- MyFocusSpace Team
This article is about the Unschedule method, invented by Neil's A. Fiore which helps you overcome procrastination and enjoy guilt-free play. Instead of scheduling in the calendar the things you procrastinate (work - e.g., tasks, projects, etc), you first schedule the fixed commitments (e.g., sleep, meals, showering, etc), guilt-free play (hobbies, reading, recreation, meeting your friends), self-care activities (e.g., exercise, meditation), including at least one hour of play a day and one full day off per week. Crazy right? But it works.
I procrastinate. It's been my struggle for many years now. In fact, I first became aware of what I was doing during the pandemic, when we were forced to stay indoors.
What’s the fastest and least painful way to change your behavior?
Changing your environment.
If you’re familiar with Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, you’re aware of what the insane changes of different environments can lead to, and quickly.
Source: MyFocusSpace knowledge base
Having a great opportunity to meet Dr. Zimbardo in person was a delight. I have never seen such a brilliant person. He is more active in his 80's than I was in my 20's and I am not kidding. Accordingly to Dr. Zimbardo's case, good people became evil in a matter of days.
Changes in your environment can lead to big changes in your behavior and can do so quickly.
I learned that the environment can change you in a practical way. Once I turned 19 and finished High School, I traveled and lived in more than 25 different countries. I used to say that the best way to learn things about yourself is to travel and that's what I did until the pandemic hit and together with the rest of the world I was stuck at home.
Staying 24/7 in the same tiny apartment in San Francisco, I found myself doing all sorts of things in between work like cleaning the house, doing my nails, cooking, and reading. This comes with good and bad if you stop to think for a moment. You know reading a book might have made me feel productive overall, but in reality, I was practicing a skill of getting distracted by something that looks mentally cool just to feed my ego.
Accordingly to Cal's Newport work, I was practicing more of the shallow work and less of the deep work. Mentally I never disconnected from work and recharged for getting more qualitative work done.
Being eager to read a lot about what I was experiencing at that moment, I found Neil A. Fiore's book: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play. There are a lot of other tools that I learned from the book, but today I am going to share with you the Unschedule method.
The Unschedule method
The Unschedule method, invented by Neil A Fiore, is a time-planning tool with a huge twist.
It helped me became more aware of how much time I actually have during the day. It helped me understand where my time goes and reduce the feelings of guilt and self-criticism.
Neil A. Fiore explains in The Now Habit.
The problem of most procrastinators is that they never really take time for guilt-free play. They feel guilty for procrastinating and then don’t allow themselves time for leisure. This leads to a precarious situation in which very little real work gets done while simultaneously very little play gets done either.
How it works
Instead of scheduling in the calendar the things you procrastinate (work - e.g., tasks, projects, etc), you first schedule the fixed commitments (e.g., sleep, meals, showering, etc), guilt-free play (hobbies, reading, recreation, meeting your friends), self-care activities (e.g., exercise, meditation), including at least one hour of play a day and one full day off per week.
When you do this, immediately, a few things change. Now your calendar is not full of overwhelming expectations, but it is more like a place for fun. It releases the pressure out of it. You can finally see that after scheduling the fixed commitments, you don't have so much time for work. This actually makes work look more attractive and you'll find yourself wanting to work more. Crazy right? But it works.
Guidelines on how to use the Unschedule
1. Schedule only:
- previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings
- free time, recreation, leisure reading
- socializing, lunches, and dinners with friends
- health activities such as swimming, running, tennis, working out at the gym
Source: Vio's calendar
Neil A. Fiore explains in The Now Habit.
“Our usual habit is to schedule our work time and to leave our play reasonably unstructured. By requiring you to schedule and stick to recreational time, and to limit your work activity at first to predetermined periods of thirty minutes, the Unschedule builds up a subconscious desire to work more and play less.”
Taking time off is not a sign of laziness but a way to become more productive. Taking frequent breaks, days off, and vacations help us perform at a higher level. Here’s how Neil Fiore himself explains it:
“Guilt-free play is based on the seeming paradox that in order to do productive, high-quality work on important projects, you must stop putting off living and engage wholeheartedly in recreation and relaxation. That’s right, you can be more productive if you play more! And as you put the strategy of guilt-free play to use, you’ll learn to play more and complete more quality work.”
2. Take credit only after you’ve finished 30-min of uninterrupted work.
The Unschedule is like a time clock, a 30-minute chunk that you commit to working. The rule is once you enroll in this 30-minute race of uninterrupted work, you give it all you’ve got. The resulting motivation can urge you to work harder and more efficiently. Just like the challenge you throw at yourself with MyFocusSpace, where you have delimited sessions of 1h, 1.5h, 2h to work alongside someone.
Recording your work helps you record your progress. Accordingly to Teresa Amabile, a Harvard professor, who has dedicated her life to studying The Progress Principle explains:
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”
Thinking about the importance of making the progress and recording it we implemented this principle in all MyFocusSpace sessions. Now you can see the progress of your partner in the session with the help of the "Mindful Minute" and the Tracking Progress Feature.
Source: The Mindful Minute in MyFocusSpace
Source: Track the Progress of your Partner in MyFocusSpace
Making your progress visible by writing it down will help you make use of The Progress Principle. This doesn't only keep your motivation up but also rewards you, by allowing your partner to check in with you and giving you the credit for your accomplishments. By rewarding every session you start to create a positive feedback loop, thus you are more incentivized to work more in the future.
3. After each work period, reward yourself with a break or switch to a more enjoyable task.
"What gets rewarded gets repeated", so by rewarding yourself after every chunk of focused working time you start to associate work with positive rewards, making it more likely that you will repeat in the future. You train yourself to become someone who produces instead of someone who procrastinates. So allow yourself to get that pat on the back.
4. Keep track of quality time worked each day and each week.
Source: Goodreads - Robin Sharma
Accordingly to Robin Sharma "What gets measured gets improved." This is the idea behind the analytics part of MyFocusSpace which we are looking to improve in a way to serve its purpose of getting all the insights you need to know about your work and how productive it is. Feel free to shoot us an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions you might have on how you would like your analytics to be improved.
5. Leave one day each week for leisure and small chores.
Neil A Fiore explains the importance of taking time off:
“Attempting to skimp on holidays, rest, and exercise leads to suppression of the spirit and motivation as life begins to look like all spinach and no dessert. To sustain high levels of motivation and lessen the urge to procrastinate in the face of life’s demands for high-level performance, we need guilt-free play to provide us with periods of physical and mental renewal.”
The idea behind it is that in the long run, taking a day off brings you more productivity than you might imagine. You come back from your chores/ recreational activities more recharged and with more motivation for the things that really matter.
6. Focus on starting. Keep starting.
As for this step, your only task is to keep starting and ask yourself “when is the next time I can start?” Don’t try to finish it all, just aim for just 30 minutes of quality, focused work. In fact forget about how hard it is, or how long it is going to take. Focus only on when and where you can start.
7. Never end down.
If you’re stuck, use another 5-10 minutes to at least come up with a partial solution.
Neil Fiore explains why that’s important:
“You’ll find that staying with difficulty for a few more moments is often enough for your brain to creatively resolve it. Gently pushing through a block or starting on the next section before you quit creates positive momentum, making it much easier to get started next time, thus eliminating the need to procrastinate.”
Source: MyFocusSpace on Discord
Join MyFocusSpace Discord Group - this group is only available for our community members and it's a place where we come to:
→ share our productivity experiences & challenges
→ be humble and ask for advice
→ interact with people who share the same interests as us— and who are there to help us in our journey.