Breaking habit of laziness to get what we want
January 10, 2011 12:09 PM   Subscribe

My cousin and I want to be better at managing time and focusing on things we want to do. But we have some unhelpful emotional obstacles that are in the way of being who we want to be.

She is a college student studying for the MCATs who gets lonely at the idea of designating x hours a day for studying, I am a working adult who might be relieving stress by limiting my "must do" list and not being who I want to be.

My cousin is naturally very smart, which she says has led her to not working as hard as she probably could during college (a big state U five hours from her family). She has a competitive GPA in a major she didn't have to work hard at to understand or do well at, and could spend more time concentrating on her science courses. Now that she's prepping for the MCATs, she wants to do it right and wants very badly to not get sidetracked by the loneliness of studying.

We talked at length about this, and I honestly can say I had a similar problem when I was a student (which probably led to me pursuing a less rigorous career path) and have a similar problem as an adult. I want to be serious about learning various things that are interesting to me that I regret not having seriously pursued because I know it would be fun if I gave it an honest try, but no matter how many time budgets I've prepared in the past, I've gleefully ignored it and decided to be lazy instead.

We both want to improve ourselves and have a sort of pact about using our time as we truly want to, but we're trying to figure out how to get over the emotional obstacles sticking to a schedule presents.

We discussed it and realized we both feel stressed by designating time necessary to do things. Oddly enough, we aren't procrastinators so long as someone else is doing the assigning and giving us a due date. I have no problem getting to work on time or getting projects done. I'm not lazy when other people are counting on me. But when I see several days marked off for things I know I need to do, I start having an anxious feeling and worry I won't have enough time to....sit around doing nothing, I guess.

For me, it's as though I'm rebelling against myself when I'm telling myself to do something. I also have this feeling that if I schedule my free time to pursue extracurricular studying, then I might be missing out on something. Or perhaps it's that I like spontaneity or the idea that something fun might happen and I want to just wait around for it. Or perhaps I think I'm relaxing and I need a lot of time to unwind (though I generally never feel as relaxed as I really want to -- I think that might require a coma).

The weird thing is (for both of us) is that once we settle down into studying, we're fine and it even feel fun. But we forget that routinely so it ends up like a cycle.

How do we get over the emotional hump that comes when you're doing something that you know you have to do to be happy when you so consistently forget that it's what you want and it's okay after you start? Also, how do you get over the worry that you could be spending your time feeling pleasant and basking in the joy of doing nothing when you seriously want to pursue something that is important to you?

Also, how do you make a time budget and not feel anxious/depressed by all the time you designate to pursuing things you need to do (such as grocery shopping, getting something fixed, even going shopping for clothes you know you'd like to have) when they don't automatically feel energizing?
posted by anniecat to Education (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I feel less lonely studying in public, like at the library or, better yet, a coffee shop. You get to interact a little with others while you're there, while really spending most of the time working on your own.
posted by elpea at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: I feel less lonely studying in public, like at the library or, better yet, a coffee shop.

I suggested that to her just now, but she says she gets distracted by the presence of other people, particularly young men her age.
posted by anniecat at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2011

One of my current hobbies is learning Spanish. I already speak Portuguese, so I've got a lot for free and is nothing like learning a new language from scratch.

How to fit this in with a routine that's about other stuff? Someone told me about the timer method: set for 15 mins, and study for that time and that time only. I can't do this at all. The best I can come to directed self study is when I was swapping language lessons with a friend, and because I told him I would be there & have done some modicum of homework, I'd be there, and I couldn't cancel because he was depending on me.

An hour or so a week isn't that much for a project of this size. Fortunately there's useful stuff that can be done during the lazy time: I could watch telenovelas! Awesome! Working without it being work.

But telenovelas + a weekly lesson only gets you so far, too. The thing that really works for me is immersion. Last August I could go somewhere Spanish-speaking for 3 weeks, and focus my holiday around socializing in Spanish; I'll do the same again for 2 weeks in February. Over the year or two I've been doing this, I've gotten a lot better, but without sitting down and actually suffering over it ever.

One has to learn the way one learns things. If it doesn't happen by oneself, sign up to some regular classes, or travel somewhere to go on a course during a holiday, or find a friend/someone you can swap lessons with.

In my little story about Spanish, my emotions/innate laziness/fact I wake up late/heroic procrastination did not feature at all: and the reason is not because they're not there, but because I organized things so that I would be in a position where I was learning things whether I liked it or not; or rather, positions where learning something was by far more natural than not learning anything.
posted by squishles at 3:03 PM on January 10, 2011

This is going to sound facetious, but it really isn't. You guys sound like you both need a kick in the butt. There is a lot of hemming and hawing and "what's the best way to do this" going on, when the answer seems to be you need to develop some grit.

Have a shot of espresso, turn on some energizing music (heavy metal or just plain rock...NOT smooth jazz or delicate emo music) and plow through your to do list/studies. If you can't listen to music while doing your tasks, I recommend at least listening to some energizing music a bit prior.

What I hear in your post is a complete lack of "RAAAR I'M GONNA FUCK SHIT UP". You need to learn to get into that mode, and you need to learn how to invoke it when necessary.

The other, totally opposite method is just do a tiny little bit at a time until you build momentum, but it sounds like you're already overwhelmed yourself in details of the process.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:04 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a class at a community college. They're amazingly cheap (usually under $100/credit), and they will force you into a structure that requires you to turn in homework, study for exams, and be present and participate in class. And community college courses are often seriously underrated. Even when the instructor isn't so great, it's better than intending to study and never getting around to it.

If housework is on your to-do list and you're having trouble getting motivated to complete tedious chores and get them out of the way, I rely heavily on my iPod and entertaining BBC crime dramas, audio books, and NPR podcasts. I get so engrossed in what I'm listening to that suddenly I notice that the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean!
posted by tully_monster at 3:28 PM on January 10, 2011

Since 1 January I have been making my morning coffee right after my shower in the morning - before breakfast, before email - lighting a scented candle (same scent every day), putting on music of a style that is not too distracting, and that I only listen to during this period (French chanson music), putting my ass on a beanbag with the laptop, and setting a time for 25 minutes. Then I start working on whatever is on my to-do list that is the scariest. Currently that is usually a paper I have to write (where the deadline was back in October, so it's not only scary, but also OVERDUE).

This system is designed for the following purposes:
- creating a bunch of "cues" so that I will Pavlovianly condition myself to work whenever I experience them. (Scent, coffee, beanbag, location, time of day).
- de-"scariness"-ing the scary stuff. If I managed to work on that project yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, it can't be that scary, right? And I can do it again today.
- making slow and steady progress on projects. No more binge-writing followed by weeks of inability to do anything.
- breaking the procrastination habit. I am not allowed to do ANYTHING in the morning until I have worked for 25 minutes. Not even eat.
- making my mornings more peaceful and ritualised. I've found I even look forward to these quiet times with my beanbag and candle.
- getting rid of the evening panic and guilt I felt so often last year when I had intended to work on something that day and had never got around to it.

I actually tend to end up working for around an hour rather than just the 25 minutes, and only stop when I get hungry. But I let myself stop after 25 if I want to. And it's been great! I've been finding it easier to work on those scary projects later in the day too - and when I get into procrastination mode later in the day I find that making a cup of coffee and lighting a candle can snap me out of it.

Of course, it's only been just over a week. We'll see if it lasts.
posted by lollusc at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We discussed it and realized we both feel stressed by designating time necessary to do things.

You might benefit from the Unschedule, as described in The Now Habit. Basically, the idea is that instead of scheduling work you have to do, you schedule everything you want to do.

In other words, it's reverse psychology on yourself. When you look at your Unschedule, you see all of these exciting, appealing activities in your week, and you know for sure that you're going to have enough time to have fun and do things you want to do. That frees up mental energy for you to do other things, like studying. It's almost like if you schedule your playtime first, the desire to work will be stronger, because doing that work isn't denying you anything.
posted by danceswithlight at 6:05 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

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