Saturday 1 February 2014

Will Power and Time Management

I have been thinking further about Will Power and Time Management: not least because I have finally completed the first draft of my long-awaited (and long-overdue) book, but also because I was working with a bunch of Post Graduate Doctoral Students yesterday, discussing these issues.

Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that will power may be necessary but not sufficient as a driver of our behaviour, and that environmental factors and habit count for a great deal (as suggested here).  The question that arises is, how do we set up the environmental nudges that help us to act on our chosen intentions.

One very practical example of this arose yesterday: one of the students said that he was very good at planning; he know each day what he intended to do that day, and so forth. But what continually sabotaged him was a failure to get out of bed at the right  time in the morning.

The will power approach - just do it! - didn't seem to be helpful.  But when we look at the environmental factors, we can come up with a range of other strategies.  The simplest is the old trick of moving the alarm clock to the other side of the room, so that it cannot be turned off without his leaving the bed.

The beauty of that is that it can be done at a time when the intention to get up on time is strong: it would then require a definite decision, the night before, to change that.  In the morning, when the alarm goes off, however much he may want to stay in bed, the damn thing will keep sounding until he gets up and turns it off.

It is a simple and elegant thing to try, and was arrived at by asking the question about altering the environmental cues, rather than increasing will power.  My hunch (and indeed personal experience) is that if that is sustained for a period of time, a habit is formed of getting up when the alarm goes off, and quite possibly will power is strengthened too.

So my time management tip for the day, is don't try to work directly on will power: instead, ask the question about how you can set up environmental cues that will nudge you in the direction of the decision you wish to take at the moment you will be facing that decision.

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