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  • Rewards

    I read Neil Fiore's book The Now Habit some time ago and did not find it of value. I saw the key concept to be The Unschedule. But his unschedule required me to put all my routine tasks on a time calendar in order to figure where my free time lay.

    The reality of my day is that some days are driven by urgent interruptions. I could shield myself from a lot of these. I could spend more time with my office door closed and my phone set to Do-Not-Disturb. But I think that the overall functioning of my organization is enhanced when people know that I am available when there is an urgent situation. So, it is impractical for me to schedule my routine actions because, as David says in GTD (the book), "constant new input and shifting tactical priorities reconfigure daily work so consistently that it's virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time" (40).

    But there were other parts of The Now Habit that, upon rereading, have proven more useful.

    I used to begrudge myself any time at work spent on fun. I thought it was reducing my output and wasteful. I am now trying to use fun activities more consistently as rewards for working on actions that I tend to resist.

    There is nothing new about this. But sometimes I need to hear something a thousand different ways before it sinks in. In the past, I've read books that have advised me to buy myself something special or eat a treat after I've worked on a difficult action. Well, those rewards didn't work for me.

    The books would also advise going on a fancy vacation after successfully achieving the outcome of a big project. But that seems wrongheaded to me. Usually, if I am working on a major project--moving to a new location, setting up a new website, starting a new business, for example--the completion of the project is highly rewarding. To see everything moved into the new location or to see the new website is a big rush. The problem is not that the project is not rewarding. The problem is that the reward is usually weak and hazy and far in the distant future. But the grunt work is something that I need to do now. So, knowing that I can take a great vacation in three months is not going to motivate me any more than knowing that I will have a great new website in three months.

    What Fiore advised me to do was to keep track of those activities that I tend to engage in frequently or for long periods of time. Like visiting Or reading. (The point is that what is rewarding for me might be aversive work for you and vice versa.) These frequently-engaged-in activities are rewards, even though I did not recognize them to be such. The trick is to engage in these rewarding activities immediately after doing an aversive action for at least 30 minutes.

    I have noticed that I will avoid doing a difficult action by doing some easy action. What I try to do now is to use the easy actions as rewards for the difficult actions. So I get more done by chaining my actions. If I work for at least 1/2 hour on reconciling the February bank statement in Quickbooks, my reward is I can purge my third file drawer. (This might sound hilarious to you but it will work for me. Purging my file drawer is a lot easier to do than slogging through Quickbooks.)

    I used to think that rewards were gifts that I would buy for myself. I used to trick myself and think that as long as I was busy, I was working, and that I was doing what I should be doing.

    Yao Dian Zhong said, "Small success conceals the way." I take this to mean that getting things done is just the start. Small successes may conceal the larger successes. Small successes are the things David talks about--putting a ball into a hole, punching widgets, filling the stapler and watering the plants. The larger successes are harder to see because their payout is uncertain and distant.

    I now think of rewards as small successes. I now realize that going through my email can be a reward. I now realize that doing errands can be a reward. And I am now more eager to start some of my less pleasant actions.

  • #2
    Well put, Moises. I too have found lately that a reward can consist of a little job that I enjoy and that needs to be done. Two birds, one stone: reward received, another task finished.


    • #3

      Yes, very well said, and a thoughtful re-reading of a good book. I try to divide aversive and less-aversive (but still not fun) tasks into "Big Frog" and "Little Frog," based on one of my favorite Mark Twain quips: "If you have to swallow a frog, don't look at it too long. And if you have to swallow two frogs, don't swallow the smaller one first." Two tasks get accomplished without "feeling" like two.

      Thank you, Moises, for this and other thoughtful posts.