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Make It Hard On Yourself

Picture of stop signA lot of productivity advice, especially about technology, is about making things easier to do. For example, in the last few days at ProfHacker, George has asked about paperless promotion portfolios, Mark has shown us an easier Zotero workflow with Zotpad, Adeline has reviewed a geo-tagging journal, and I have written about hacking URLs for faster searches.

But recently I’m finding that I need to make some things harder on myself. It’s easy to fall into habits or routines, whether technological or otherwise, that keep you doing things that you wouldn’t choose to do if you thought about it rationally. But to get to the place where you’re making better decisions, you have to break the habit by making things harder on yourself. There is no point in having a shortcut to something that isn’t worth doing.

Here’s an example: Amazon has a patent on “1-Click” shopping. If you turn on the service, you can buy any of their products with one click of the mouse. Want to buy a book? One click and it shows up at your doorstep. That’s very convenient, and it can become very expensive. I’ve turned off 1-Click shopping.

Here are three things I’ve done to make it harder for me to do things I don’t really want to do:

  • I’ve deleted a lot of bookmarks and apps. The bookmarks or shortcuts to my e-mail program, to Twitter, to Google Reader, to any other site or app that I might check reflexively rather than intentionally are gone. I still use those services, but now I have to make an effort to get to them.
  • I’ve decided to wait 24 hours before agreeing to do anything that is more than routine. Usually, if you ask me to do something, and I’ll say yes right away and regret it later. So now I wait a day before thinking about it, so that I actually can think about it.
  • If I know that a task is likely to take more time than I want to allot to it, I wait to do it until some time when a hard constraint will make me stop at a fixed time. For example, I usually plan to spend two hours prepping for a class, but that can easily become four hours. The extra two hours doesn’t substantially improve the class for my students, but it does take away from my other work. So, I do begin course prep two hours before I have to go to home for the day, because I know my time is limited.

What things do you do reflexively? What can you change to make them harder to do?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user atlantascott / Creative Commons licensed

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