Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Divorcing Time from Work

Last week was quite a buzz of productivity for me, one in which I managed to keep myself consistently occupied throughout the entire day and much of the night. Partly due to my having fixed some problems with my computer to-do lists, I found myself consistently motivated to continue sustaining my momentum and let little disrupt me. It is this last point that is pivotal.

Most importantly, I learned that my productivity was greatly enhanced by my not being emotionally influenced by what time of day it was, similar to my claim in the past that I found it of benefit to lose perception of time while studying. Since all times of day felt the same to me emotionally, I felt little difference between eight AM and eight PM, so I was able to keep my mind entirely on my stream of activities. In other words, I was free to do whatever I chose at any time because I never felt like I should be doing something at a certain time.

It may sound odd, but given strong enough habits it can come to be the case that one will come to expect certain things at certain times and respond accordingly. Consistent mealtimes can lead to consistent hunger at those times. Watch a favorite television show at a certain time consistently then one might long for entertainment at that period regardless of whether or not the show is on. Kids distraught with their schooling may feel the pleasure of intellectual idleness come the end of the day. And so on. It something happens repeatedly and we respond repeatedly in the same way, then it's likely that we'll continue emotionally anticipating such responses in the future. This can place a barrier to one's productivity. If, for instance, you are habituated to engaging in a certain form of recreation at a certain time, then you might have a hard time keeping your mind on any alternative endeavor if you should choose to violate that routine and act otherwise. Being distracted, of course, will lead to you working slower and/or less effectively.

This was a considerable difficulty for me when I originally started my own private studies separate from my schooling. I had become incredibly used to ceasing work at a certain time frame and relaxing there forth, so when I noticed I had been studying into that time frame I would suddenly find it a little more difficult to exert myself since my body was anticipating relaxation. I had to push on to combat such feelings and did succeed, but that the feelings were there still made things considerably difficult. It has done wonders for my productivity, especially last week, to break those associations and view no activity, except for scheduled events, as time-sensitive; anything could be done at anytime.

Simply put, what I am talking about is how divorcing my conception of time from particular activities has helped me boost my productivity. By breaking such conceptions I can look at the clock, note what time it is, and not feel as if I should be altering my activities accordingly. All that matters is that I'm awake, I've got goals to pursue, and I ought to get things accomplished in order to achieve those goals. Breaking those prior conceptions has made it so I'm much more comfortable staying productive at all times of day, around the clock. It's especially useful for such a thing as burning the midnight oil, where one may most strongly associate that time with sleeping. Now I don't recommend actually fighting sleepiness in order to continue working, but if you're wide-awake and it's past your bedtime the dismissal of such conceptions will ease the burden on your mind.

To break such conceptions is easy: All you need to do is break routines. Since forming associations of events with certain time frames involves maintaining routines, all you really have to do is break those routines over and over again until you no longer sense it's a routine: have pancakes for dinner, do homework the moment you get up, take a bath at noon, get out of bed as soon as you're awake, and so on. Being varied in your routine makes it so you won't be able to "feel" that there's any consistency to your actions, so while you may do the same things over and over again you won't form the conception that they're usually associated with a certain time of day. You will most likely experience discomfort at first, but that should soon dissipate as you continuously embark outside your comfort zone and set new standards.

Another good method would be to keep yourself ignorant of the time by hiding time-telling devices, the same technique I noted for my study practices. I noticed that in the earliest points of my studies that I would use the clock (or anything I could derive time from) as a way to measure the speed of my efforts, and the more I paid attention to the clocks the more I feared my speed was inadequate and the less I concentrated on the actual content of my effort. After hiding time-telling devices, I managed to make myself indifferent to time and so solely concerned with my exertion, and now I've developed the point of comfort where I can look at time-telling devices without feeling nervous as to how it reflects on my efforts. If you're one to worry about how clocks and whatnot reflect on your own doings, study related or not, all you need to do is hide your devices best you can (take off your watch, pocket your phone, unmark "Show the clock" on your computer, etc.) and exercise discipline not to glance at whatever time is publicly displayed. In this day and age you don't need to worry about losing track of matters and missing scheduled events like appointments: Just set alarms for the appropriate time. If, however, your attachment to time is so intense that you think you might overly worry about it if you don't check it after a certain period, then set alarms so that you can be aware of what time it is at intervals but still be ignorant as to what time passes between those intervals. For instance, you could set an alarm to go off once an hour so you'll always know the hour, but will still be able to maintain obliviousness to the transitions between.

Once you successfully break your conceptions your emotions will be significantly changed: eating pancakes at nine PM won't feel "weird" and you won't feel hurried if you notice that you've dwelled on two pages for an hour. You'll no longer feel like you have isolated time frames to complete certain items either, for instead you'll wake up and feel like you have a full 24 hour period ahead of you to be accomplished for the day. By getting your emotions one more step out of the way, you're one more step closer to being able to maintain effortless productivity.

In my own life I tended to associate certain periods with relaxation, so I used to feel somewhat disappointed when I would choose another activity other than my usual routine. This interfered with things like studying, as I would daydream of recreating instead of the subject at hand. By eliminating those conceptions I have become much more fluid: I can easily adapt to changes in my efforts because I view my days as a limited set of hours to get things done, not chunks of time frames where certain activities must be grouped in certain spaces. Stop dividing your days into groups and suddenly it will feel like you have so much more time.

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