How to pull oneself out of a book by the bootstraps?
July 9, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

How do I drag myself out the door to do the things I want to do?

I'm frequently late to classes, dates, meetings, and the like. I am aware that this is harmful to me and disrespectful to others, and would like to change my ways.

After reading some other threads, I will try some tricks: First are the rewards for being early - specifically, treating myself to a nice pastry and piece of fruit when I leave early for class in the morning. (Most people seem to reward themselves with coffee, but it holds no appeal for me.) Second, I'll keep a CD player with some good music on my bike at all times, since that makes the ride to wherever I'm going a little more enticing.

The main problem, though, is dragging myself out of another activity, usually a book or webcomic. I get so engrossed in these distractions that getting up - even to do something I enjoy immensely or visit someone I love - seems like an incredible hassle, and I put it off until I'm horribly late.

I've tried setting alarms to no avail. It's not an issue of estimating how long things take, just motivating myself to switch activities.

What tips and tricks can you suggest for breaking this habit?
posted by sibilatorix to Human Relations (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried setting alarms to no avail.

Your alarms are too easy to turn off. If you're engrossed in a book and the alarm on your phone goes off, it's trivial to just flick it off and whatever. On the other hand, if an alarm on the other side of the house (or under the bed, or on a shelf in the closet, or in the bathroom) goes off, you have no choice but to break out of whatever you're doing to turn the damn thing off.
posted by griphus at 2:13 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

As someone who's almost always way too early to everything, one thing jumped out at me from your question: The main problem, though, is dragging myself out of another activity, usually a book or webcomic. I just realized that when I have to go do something, I simply don't start these relaxing, enjoyable things. Not at all on purpose, but just naturally. I'll only lie down and read a novel or watch a movie if I'm in for the night, and if my first plan of the day is at three in the afternoon, I'll naturally become sort of vaguely aware that I have to go out and stop doing anything really engrossing at around noon. You mention setting an alarm, but do you mean for when you have to leave? Have you tried setting it for a long time before before you have to leave, and at that point starting to do less interesting things, like wash dishes or pay bills?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:16 PM on July 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

Set every clock you own 7 minutes fast. Forget that you set them that way.

You don't have a problem dragging yourself away when you are already late, you need to modify the panic threshold so instead being anything less than 5 minutes early is panic time.

The next time you leave the house, set a stopwatch. Don't rush. Record this time when you arrive, sitting in the seat with all your things out. Now add ten minutes. This time is now how long it takes to get from your door to place X. This is now your hard and fast, non negotiable time to leave.

For example if it's 15 minutes to get from your door to a meeting, and the meeting starts at 8:30, your DROP DEAD TIME to have your ass out the door is 8:05. THIS IS NOW NON NEGOTIABLE.

Also, there are few ways to kill people's respect of you more effectively than showing up late.

Put this in a visible spot, on your door or computer.
posted by JimmyJames at 2:16 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, this is classic symptom of depression. Talking to someone about what's going on is highly recommended.
posted by JimmyJames at 2:18 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Depending on how you're setting your alarms, you might be able to tweak that to make it more useful. Instead of setting the alarm for when you need to leave, set two: one for half an hour or so before, and one for when you need to leave. When the first alarm goes off, get to a stopping point in whatever you're doing. That way, you don't have to put a book down in the middle of an exiting scene (or whatever), plus you've got some mental preparation time.
posted by duien at 2:19 PM on July 9, 2012

Do everything you need to do to get ready before you kill time waiting for the right time to leave. Take a shower/pack your bag/print up homework, etc. when you get home/get up in the morning. Then you can waste time reading/playing video games. The internet is dangerous here, I recommend avoiding it. (My rule is Metafilter at work and after my last commitment of the day, no other times.)

Set alarms for when you need to leave with a little wiggle room. When the alarm goes off, drop everything and walk out the door. You're all ready, you only need to leave. The question you need to ask yourself when the alarm goes off is "which is more important to me, whatever I am focused on or actually getting there?"

Have at least one of your alarms be a math alarm that requires a little arithmetic (available for all smart phones). This helps pull your attention away from the activity.

I'm still late more often than I'd like, but after adopting this I no longer have my boss talking about how much he likes my work but I need to start showing up on time or they couldn't keep me.

Adjust according to yourself.

I'm trying a variable reward system for myself - I have a small chance of getting a book every time I get to work on time. Still waiting on the book. But the on time habit is there now.

This is something that I have been dealing with my entire life. I think I'm finally starting to improve, feel free to MeMail me to chat.
posted by Hactar at 2:20 PM on July 9, 2012

The main problem, though, is dragging myself out of another activity, usually a book or webcomic.

Don't do these things until you get to where you're going; you'll have time, because you'll be early! And it will be a reward.
posted by rtha at 2:25 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

The post on unclutterer Are you an abstainer or a moderator? is what rang my bell. This might be a question to ask yourself. In short, some people can "cut back" and others have to go "cold turkey."

To answer the question, I say: Know Thyself. Maybe you just can't do certain activities before others?

I am abstainer, and that also works for my kid. For her, for example, the rule is no TV in the morning. Reading after school is okay, but at bedtime she'll never wind down if she does. We use timers and charts and lists to keep her on track. For me, after a week-long vacation where I indulged in more of everything than I normally do, I'm now officially on the wagon as far as a few things go. And I, too, am working in 20/10 increments as suggested by Unf*ck Your Habitat, because otherwise things expand to fit the time allowed. mrgood is a moderator. He already does everything in fifteen minute increments, and is strict with himself about food and drink. I'd say that it's partly a learned behaviour - self-discipline is hard - but also, very possibly, innate.

So, which are you?
posted by peagood at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a similar problem, but it's not that I'm late; rather, I tend to cancel right at the moment before it's totally lame to do so.* This goes for things I really, really want to do. I've really tried to get better about it because if I go out I almost always have a good time.

Anyways, for me (and maybe for you too) it's this sort of mild anxiety. And it allows me to get engrossed in some time-consuming project before I need to be preparing for something else. It's a form of self-sabotage that allows me an out, a pass to stay in my comfy shell (or cozy bed, or good headspace, or alone in my thoughts) for just a while hitting snooze five times before you really have to go face the world.

The trick is knowing yourself enough to pre-empt this whole routine. Build in something that stops you from picking up the book, browsing the web comic, doing activities or whatever. And something that stops you in a way that reminds you that you ultimately want to go out more than you want to do activity X. And forces you to really look at where this compulsion to lose yourself into that thing comes from.

Even if it means you must overkill things a bit and be chronically early for everything. Or perhaps walk there instead of bike/ride, etc. As long as the thing gets you *toward* the destination, and not a trick you play on yourself to temporarily head in the other direction.

Another you get anything out of punishing yourself for being late? Does it justify the motivation that's driving the time-sucking distractions? For example, for me, sometimes mentally beating myself up about bailing on plans justifies the anxiety I had about going (but wasn't allowing myself to recognise and deal with beforehand). It's not healthy or recommended.

*who am I kidding? It's always lame.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:32 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I'm not seriously depressed, the trick that worked best for me was trying to get there "too early" and bringing something I enjoyed to keep myself occupied. Other tricks, like setting alarms and promising rewards and having my clocks all be fast, helped too. There are a LOT of tips out there on ADHD time management that are probably worth checking out.

However, if I'm seriously depressed, there is no trick that works for me at all. I must get real treatment for the depression for the tricks to work again. Right now I doubt I'd get to anything on time without someone physically standing there making me do stuff, for instance.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 2:46 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you get to the thing you were late for, can you look back and kind of laugh to yourself for building it up so much? If you can, then try to remember that the next time you delay. Things are (usually) never as bad / monumental as you think they are going to be.

It's not easy (at all - I know) moving from a comfortable place to somewhere you don't want to be, but that's life. You have to do that sometimes.

Lately, I've tried to treat this kind of stuff as a kind of "present to my future self". I don't really want to do the washing up / ironing / shopping / (insert unwanted thing, yes fnar fnar) right now. Nothing would please me more than reading a few more chapters of the book I'm into instead of putting it down and getting on with stuff, but then I think about the hassle / repercussions / how-much-late that thing I've not yet done will cause me in the future, and then I just do it.

A stupid example is ironing a shirt. Doing that at 9pm whilst listening to some funky music on the iPod in the kitchen and then putting the shirt in the wardrobe ready for the morning is preferable to running around like a mad thing at 8.45am cursing myself for being a lazy so and so.

And try to remember how much better you felt when you (at least) started to do that thing you were putting off. Remember that anxiety lifting? Store that feeling and remember it.

I don't mean to sound like I've solved all this stuff, and not sure if this helps. But it sounds like you are building this stuff up in your mind when you really don't need to.

Also, you really should open up to a friend about this. Talking is better than keeping it to yourself, pal.
posted by Gentlemanhog at 2:56 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to say: please don't listen to headphones on your bike (you mentioned a CD player). Dulling any of your senses while you're riding a bicycle in traffic is so not a good idea. Better to wind up somewhere late than wind up dead. You could always sing to yourself on your bike, though. That'd be amazing.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I get so engrossed in these distractions that getting up - even to do something I enjoy immensely or visit someone I love - seems like an incredible hassle, and I put it off until I'm horribly late.

You have to break the suction of the vortex. So you set a timer for when you need to get going, and when it goes off you stand up and look away for sixty seconds. This should be enough to break the attention seal. If you need to, get an app for your phone that allows you to allot yourself 10 points for every sixty seconds and then buy yourself a whatever when you get 100 points, or 500 points etc.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on July 9, 2012

dragging myself out of another activity, usually a book or webcomic.

When I was a kid, there was absolutely no TV (or other time-suck sedentary activity) in the morning before school. You got up, you did your morning routine, and then you left for school.

Because of this, I never got into the habit of getting up and doing other stuff before going to class/work/whatever.

Can you just stop doing that? Stop looking at web comics before class? Set your alarm clock to give yourself exactly enough time between waking and leaving. Do not open your web browser/navigate to the comics site. Do not pick up a book. Do not turn on the TV. Whatever. You need to get from point A (wakefulness) to point B (leaving the house) as quickly as possible.

Do this for a month. This should be plenty of time to break the dilly-dallying habit.

Other ideas:

I tend to have more trouble with this when I'm unhappy with where I'm supposed to be going. Is there something under the surface, here? Are you taking classes you're not interested in for a degree you don't care about or some boring professional development goal? Are you going out to do an activity you don't really care for but feel like you're "supposed" to enjoy, or see a friend you secretly dislike?

Maybe you should stop doing things you're secretly not really that interested in. Or, if it's a career thing you can't just drop, give yourself a serious reward for accomplishing a project you're not passionate about, rather than a token reward for getting to class on time.

If all else fails, there's always shame. There's nothing worse than the feeling that you're inconveniencing friends, disrespecting a professor, or missing out on an activity that you wanted to do.

If shame fails, yeah, you're probably depressed.
posted by Sara C. at 3:21 PM on July 9, 2012

I realize this is sort of the offensively expensive band-aid of rampant consumerism and not an actual fix for the underlying situation but I get places a lot earlier now that I can continue reading whatever it was I was reading on my iPad while I am waiting for everyone else to arrive.
posted by elizardbits at 3:22 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, also, just in case you're not talking about things you do in the morning right after waking up? This is yet another reason I don't go home from work before going out or running errands or whatever. If I go home and get all relaxed on the couch with a book or my laptop, that's it. I'm in. So what about not going home between things?

Or, if it's really bad, what about scheduling something early-ish in the mornings and then launching your day from there, rather than getting up whenever and bumming around and getting engrossed in webcomics?
posted by Sara C. at 3:28 PM on July 9, 2012

Arrange to meet someone else there ten minutes early. If tickets are involved, make sure you have the tickets. If they need directions, arrange a meeting place a few minutes away and don't give them the rest of the directions. Make sure it is a good friend, but also a friend who is completely unforgiving when you are late. There! Instant motivation.
posted by davejay at 4:31 PM on July 9, 2012

It's not an issue with alarms so much as one of anxiety or depression, I would guess. So address those if you have 'em.

But also, be aware that you need to schedule more time for things, more space between events, and do that. If you're never on time for 9am appointments, it is a fine strategy to schedule around that. If an efficient person would take 30 minutes to drive across town, give yourself an hour.

Basically, address the source of your pressure (therapy) while dealing rationally with what you are capable of, so that you are less stressed and more successful about meetings. Rushing is its own source if anxiety, so schedule things whenever you can to give yourself more room.
posted by zippy at 4:36 PM on July 9, 2012

And also, make a list of things you do in the morning that keep you from going out, and then resolve not to do them, because you are conscious that they have made you late.

Like: no reading Metafilter at breakfast.
posted by zippy at 4:39 PM on July 9, 2012

Buy one of those alarm clocks with wheels that screeches and runs away from you and you have to chase it down.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:49 PM on July 9, 2012

Wow, quick answers!

To clarify: These activities are often things I really love doing - building bicycles, visiting my friends on their farm, a few very enjoyable classes... There are others in which anxiety plays a role, and I do try to avoid those things when possible. And I'm reasonably certain it's not depression, but I'll look into that.

Sounds like my best bet is to avoid reading and, when I do read, set particularly demanding alarms. I think the math and 10-second alarms might both be effective.

Miss T.Horn: A good point - I use headphones-cut-in-half to keep an ear on traffic. And I do sometimes sing to myself while riding, but I feel a little too awkward doing that in a busy downtown or a campus bike-jam.
posted by sibilatorix at 5:29 PM on July 9, 2012

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