove the stress and uncertainty of the thing we want to avoid. But, it does buy time. We try to avoid what needs doing in the hopes that our future self will be better equipped to do it or in the hope that our little problem will resolve itself. If we acted on what we needed to do, even if nowhere near completion, we would cease to procrastinate. Completion is not the opposite of procrastination, action is. Maybe the antidote to procrastination is simply any action toward doing the things we avoid doing.

Anyway, I got the idea for this entry as a result of a clever little trick Jody played on me. She had asked me to do something for her and expecting that I might wait until the last minute to get it done she told me the deadline was actually a day earlier than it really was. So in the event I did wait until the last day and changes had to be made we had some wiggle room. At first I was annoyed since I was so stressed about getting her task done then I realized that she was just being smart; that she knew me enough to work around me. Respect!

It got me thinking. How do you work with procrastinators? How do you work around people who you know get blocked by deadlines and who always wait until the last minute? Maybe the best approach is to enter their world rather than to try to force them to work the way you want?

In considering how to positively engineer the dynamics with procrastinators, I came up with a few tips on how to work with them.

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Interview with Clipperz CEO, Marco Barulli

After mentioning Clipperz a few days ago, the co-founder and CEO, Marco Barulli, emailed in and thanked me for the mention. I never review anything with the expectation of hearing from the people involved, but it’s always nice when it happens. If it’s a good review, the company comes across and responsive and involved. If it’s a bad review, the company comes across as responsive and willing to stand up for their product.

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The Kindle is a portable book shelf

Since the Kindle is a new type of product whose purpose is to transform how we read, I try to observe how I use it myself.

A couple things.

First of all, I am reading a little more than normal. I’m also reading more new releases since the Kindle store recommends new books and bestsellers more than less well-known works. In the Kindle store, they prominently list both new releases and major bestsellers on the home screen. With the average new release priced at $9.99, I can take more of a risk on a new book; often the kind of books that have captured public attention, but which I would normally avoid until I finally forget all about them (The Tipping Point). I’m also reading less difficult material as many books from smaller publishers and academic presses are still largely unavailable.

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Capturing ideas before you lose them

I get most of my ideas while I’m driving or in the shower. This seems to be the case for most people. The thinking is that when you’re engaged in such mindless activities your brain drops down into low gear and starts exhibiting a recognizable theta wave pattern. In this mental state, you’re relaxed and engaged in activity that allows your mind to wander. This is when connections are made and it is rather mysterious. I mean, when we are engaged in mindless activity, why do our brains keep connecting? Are creative ideas simply the result of filtering out flotsam in the free flow of thought?

Individuals who do a lot of freeway driving often get good ideas during those periods when they are in theta. Individuals who run outdoors often are in the state of mental relaxation that is slower than alpha and when in theta, they are prone to a flow of ideas. This can also occur in the shower or tub or even while shaving or brushing your hair. It is a state where tasks become so automatic that you can mentally disengage from them. The ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt. It is typically a very positive mental state.#

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Telepresence is light-speed travel

One technology I am excited about is telepresence; the new-fangled name for what we used to call video-conferencing. With large HD flatscreens and fast connections that allow the transmission of high-quality video over the Internet, this technology is maturing and will likely change the way we do things. High-quality telepresence has the potential to reliably simulate “being there”. In other words, telepresence enables light-speed travel.

If you have rich, directional sound and high quality video of a particular environment, you possess most of the inputs you would have if actually in that location. Of course, the other senses like touch, taste, and smell would be missing via telepresence. But, how often do you actively touch, taste, or smell the world around you? This could actually be an advantage! Send your senses and perceptions to visit far off places rather than your meat vehicle.

We experience the world mostly through sight and sound. This will be enough to enable many new realities and behaviors to emerge. Assuming it continues to improve, how will people use telepresence? Virtual travelling? Teleprostitution? Telemedicine? Centralized remote security guarding? Remote elder observation? Remotely operated taxi cabs?

Combine telepresence with the ability to move through and manipulate the environment and you have effective human-mediated telerobotics. Combine telepresence with head-tracking and you would have an even more convincing simulation of presence. It is important to remember that each time we create a mature technology it quickly connects to many other technologies to create new uses and chimeric results. There is a network effect in how products enable one another to do bigger things.

The next step is to create more immersive inputs including haptics and olfactory inputs as well as telerobotic avatars we can borrow to “travel”. How will this change things? I don’t know and maybe it won’t change a thing, but it is fun to think about.

Stole the above image from the Army article: Telepresence: Harnessing the Human-Computer-Machine Interface.

Trick yourself into writing more

So, despite various resolutions to blog more, I’ve done little to nothing on that front. For a while there I was blogging only about once a month, which has not helped my relationship with Google, my coy mistress. Life has intervened, but I would be lying if I said I could never find time to blog. I can. Truth is, sometimes I just didn’t want to talk publicly about what was on my mind or going on in my little world and many, many other times I was just lazy. Writing publicly (inasmuch as this is public) requires a little vulnerability, a willingness to toss your thoughts and words out there for others to regard. Mentally, it’s a bit like bathing in the street.

Anyway, I may have found a system that works for me, finally. As with everything else I do, I simply need to trick myself. Here’s what I am doing differently:

  1. Think, then immediately write. Set the thought down into a blog entry before you lose interest. Right now in WordPress, I have 14 drafts of various aborted ideas I started to write about. I am unlikely to take them up simply because I no longer care about those particular ideas. However, at the time, I did, so I should have taken advantage of that fleeting moment of enthusiasm. Something interesting might have come of it!
  2. When you’re feeling productive, crank out as much as you can. I think today I wrote 6 blog entries. Other times, I’ll go weeks without writing anything. You won’t see these entries all in one day because I will schedule them to appear once or twice each day rather than all at once. Google likes this and it also makes me appear to be more consistently industrious.
  3. Keep to a schedule. Remove the choice. Right now I’ve got a daily recurring task in Remember the Milk for “Write a blog entry”. It gets created automatically every day and if I don’t complete it, it just sits there in my task list until I close it out. If I go several days without blogging, the tasks just add up like household garbage no one feels like taking out. Deleting the tasks or marking them complete seems cowardly, so after a while I just hunker down and write. Quite honestly, the recurring task thing is the main reason I’ve been blogging more.

WordPress sending premature pings for scheduled posts?

Thanks to RememberTheMilk, I’ve been maintaining a pretty steady blogging schedule. Now when if tee up 2-3 posts, I’ll just schedule them for later in case I get behind again and miss a day.

One thing I noticed is that if you edit the timestamp to schedule a post publishing at a later date, WordPress still appears to send out a ping when you actually hit “Publish” rather than when the post is scheduled for publishing. I noticed this because Google was trying to hit posts that had not yet been published, but that had been scheduled, which was generating 404 errors. 404 errors are not search engine friendly, so I would consider this a fairly egregious bug. Since you are sending out pings, which include URL’s containing the words included in your post stub this could be something of a security hole in the sense that you might divulge time-sensitive information before it’s intended for release.

I tried reporting the bug to WordPress, but could not log in with my credentials. Curses.

Quick Firefox Tip: Scroll through multiple tabs

If you use Firefox and have open more than about 12 tabs they will scroll off the tab bar where you cannot see them unless you use the pull down menu on the end. However, if you hover over the tab bar and scoll your mouse wheel up and down the tabs will scroll left and right, allowing you to select one that is not currently visible.

Da Vinci on repeating one’s self

Leonardo Da VinciNow that I’ve been blogging for eight years I occasionally worry that I am recycling the same ideas without realizing it. When bothered by this thought, I search through my blog archives to see if I have already written about something, before I write about it again, though I know no one else would notice.

When this happens, I feel as if I should have done something final with that original idea, since it has bubbled up again like a submerged corpse.

Memory is unreliable. Yet, something about who I am dictates that I will re-create the same idea again and again, though I have no memory of it. It calls into question every idea you have, every plan you conceive of, since so many others amounted to nothing without a lasting record of their failure.

Then, as I read the daily dose of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks yesterday, I learned that much greater minds ran in similar circles:

Begun at Florence, in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli, on the 22nd day of March 1508. And this is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place, according to the subjects of which they may treat. But I believe that before I am at the end of this [task] I shall have to repeat the same things several times; for which, O reader! do not blame me, for the subjects are many and memory cannot retain them [all] and say: ‘I will not write this because I wrote it before.’ And if I wished to avoid falling into this fault, it would be necessary in every case when I wanted to copy [a passage] that, not to repeat myself, I should read over all that had gone before; and all the more since the intervals are long between one time of writing and the next.

In other words, just keep writing and stop keeping score.

Online password management

With all the various web services and email accounts we use on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose track of all your passwords, unless you use the same few for everything, which is not safe. Password management is a common problem with several different options:

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