A Game of Chess

Last Wednesday I talked about how time limits can reduce procrastination, but this time I’d like to emphasize an important practice that has at least had a huge effect on my productivity, and more than that—motivation.

Really, it’s quite simple. It’s already written up there in the title… “Work first, then play.” Pure wisdom, and very practical for a change.

As you probably know, I dedicate a portion of my daily life to entertainment. And I must admit that sometimes it’s really hard to stick with a schedule. Weekends are the hardest. When I wake up on a Saturday morning, more often than not, I have these impulses to immerse myself in the world of entertainment, mainly video games and books, especially if I’ve been there the previous night.

The problem with that is that if you start your day with entertainment, you often need to make much greater an effort to transition from that mindset to a mindset of productivity. Even if you set time limits, it’s easy to be fooled by the abundance of time you have in the morning. Two hours can easily become three hours, four, and so on when you are tricked by the clock.

When you’re having fun, it almost pains you to let go of it. When you’re in the middle of an exciting Civ IV campaign or doing a Lost marathon, you just want to continue. One game leads to another, and a couple of Lost episodes easily keep you snared until the end of the season. It’s a vicious cycle.

The counter-technique is simple but works like magic. It’s so effective it’s ridiculous. (Or maybe I’m a slow learner and just simply didn’t get it before.) It doesn’t really require any practice or conditioning. You only need to fight the initial temptation of taking the easier entrance to your day. When you start with work in the morning and end it by 5 o’clock, the rest is all up to you. You no longer have to stress over what you still have to do in the evening or at night. So start with the important stuff first. It works. I only wish I had realized this when I was in school.