Reluctant Researcher — Improving Work Habits and Productivity
This post is a continuation of reluctant research blog series. I thought I was done with being a reluctant researcher having taken the jump from being a reluctant research to a determined one. However, Covid-19 brought up a new challenge of working at home which led to a continuous struggle to improve my concentration and work habits. Before the lock down, as I was making my journey from a reluctant to a determined researcher and working in a lab with other colleagues helped me as I could feed myself with their energy. It was not necessary that I was working with them on a project, just being there and seeing their passion would encourage me but with Covid-19 all that was lost and I had to find new ways to remain a determined researcher.
Working at home is not easy, specially with kids at home and an imperfect working environment. I started off with working on my dining table while sitting on a sofa with the keyboard on my lap and mouse on the sofa arm. A far from a suitable working set up. This changed as highlighted in my other blog entry:
However, other struggles continued, specially the desire and will to concentrate on doing work for long periods of time while working from home as I often found myself distracted by other things. But importantly, I was cognizant of the struggles and was trying to find a way to come out of it.
In this blog, I will focus on the steps I took to improve my work habits which continues to this day. The reason for penning this blog is to document the practical steps I have taken. This will help to remind myself of what works for me and it may, hopefully, help others as well.
One of the key habits that was inhibiting my productivity was procrastination. Google defines procrastination as:
the action of delaying or postponing something
This stems from a number of things, for e.g., the fear of trying something new, to write some new piece of code, to learn something new and fear of failure. So much so, that one starts to question whether one has the acumen, intelligence and skills to achieve what others achieve. One starts to question oneself that he/she is just not good enough. You start thinking that the successful researchers have something innate and no matter how much hard work one puts in, he/she will never reach the height others achieve.
However, I wanted an answer to this question. I read a number of articles that was published online about work habits and productivity. With Covid-19 forcing a large work force to work from home, including myself, such articles were frequently appearing online. However, very few articles gave any practical steps to take which can be adopted. All this search and prayers eventually took me to a number of different articles and one book which showed, in a practical way, how to improve oneself including work habits and having the right frame of mind.
The article is long, which I never planned it to be. To help navigate through the article and jump to any desired place, a list of sections is provided below. Each section identifies different steps I have taken to improve myself.
Talent is Overrated
To begin with, I was led to a book, titled: Talent is Overrated — What Really Separates World-Class Performers from everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. This book was eye opening and helped me clear doubts about my abilites.
It argued, very successfully, that we tend to put too much emphasis on the innate talent and that being a born genius is the key to success. It also dispels that just hard work will bring in riches and the more experience a person is, the more better he/she will be in her field. It also presents the different use-cases of several known masters of their field like Mozart (musician), Tiger Woods (golfer), Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Warren Buffett (business) and explores the reasons for their success and dispels the myths that it was natural talent that was key. To further counter this, there is mention of people who did not show early sings of talent and success like David Ogilvy (advertising executive) and Jack Welch (20th century manager of the century by Fortune magazine) among others who nevertheless went on to be insanely successfully later on in their life.
The author argues that the key to success is not experience, inborn abilities and general abilities like intelligence and memory going as far as arguing that even high IQ is not a guarantor of success.
So what is it? The key to success, according to Geoff Colvin, is Deliberate Practice. Although the book takes example primarily from the business, sports or the music world, the ideas presented are generic. It not only discuss how individuals can adopt the principle of deliberate practice but also how organizations can build up an environment where employees can engage in deliberate practice to enhance not only individual skills and expertise but also help the organization to improve and be successful.
So what is deliberate practice? According to the author, Deliberate practice is characterized by the following key elements:
- Designed specifically to improve performance
- Feedback on results
- Mentally highly demanding
- Not enjoyable
These factors are self illuminating and one can appreciate the difference between just working hard and working hard in a very specific way. For me, the last point of deliberate practice not being enjoyable was the key. We may enjoy doing certain things again and again and enjoy doing it as well since they are easy. But the key to success is to seek out things that we are not good at and go through the pain and difficulty of going over these things repeatedly. The enjoyment is in this process of learning something new and getting out of one’s comfort zone and not in doing things that are easy.
This helped me from a state where if I was not enjoying something, then instead of assuming I am not good at, I started seeing it as a chance to improve myself, to see it as a challenge and the next step in achieving success.
However, deliberate practice is just one side of the dice. Other factor play their part as well like being at the right place at the right time. For e.g., the book gives the example of Tiger Woods in that had it not been for his father Earl Woods, he may never have been that good. This indicates the need of a supportive environment. That is, deliberate practice is important but it does not exist in isolation.
The author further says that deliberate practice allows the person to perceive more, for e.g., understanding the importance of the finer details which an average performer may miss. They can extrapolate from little information they have to make decisions and make finer discrimination. Other key aspects that differentiate a deliberate practioner from a commoner is having more knowledge and the ability to retain relevant information which does not equate to them having a great memory.
So how do we incorporate the habit of deliberate practice in our daily lives? According to the author, the first step is knowing your goal and being committed to achieve them. Next is knowing steps to take to achieve that goal. Sometimes the steps are clear and sometimes not and it is in these unclear situations that a mentor, with expertise in our field, can guide. The other, and every obvious step, is to practice. I can relate it to my own field as trying and testing various new concepts while learning them instead of deferring this practice to sometime next, which generally never comes.
The next step is self regulation and practicising in the work. For e.g., setting goals before starting work and planning how to achieve them, self-observation during the work and getting feedback on it after the work is complete. I can very easily relate this to my own public PhD defense which had to start with my 30 minutes presentation.
Before the actual presentation, I had a number of planned dress rehearsals but I also lost count the number of times I informally dress rehearsed for it in my office. Going over the presentation multiple times and making notes of what to say helped a great deal in giving a great presentation during the actual event, something which was confirmed in the form of formal and informal feedback. Once a senior professor stopped me as we walked past and not only congratulated me on my successful defence but also praised the way I presented my work. The work I did for the presentation, to me, is a clear example of deliberate practice. The final step in applying the principles of deliberate practice in our lives is deeping of knowledge. Deep knowledge helps a person build, as the book says, a mental model which can help in (a) forming a framework to hang your knowledge which allows top performers to reach their long term memories faster than oridinary performers, (b) distinguish relevant information from the irrelevant and thus only retain the relevant ones, as also mentioned earlier and (c ) project what may happen next, a very important ability specially in business and sports. These principles can also be applied in an organization to help the employees get the best out of themselves and is the reason why some organizations are so successful while others not.
All this theory is good but one must contemplate why not every one just go out there and do it. The key lies is having a truly extraordinary drive, a passion. But where does this passion come from? The book puts forward this notion, based on research, that it is intrinsic motivation that drives people to success and this intrinsic motivation can be triggered by achieving something that we set out to achieve. The authors calls it the multiplier effect, i.e., a small achievement or advantage can spark a series of events that only provides intrinsic motivation but also leads to much larger achievements.
Of course, external motivating factors like positive feedback, acclaim and rewards benefit but only to a certain extent and only when the external factor is relevant to ones own internal motivation. One needs to be self motivated to achieve success and studies have shown that giving people freedom to innovate acts as an intrinsic motivation, specially on creative tasks and sometimes providing external motivation like reward can actually reduce their creativity.
This flies in the face of those academic and research organizations policies that by providing a cash reward for publications will provide motivation for researchers to get more innovative and conduct quality research.
In fact, this external motivation has led to low quality research and an increase in unethical practices like guest authorships (without any significant contribution), self generated data (specially in the field of social sciences), deliberate fudging of data to show improvements among others, just to get that reward.
All in all, reading this book allowed me to reflect on my life as a researcher and how I can use these principles to become successful, even though how enjoyable and tiring it may be.
BBC Article on Procrastination
Another article that helped me immensely was by David Robson titled The four keys that could unlock procrastination. It was published by BBC on 5th January 2021 and the link is given here:
The four keys that could unlock procrastination
Imagine that you could become healthier, wealthier and less stressed through a few daily steps. It would require no…
The articles presents a system developed by Jason Wessel, a PhD student at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. The system comprised four simple “reflection points”. The aim of these reflection points is to target the psychological roots of the problem. Asking yourself these questions on a daily basis, the article argues, will help one to resist tempting distractions and allowing one to focus on things that are important for one’s life.
The four questions to reflect are:
- How would someone successful complete the goal?
- How would you feel if you do not do the required task?
- What is the next immediate step you need to do?
- If you could do one thing to achieve the goal on time, what would it be?
The article argues that it is important to reflect and question the value of the goal. This technique is inspired by Temporal Motivation Theory. The theory, according to the article by David Robson, identifies four interlinked causes of procrastination; expectancy, sensitivity to delay, failing to appreciate the value of the tasks and lack of self-awareness and capacity to think analytically about our own thinking.
I printed the four questions and pasted it at my table. Whenever I felt lost, unable to focus, feared starting a new task or completing one, I would read out the four questions. Each question helped me in various ways. Certainly, thinking about how someone successful will complete the goal had he/she been in my place gives you the motivation to go ahead and do the task. The second question evokes the feeling of failure and guilt which one wants to avoid.
The third and fourth question helped me break down the immediate task into smaller sub-tasks and get started with it. I enlist these smaller sub tasks into my list of tasks (more on that below) and finishing these sub tasks gives me a positive feeling and a sense of accomplishment.
Another article I read on the internet recommended on writing the thoughts at the end of the day in the form of a reflection matrix. I am unable to recall or find the article again. The reflection matrix is given below:
======== ================ ==================
║ Active ║ Passive
======== ================ ==================
I like ║ ║
======== ================ ==================
I wish ║ ║
======== ================ ==================
The active column means things that are in ones own control while Passive indicates things that happen to us. The first row is for writing down things that were positive, things that we accomplished or good things that happened to us. Writing it down enables us to think that even if the day was not productive, there was some silver lining.
The second row, on the other hand, allows you to list down your thoughts, specially in the first column, for e.g., if the day was not productive, I would usually write like “I wish my day was productive” or “I wish I had utilized my time properly”. I typically list down my shortcomings of the day which allows me to reflect on them and also refer to the four questions listed above which helps to remind me the value of my goal. There are also things which one wishes could have happened which may brighten up our day, specially in these pandemic times, and could be both materialistic or spiritual/religious.
I fill in the reflection matrix daily and I also list down completing the matrix in the list of tasks I maintain. This allows me to sometimes go back in time to see if I have made improvements over time in my work habits.
Replacing Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion
It is very common among the people to be hard on oneself in the event of failure. This was certainly true for me. I was constantly blaming myself for any work related issues that I was having. Although some of the self-doubts about talent was resolved by the book by Geoff Colvin stated earlier, I was being extremely self critical regarding my issues. Such a response seemed natural.
However, as argued in the following article on BBC by David Robson, research shows that being overly self-critical often backfires and can increase procrastination. This was an eye opener for me because it was very relevant to my own problems.
Why self-compassion - not self-esteem - leads to success
Think back to the last time you failed or made an important mistake. Do you still blush with shame, and scold yourself…
The article draws from the research and experience of Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She argues that instead of being hard on ourselves, we should be more compassionate towards our own being. She terms it self-compassion and puts forward the notion of forgiving our mistakes, taking good care of ourselves during times of failure and disappointment and trying to be that supportive friend to yourself who would show unconditional support to you in your times of need.
The article suggests that being self-compassionate can increase our emotional resilience and will help us remain healthy and productive. As the old adage goes that one should learn from their mistakes, being self-compassionate help us achieve that.
The article refers to even more researchers who have confirmed the idea of self-compassion among a more diverse group of people. The article was really helpful in making me realize that I need to change my attitude towards myself. Helpfully, Dr. Neff has a website:
This entertaining book offers expert advice on how to limit self-criticism and offset its negative effects, enabling…
On her website, Dr. Neff provides a wealth of resources, like books, workshop, recommended reading list, best practices to achieve self-compassion among others. Among these resources, I was attracted to the self-compassion exercise which take you step by step on how to be self-compassionate.
Going through the exercises helped me calm down and made me see my shortcomings as opportunities to improve them. It made me recall ways in which I would talk to my close friends if they were going through not-so-good times. It allowed me to transform negative feelings into positive ones which made me reflect on the choices I make when working.
Self-Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff
Self-Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff
Self-Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neffself-compassion.org
There are a total of eight exercises, each dealing with different aspects of building our self-compassion and reducing our self-criticism. I will briefly describe them and how it helped me. However, it is important to note that one has to be honest while going through these exercises or else they may be of little help.
Exercise 1: How would you Treat a Friend?
In this exercise, Dr. Neff asks us to imagine a friend who is going through some really rough days and write down ways in which we will help him. When I wrote down things I will do, it was remarkable how compassionate I was towards that friend. I also wrote down an active conversation where I found myself encouraging him, helping him identify his goals in life and suggesting him ways to come out of his malaise.
None of these were trumped-up. I have been in such positions before where I have found myself helping and encouraging a friend. This helped me remain honest when writing down my response to a friend in crisis.
In the second part of this exercise, Prof. Neff asks us to write down about how will we respond to ourselves if we were going through similar times. According to her, it is important to note down the difference in the tone with which we address ourselves and our friend.
If one notices a difference in the tone, which I certainly did, it is very important to reflect on the factors that lead us to being more self-critical and being compassionate towards our friend.
This reflection helped me in realizing how things could be different if I responded to myself in the same way I responded to a friend and made me realize that being self-critical was pushing me down a hole from which it was getting difficult to recover while being self-compassionate was encouraging me to overcome my problems and improve my work habits.
Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break
The second exercise is a repeatable exercise and encourages us to evoke three aspects of self-compassion. When ever we are in a difficult situation, the exercise asks us to say ourselves that we should acknowledge that this is a moment of suffering and terms it mindfulness. According to Google, mindfulness means:
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
This is important. We will not be able to get out of our situation without acknowledging it and it was acknowledging my shortcomings that has allowed me to overcome them. But acknowledging is not enough as the exercise then tells us to realize that suffering is a part of life and all people struggle in their lives in different ways. After these two very important realizations, the exercise tells the reader to adopt a soothing touch, just like we want to hug a friend to make them comfortable. This can also be combined with focusing on the four reflection points, meditating or offering prayers.
Now that we feel a bit relaxed, the exercise asks us to asks ourselves the kind of words we would like to hear. This is similar to the words we will say to our friends to help them calm down, to reassure them. This has helped me not only accept myself as I am but also encouraged me to be patient, forgiving and strong.
Exercise 3: Exploring Self-Compassion through Writing
As it is very important to acknowledge our weaknesses, this exercises requires us too write down the imperfections that make us feel inadequate. Writing down our feelings and shortcomings is very important. Of course, realization is the first step but writing them down reinforces it. It is just like sitting in a lecture and taking notes. Without notes, even if we understand everything in the lecture, we will not be able to hold it for long. Writing them down provides a feedback which helps us remember the concepts delivered even though we might not remember all the details.
It is important to go all out in writing what ever we want as this list of flaws will remain private to us. If we are not honest to ourselves then it will not be easy to improve ourselves. And that’s what I did and I sometimes open this document to reflect on it.
Now that we have listed down our imperfections, the exercise asks us to write a letter to ourselves from the perspective of an unconditionally loving friend, who knows all about you, all your strengths and weaknesses including those that you have listed them down. This feeds in to the concept of self-compassion. If the letter we write is full of compassion, love, giving confidence, cheering up your friend, it will help us get out of the negative cycle of self-criticism. Finally, the exercise asks us to read the letter again and feel the compassion, love and comfort as it “pours” onto you, as the exercise itself says.
Exercise 4: Supportive Touch
This exercise builds on the soothing and support touch which was part of exercise number three. The exercise argues that:
Touch activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down and feel safe
There can be many ways to provide such a soothing touch. Some of those listed in the exercise are:
- One hand on your cheeck
- Cradling your face in your hands
This exercise will help you to relax in moments of stress and distressing emotions by providing a sense of security and calming our cardiovascular stress. This exercise can be repeated multiple times a week, specially in the beginning.
Exercise 5 and 6: Changing your Critical Self-Talk & Self-Compassion Journal
Although the two exercises are separate, it felt best for me to combine them. Exercise 6 requires us to keep a journal of our feelings and how to give it a positive spin. The first step of exercise 5 asks the reader to hear you self-critical voice. It is important to be as accurate as possible and note down the tone and words we use to loathe ourselves. We can register this in our head, speak to ourselves or write a journal. Since exercise 6 also requires writing a journal, I decided it is best to combine them and use exercise 5 to maintain a journal.
This self-critical talk or expressing our feeling is termed as mindfulness as defined earlier. We should note down if we are feeling sad, frustrated or embarrassed and should also note the tone of our voice. In the second step, we should try to reframe our harsh self-critical talk to make it more soften and, as exercise 6 says, write down ways in which our experience relates to others while acknowledging that humans are not perfect. This helps us realize that we are not alone facing problems in this world and there is no point in despair. Exercise 6 terms this as Common Humanity.
Finally, both the exercises asks us to reframe the observations made by our inner critic in a more friendlier way to enhance our positive feelings. Again, thinking about how we will act as a compassionate friend to others, we should use words of comfort to express feelings of warmth and care. We should reframe our thoughts in ways that will give us confidence and reassurance to move forward. Exercise 6 terms it as Self-Kindness
Based on this exercise, I always maintain a journal by creating table in the following way:
Date ║ Critical self-talk
<date> ║ Feeling (Mindfulness): <List down your harsh self-critical
║ talk here> ===========================================================
║ Reframe (Common Humanity): <Reframe your harsh feelings to
║ reflect in ways others will also be facing similar
║ situations and you are not unique> ===========================================================
║ Reframe (Self-Kindness): <Reframe your critical self-talk
║ in a positive way which can help you relax and energize
║ you to make it right the next time======== ===========================================================
Again, I don’t use any special application. Simply a document where I can easily create tables. I use Libre Office but any off MS Office or Google Docs will do. There are two benefits of writing our thoughts down. One, we can always come back and read our thoughts back and secondly, writing always helps you retain more, at least for me.
Journal entries need not be entered daily. In the beginning, one might be doing it daily but as times goes by and being self-compassionate becomes a habit, the entries will be less frequent which in itself reflects positively on ourselves and shows that we are making progress.
Exercise 7: Identifying what We really Want
This exercise ties in neatly with the four reflection points listed earlier. It is very important to identify our goals and their values to our life. Then it can be easy to identify our personality traits that are a hindrance for us to achieve our goals. The exercise asks us to lists those traits and how we are self-critical about them. This self-criticism will cause us emotional pain and it is important to feel it. This will allow us to reflect that being self-critical is not productive.
As writing down my feelings help me get in touch with them, I wrote down how I feel when I criticize myself and how it does not help me to overcome my problems.
The exercise then, as a second step, pushes us to ponder on ways we can be kinder to ourselves in a more caring way, in ways our friend, teacher or mentor will motivate us, point out our unproductive behavior and encourage us to do better. Based on this, I again wrote couple of short paragraphs to help motivate myself, pointing my goals in this life and the next, ways in which I can be productive and
Finally, this exercise recommends going over of noticing the pain of self-criticism, giving yourself compassion and reframing our inner dialogue in a more supportive way. Maintaining a journal as part of exercise 5 and 6 syncs in with this exercise and going through the exercises again is a theme consistent with these self-compassion exercises.
Exercise 8: Taking Care of the Caregiver
The last exercise is more of a concluding exercise which exhorts us to take care of the caregiver, i.e., yourself. We need to take care of ourselves, both on the job and off it. The way I do this exercise is when I am feeling guilty or stressed, I either sit back in my seat and grab myself with my arms, take a short walk within my home or offer my prayers (depending on the time). This is similar to exercise number 2 and focuses on giving ourselves self assurance and confidence. The exercise also recommends saying soothing words of comfort which I do in writing as also explained below.
Final Thoughts: All these exercises are not done in isolation. Exercises are connected with each other. Sometimes, they may feel redundant, but each exercise has its own benefits. Some of the exercises can be repeated over when ever we find ourselves in stressful and difficult situations. For some exercises, one only needs to read what we have written again, like exercise number 1. It is also important to go over the exercises repeatedly at intervals that best suit us. This will help in reminding us to treat ourselves with compassion, love and respect.
Listing Down Tasks
Often when I started my days work, I would find myself dithering to start work and not deciding what to start of with. Since the desire to work was diminishing, I found myself stopping myself from making that decision and wasting my time in unproductive activities like watching news or sports highlights or browsing through the internet, in essence I was procrastinating.
To overcome this decision making at the start of each day, I started making a list of tasks I had to do on a particular day. However, instead of making the list at the start of the day, I made it the day before when finishing work. The reason I found this more easy is that when one is in the midst of work, it is easy to make the list. I was afraid if I made the list at the start of the day, I might again hesitate to jot down tasks.
Another key thing I do with the list of tasks is to make it over ambitious. I would list 8–10 tasks for each day, knowing well that I will not complete each of them. However, even if I am able to complete 60% of the listed tasks, I knew my day was a productive one. But that is me and may not work with others. I also did not use any modern mobile or web application to do that as I find them cumbersome. To me, a simple list on my notebook was much easier as it was always in front me, reminding me of the tasks I had to do. One can also use a dedicated planner as shown below. I have now switched to this planner so that it is easy for me to look back at my work history.
In the list, I had both simple tasks, like emailing someone or going out for a walk or filling in my daily reflection matrix and complex tasks like thinking about a new research problem, reading a research article, writing code for my research projects. The advantage was that whenever I found myself hesitating to do any complex task, I would do simple tasks in order to avoid wasting waste time and also reducing the to do list. Finishing tasks also gives a positive feeling, a sense of accomplishment and pushes me to complete more tasks. Instead of getting tied in a cycle of negative emotions, this helps me get in a cycle of positive emotions and attitude.
Breaking down complex tasks into simple ones can also be listed, however, caution must be taken that the purpose of the day is not reduced to just putting a mark against tasks that have been completed. The purpose of the list is to make one more productive, not just to mark tasks as complete.
Writing Down Thoughts
On a number of occasions, I feel a bit down and unwilling to pick up the pen, as they say proverbially. A number of thoughts are going on in my mind on why am I not moving forward, why I am not starting or finishing a particular task, why am I being reluctant in reading an article, research paper or book that is so important for me.
At this particular time it is important to just sit back and relax so that one can remove the negative feelings. I also write down the thoughts that I have on any empty space in my notebook and how to overcome it. I read these thoughts and solutions to myself, as if I am talking about it in a compassionate way to a friend. This allows me to give feedback to myself from a 3rd person perspective and ties in with being self-compassionate rather than self-critical, specifically exercise number 8, although I was doing this before reaching exercise number 8.
This exercise can be critical for someone who is working alone, which is so common at the moment. It can also be good for someone who is an introvert and is reluctant to share his/her feelings to others. Talking to one’s better half, is of course another option which I do utilize often which helps calm down my nerves.
Timing Day’s Work
When one is working in an office environment, it is easy to regulate the number of hours one works in a day. If one typically spends 8–10 hours in his/her office, it is expected that he/she will have been active for around 5–6 hours during that time as it is almost impossible to be active for the entire duration.
However, regulating a work day while working from home in your living room with all kinds of distraction (not just Internet), is very difficult. At the end of the day, in my case, I was not sure how many effective hours have I spent working. Progress can be tracked through the tasks one has completed but not all tasks are of the same complexity and take variable time.
Therefore, I decided to measure the time I spent actually working. Instead of using any fancy app, at the start of each day I start my mobile’s stop watch as I am working. When ever I get up for a short or a long break or even wander off my work, I pause the stop watch. Upon returning to work, not only do I restart the watch, I also start a new ‘lap’ to measure how long was I able to focus on work. Since my stop watch is also visible on my lock screen, just a simple glance on it enabled me to see how much have I been working.
At the end of the day, I note down the time I have spent working and my finish time in a simple spreadsheet, while also noting down my thoughts on my day’s performance. To make this exercise more valuable and goal oriented, I listed down two goals:
- Work for six hours a day and finish work by at most 12 midnight
- Work for eight hours a day and finish work by at most 1 am
The first goal is what a normal work day entails when working from an office (although definitely not till 12 midnight) as also described by Clément Fournier in his article Are Shorter Working Days the Secret to a Happier, Healthier and More Productive Life?. The second goal is slightly over ambitious since spending around 6 hours a day working is more than enough to be considered appropriate from a work-life balance point of view and be productive as well. However, being over ambitious helps me in the same way as listing down extra tasks in that even getting close to it will mean I have had a good and productive working day.
At the end of the day, if it was good, it helped me calm myself and reassured me that even though I may have procrastinated, wandered off mid-work or struggled to get started, I was able to work a good number of hours. This combined with the list of tasks that I completed meant I had a productive day.
If not, then it allowed me to reflect through the reflection matrix, the four reflection point and writing down my thoughts and allows me to come back strongly the next day with the aim of improving myself and achieving one if not both the goals listed above.
It is important to note that it is a combination of the above steps that I have taken that are helping me improve my work habits, become more productive and achieve a better work-life balance. Furthermore, this article is not a scientific endeavor but a personal story, although the tools I have used are scientific in nature. Not all that has been mentioned above will help everyone and it is not supposed to be a cure for all. It is just a personal reflection and hope that if not all, then some of these steps might help others.
However, one thing that needs to be mentioned is that all these exercises will mean little if they are not accompanied by prayers, prayers of our own and that of our family to the One Creator. It is ultimately He to whom we turn for our needs and it is He who guides us.
Is it just matter of coincidence that I came across these varying articles, books and ways to help me? I did not consult any psychiatrist to sort out my problems nor were any of the above recommended to me by a friend or colleague. Prayers and our efforts go hand in hand. It was the prayers that helped me harness the will power to solve my problems. This personal will and effort then led me to these various resources but even that is not possible without the Will of the Creator, our Benefactor, our Ultimate Guide and Savior.
Yes, I stumbled, looked a lot for practical ways and failed but hopefully with these new set of tools I can improve myself. This is what life is about. It is not a bed of roses and only with prayers, struggle and patience one can achieve what one wants to achieve.
In the end I would like to say that if any one who reads this blog and adopts one or all of these tools, do give me a feedback. I would like to know what worked for people and what not. If someone has tried anything else, I would like to hear that as well so that all of us can improve our work habits.