If you have to think about doing something every time you do it, you won’t do it for very long.
The reason is you’re lazy, not by nurture but by nature. I’m not referring to being lazy as being a slob; showers once a week, dandruff hair with underwear full of skid-marks. The laziness I’m talking about is a fundamental human survival mechanism—the need to get a desired result while spending the least amount of effort to get it.
First, we have a limited amount of will power so we rely mostly on habits to get through the day. In other words, our ability to exercise self-regulating behavior—behaviors that require us to think about what to do, how to do it and then actually doing it—is dwarfed by our habits. Our habits are the closest thing to automatic, stimulus-conditioned behaviors. Having a habit frees up our ‘mental RAM’ to think about other potentially important things. Because if we had to decide every morning how to brush our teeth, how much tooth paste to use and how to maneuver the brush to get the cleanest teeth, in addition to other common habits like taking a bath, driving, grooming, how to use eating utensils, we’d exhaust ourselves to the point of being retarded.
Second, from a practical standpoint, the simplest way to achieve a result is the best way. Being busy, more accurately, doing a lot of things without questioning how what you’re doing is moving you closer to the desired result is stupidity. As long as it doesn’t comprise the integrity of the result or is an intentional lifestyle choice, don’t get fancy. For example, I’m somewhat of a ‘productivity nut’, I get sexual release when reading about the latest system, tool, trick, gadgets, framework or whatever promises me to more things done with less time. And this obsession has a lot to do with the ‘feeling’ of being productive, not actually about being productive. Because real productivity is about doing. Usually doing things that are uncomfortable, requires mental effort, physical exertion and sometimes, emotionally challenging. And so as long as I can put off actually doing work by jumping from one work management system to the next latest weekly planner, I will do that—procrastination by wanting to be productive. Oh, the irony.
The real cost of sophistication, of any system or tool, is having to think about how to do it too much that you don’t spend enough time using it to get actual work done. For example, a typical ‘time management’ system comes with its conceptual principles, physical tools like a planner or digital device, maybe a software and a set of best practices. It takes time and effort to learn the system, how it works and adjusting how your behaviors to accompany the system. While you’re doing this, you can’t be doing the real work which the system is intended to support. That’s a very, very, VERY important point. The system only supports the achievement of your goals (think GIGO). Getting the system isn’t the point, the point is getting your goals faster with the system. It’s a vehicle, not the destination. If you have a seamlessly integrated system centered around doing meaningless, trivial stuff, that’s not effective. Effectiveness is about results that count.
So while you have to invest some initial start-up cost, like any projects, you shouldn’t go over budget—decide how much time is sufficient to learn the system, make a schedule, decide on a deadline and get going. The worst thing you can do is learn something in a haphazardly way, making a half ass effort then jump ship seeking the next shiny thing. Because if you’re bad at time management, pick any system and getting started will be an improvement. You have to start somewhere. Build on it over time.
Nowadays, I’m sticking with tradition—a pen and paper. My rationale is, any time management system is first and foremost, a way of thinking and it’s a set of behaviors. Physical tools or digital software does enable great leverage but until and unless you have these mindset and behaviors nailed (i.e. the 20%), everything else is trivial (i.e. the 80%).
Third, almost anything will be difficult at first but once you habitualize it, it becomes easier and easier to do without requiring you to think about it. Given how limited our ability to spot our automatic behaviors and how limited our tank of self-regulation, the key issue is how can we strategically use our willpower to consciously create highly productive, self-reinforcing, healthy habits in our daily life—one habit at a time?
You don’t think about your habits, you just do them. That’s the beauty (or tragedy) of habits. This applies if you have a habit of overeating or exercising 3 times a week. A habtitualized behavior is easier to do. Not entirely easy, but easier—it requires less conscious thinking. The less you have to think about doing something, the more you’ll likely to do it.
This is how you take advantage of our lazy nature to be more productive: design rituals, which requires conscious effort initially but becomes nearly-automatic with practice, to make sure that if you’re going to have habits anyways (and hate changing your habits), your habits are healthy, productive, accumulative efforts that benefit you both today and for the long-term.