Ever come in to your office ready to start work, sat down at your desk, checked emails, checked Facebook, messed around, gotten up to go get a drink, come back to your desk … and found yourself starting again? You need to stop doing that! We all need to stop constantly ‘checking’ things: email, blog, Facebook etc. In short, we should be ‘starting again’ every time we sit down to do some work.
Kelly and Carly share their own struggles with constantly start again … and then give some practical tips for eliminating it from your life.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
Carly Jacobs: Welcome to Episode 09 of Straight and Curly. Today, we’re going to be talking about the concept of Stop Starting Again. This isn’t necessarily a big thing that a lot of people talk about but it’s something that I discovered I was doing quite a lot of and so this is sort of a self-invented kind of hack that is a thing that needs addressing so this is my own hack.
Kelly Exeter: This is a patented Smaggle hack.
Carly Jacobs: It is. Yes, so I should just have… we can #smaggle that one. So the concept of Stop Starting Again is something that I discovered when I figured out when I would go to work and I get ready to start work and I’d sit down at my desk and I’d check my email and check Facebook, check my blog then check Instagram. And this would take about ten or fifteen minutes and then I’d go, whoa! I’m exhausted. That’s the first fifteen minutes of my day. I’m going to go get a cup of tea. And then I’d go and make a cup of tea, come back and sit down at my desk and then I would check Facebook and check my email and check my blog and check Instagram and then I’d go up and have another break from this checking again. And it’s just this ridiculous cycle of every time I sit down, I had these four or five things that I would do that would start that session at the computer. And it is such a useless waste of time that particularly since working for myself in the last couple of years, I’ve become really conscientious about stopping starting again every time I sit down at my computer.
Kelly Exeter: Yeah, you had to explain the concept to me because I didn’t quite get it but when you did, I was like, oh my god. I totally used to do that because yeah, it was.. and what would happen is it would be those days where I would get to like lunchtime and go, how is it lunchtime? I actually haven’t done anything yet. And I know for me, the big trap with the whole stop starting again thing was email. Like I just have this thing or kind of used to have this thing where it’s like I couldn’t start working until I was on top of my inbox. So I would come in. I’d sit down. I’d check my email. I’d go through it. I’d reply to everything I could reply to. File away everything that could be filed and then I’d be like, huh okay I’m on top of my email and then like you, I’d go, I’d just have a reward for that. I’m going to Facebook.
Carly Jacobs: Exactly, yeah. And it’s the control freak I think in both of us that forces us to constantly be checking email and even though we both talk about how we try not to be so obsessed with email, both of us, because we, Kelly and I email each other a lot surrounding this podcast and doing our research and if one of us has an idea, we’ll email the other one. We’re both on email all the time. Like if I don’t get a response from Kelly within about two minutes, I think she’s died. So this is actually a huge thing that we really struggle with being too into our inboxes. But there’s absolutely no point in checking your email every time you sit down and before you start a new task because emails just sit there. It’s not like they’ll go away. And this is actually a throwback to a few other episodes that we’ve done which is the only checking email twice in one day and also the episode about only touching it once. So all of these hacks kind of twined to each other to help you create a much more healthy space around checking email too many times or just the concept of checking things in general.
Kelly Exeter: And it is the concept of checking things and feeling, what I’ve had to do is just get over that feeling of, I need to be on top of email before I can get into my work for the day because what I found is going back to couple of years but it would be routinely two or three o’clock in the afternoon before I really go into the meaty stuff of my work day. Because I would have spent from 8:30 until that time getting stuck into emails. And that was back in the day when I was waking with an 8:30 to 5 o’clock days. So that was pretty bad because I could only then only have two or three hours to actually get proper work done but nowadays, I work a 5-hour day because my son’s at school. So I just cannot, cannot afford to do that anymore so I’ve had to train myself to not be on top of emails before I can start work. But also, I’ve had to train myself to sit down, get started and go and not do this thing where you keep starting again and again because you get up and you go have a coffee and go check Facebook or you go to the toilet and you’ve actually got an interesting theory or something you’ve read Carls about what happens when you leave a room or come into a new room?
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, this is really interesting. I was going to say that I read about it in a book about neuropsychology but I’m lying. I didn’t. My partner Ben read about it in a book about neuropsychology and told me about it. So yeah I’m outsourcing my cool stories here. So in the book that Ben read, he was telling me that there’s a theory that when you leave a room and enter a new room, your brain resets itself So you know when you have those moments when you like go into the kitchen and you’re standing there and you have absolutely no idea why you’re there and you’re just kind of going, I came here for a reason. I can’t for the life of me think what it is. I’m not hungry. I have no idea why I’m here. Apparently, there’s a bit of neuropsychological theory about this that it’s a throwback to back when we were Neanderthals and that’s the correct way to say Neanderthal just to throw that out there…Because I actually wrote about this last week how you sometimes purposefully mispronounce things just to not make the conversation awkward so you know how you say Barcelona, in the notes [Barthelona] because you don’t want people to think…
Kelly Exeter: Just look at you and go, what’s that?
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, exactly. So anyway this is a throwback to back when we were Neanderthals and we were nomadic and you would have your home base but then a giant T-Rex would come along and chase you away from your home base and then you have to run away and find a new place to set up a home base. And we were programmed to forget where we came from to make the transition to the new place a lot easier. So this scientist that has this theory that the reason like whenever you walk through a doorway, it’s a throwback to the Neanderthal psychology of you’re in a new place now and this is where you live. So I mean I don’t know if this is a true thing or whether the theory has actually been proven but it’s not a terrible explanation for those moments when you walk into a room and you’re like, cool, what is happening? Where is my brain? So I actually quite like that theory because if I ever find myself in a situation where brain is just left, left with Carly building. It’s like, oh cool, my body thinks…
Kelly Exeter: That’s my Neanderthal brain. It’s not me. It’s not my own thought.
Carly Jacobs: Exactly. I have been chased by a T-Rex and now I need to live on the balcony.
Kelly Exeter: So this is the thing. You’ve mentioned to me, how do we stop ourselves leaving brooms all the time especially when we’ve sat down for work. Because I know you’ve said Carls that you’re a real fidgety so you…
Carly Jacobs: So fidgety.
Kelly Exeter: You need to be getting up all the time from work.
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, I’ve got the attention span of a goldfish. Like I really, really struggle with it. That’s quite a big revelation for me because I do get a lot of stuff done and I am a very hard worker. But I struggle a lot with sitting down and working on one thing for a long period of time. So I like to get up and move around and I notice this a lot because I rent an office space in Windsor and I rent it with another blogging mate of mine and she’s got some blogging employees so I work in a room of maybe six other women at any given time. And I notice that I get up a lot more than the rest of them. I’ll get up and go to the toilet. I go to the toilet like twenty times a day. And that’s not because I need to go to the toilet. It’s because I don’t want to be sitting down anymore.
Kelly Exeter: This is something to do.
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, I’m like you know when teachers have those kids that just can’t sit still? Like I’m that kid that’s like getting up and looking in windows and doing all that kind of stuff. And even now as I’m recording this podcast, I’m like I really wish I could stand up. I’ve been sitting down for too long. And actually I’ve got the Apple watch which does this thing, you’ve got a stand goal on your Apple watch and if you sit down for too long, it taps you and tells you to get up and walk around. My watch has tapped me like twice in a year because I just constantly stand up and walk around. So that’s a huge problem and it’s a huge problem for me because if you’re the type of person who will only stand up maybe twice in a couple of hours, you’re only resetting yourself twice when you come and sit down but if you do it twice every hour like I do. I come back and do all of those activities again. It’s just an enormous waste of time.
Kelly Exeter: Oh definitely. So I guess this comes to the reason like why do we all find ourselves doing these things. So I know you’ve said because you’re fidgety, I know I’m very task-based person. So if I have a task to do, I’ll sit down and I’ll get it done but if I don’t have a task to do… so if I sit down at my desk without a clear idea of this is what I’m going to do now, like right now, that’s when I check email, check Facebook, then have to think about maybe making this to-do list, etc. So I feel like that’s one reason why we find ourselves in this position of starting again all the time is because we’re disorganized. I know for me, I’ve talked about this earlier in this episode where I’m just obsessed with the easy wins that email gives me and I think that’s why I default to my inbox all the time.
Carly Jacobs: Email is like crack for you.
Kelly Exeter: It really is. And it’s taken such a big thing to train myself and we’ve spoken about this in the earlier episode where I’ve had to train myself to not respond to people quickly all the time and the benefits of doing that and I have actually gotten emails from people where I haven’t responded to them in like half an hour and they’ve gone, are you there? Are you okay? And it’s like yes, I’m just trying to not.
Carly Jacobs: I’’m trying to play hard to get and you’re ruining it.
Kelly Exeter: I’m trying to break myself of this addiction that I have to. Because yeah, I’m a very achievement-oriented person. I like my gold stars and email gives me easy gold stars. If I feel like I’m not achieving anything else for the day, like if I’m feeling a bit like I’ve got nothing done today, I’ll go to my inbox and start madly replying to emails and filing emails and getting my inbox down to zero and I’m like yeah. But it’s easy wins and as you say, email never empties. You get to inbox zero for two seconds and then another email will come in.
Carly Jacobs: Exactly.
Kelly Exeter: And then you got to deal with it.
Carly Jacobs: It’s like the washing basket. It’s never empty. Because the second you empty the washing basket then you’d take off the undies you were wearing that day. It’s like damn it, like it lasts for no time, ongoing task.
Kelly Exeter: Just seconds. It’s awful. So that’s it. I don’t know. Other people might have their personal easy wins but it just means again, it’s just everytime I come out of my inbox when I finally I’ve gotten on top of it, I’m starting again. And then I get stuck back to my inbox because for whatever reason I’m looking for the easy win. And then I’ve got to start again so it’s a bit of a procrastination too probably. But then there’s the other thing is that we’re not really concentrating on the task at hand for whatever reason. We’re tired, we’re distracted, whatever.
Carly Jacobs: It’s also something that I had to train myself out of when I work in a corporate environment. I’ve actually had lots of different types of jobs and it’s made me realize that the type of job that you have can actually be detrimental to the type of productivity that you have in your life outside of your job. So I work in a university. I wasn’t like corporate, corporate. But it was a university where I used to run tests for people who were immigrating to Australia. They’re called IELTS tests. So when I was working in this IELTS environment, I’d spend a lot of time going to meetings and sending emails between workers and things and the actual amount of work that we were expected to do. We worked very hard and had lots of stuff to do but if I was working for myself and doing that exact type of job, I would have been able to get it done in half the amount of time because the rest of my time was spent sending emails and managing meetings and making sure that the people who work above me knew what I was doing. And it’s an enormous waste of time. Like so, so huge. Half of the time I just want to go into corporate working environments and overhaul their work systems and show them where they’re wasting time through meetings and unnecessary documentation of things.
So if you have actually come from a corporate environment and you now work for yourself or you work in a different environment, it’s really hard to unlearn that activity of spending the first three hours of the day on email because you’re dealing with all of the different things that come with working in a corporate environment making sure that your boss knows what you’re doing and the person underneath you knows what you’re doing, that kind of stuff just isn’t necessary in a lot of other workplaces. So it might be a good idea to have a look at the type of work history that you have.
I also used to be a teacher and teaching is the absolute opposite of that. Teachers work so hard. They have no spare time to do anything at all. Because if you’re a teacher, you’re teaching from the hours of 9 until 3:30 in the afternoon. And you have to do a full time, research, organization, admin job on top of that. You would not know what a teacher can do between 3:30 in the afternoon and 6 o’clock at night. They would do everything that someone who has a corporate job will do in an 8-hour day in 20 minutes. So if you just look at where you come from and how your habits have formed, it’s just a really good way to… yeah, figure out why…
Kelly Exeter: The self-awareness thing, isn’t it?
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, and figure out why you behave the way you do based on the type of work that you’ve done.
Kelly Exeter: Yeah, I can totally say from when I used to work at job that’s probably exactly where this behavior comes from. This needs to be on top of everything because when you’ve got superiors and inferiors, you do need to be across all your stuff because you can be called on at any time. So that’s why you’re kind of constantly checking all these stuff but also, when you’re coming from a kind of office environment, you do tend to get into that habit of breaking all the time. Because there are so many distractions and so I think I can certainly see in my own behavior when I’m working alone at home, I kind of artificially create these breaks that I have in an office environment and that’s what I find is that as you said, with any kind of behavior, once you’re more aware of it, then you can do something useful about changing it. So now that we’ve probably brought this up, this is not a topic I’ve ever heard discussed before so now that people are listening to it and hearing it, they’re probably seeing it in their own behavior and now that we’ve pointed it out, now we can do something about it. So how do we beat this tendency of ours to start again all the time?
Carly Jacobs: One of the things is a huge thing is to never sit down at your desk without a clear understanding of what it is that you’re actually going to accomplish for the day. I actually find that it helps a lot to write a list of what you’re going to do tomorrow the night before. That way, it’s kind of in your head what your plan is, what you’re going to do and then you go to sleep with the clear idea of what your day entails the next day because that’s a lot of the time what you’re doing when you’re sitting down and you’re checking Facebook and all this kind of stuff. You’re almost looking for something to do.
Kelly Exeter: You really, really are.
Carly Jacobs: You’re kind of going like, Oh I hope someone said something controversial on Facebook so I can have a big argument to start my day. It’s like you’ re looking for a distraction.
Kelly Exeter: That’s a useful use of my time. But I agree. I am the same. The last thing I do each day is make my list of things that I must, I’ve got kind of must-do’s and nice to-do’s and I make that…
Carly Jacobs: I love the concept of a nice to-do. That’s lovely.
Kelly Exeter: Yeah, because otherwise I’ll have a list of ten things and I’ll never get through it and I get depressed so I go, what are my must-do’s and that’s the thing. I never, ever sit down at my desk in the morning to start work without a really clear understanding of my three and I never have more than three must-do’s for the day. And if for whatever reason I’ve not made that list the night before, I will not sit down at my desk to make that list. I will be away from my desk. And I’ll make my list there and then I’ll sit down at my desk. Because I do find if I sit down at my desk and I’ll go, I’ll just make my to-do list now, that’s a beautiful recipe for starting again three times before I actually manage to get any work done for the day.
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, definitely.
Kelly Exeter: And you like timers.
Carly Jacobs: I love timers.
Kelly Exeter: Because you can’t sit still for very long. I’m not big into timers and we’re going to talk about the kind of timers in another episode but you like timers to kind of get on top of this thing.
Carly Jacobs: I do. They’re really, really good for people who are a bit fidgeting, get distracted quite easily. I’m like the dog in the movie Up. I’m like “Squirrel!” But it sounds like I’m really kind of flighty and distracted but I’m not. It’s just my inability to sit down for long periods of time comes from this deep ingrained feeling of FOMO that I have. I want to be involved in all the stuff and do all the things and meet all the people and have all of the good stuff. I just want to do all the things, So that’s why I’m like, I have to sit down with the timer and make sure that I sit down and actually do this amount of work. Before, I go often do the other thing that I want to do. So if you do struggle a lot with distraction, timers are a God-send. Just 20 minute timers to get things done. There’s actually a app that Ben sent me a link to the other day. I can’t remember what it’s called but I’m going to buy it today because it sounds hilarious and we might actually cover it in another episode. But what it does is…
Kelly Exeter: Oh yeah, I think it’s called Write or Dial, something like that. I think you just sent it to me.
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, exactly. So it’s quite a high-priced item because it is an app but I think it’s like $22 which is quite high for the app market. But I think I’m going to give it a go because I think that fear is a really good thing for people who can’t sit still so if you’re finding that even timers aren’t working. Because there’s no consequence if you don’t work for the full time that you’ve set for yourself but there’s a huge consequence if you’ve got an app that’s going to delete all your work. So we’ll cover that later for future episode but yeah, that might be a good thing for you to look into if you’re like me and can’t sit still for longer than a few seconds at a time.
Kelly Exeter: Definitely. Yeah, I love that idea but also it terrifies me. But I’m going to give it a go for 19:57 but back to the stop starting again thing, learning to single task is not something that any of us do naturally. We’ve all got three screens going at the same time and we’ve kind of conditioned ourselves to do these over the years so it’s very hard to now dial it back in us just a single task and I know I personally find it really difficult to do. But just single task. Because this is the thing what happens and this is what makes the whole starting again thing happen is because you have email and you quickly open Facebook and then something’s downloading so then you’ll open Twitter as well and then you’ve got the Instagram opened on your phone and it’s like oh my god, I’ve got five things opened here and I’m not doing any of them and I’m certainly not doing any work. So if you get back to just really hard core single tasking, that will help.
Carly Jacobs: Well a good tip for this that I realized quite recently. If anyone uses Slack, it’s a group management app for making sure that everyone stays on top of their tasks and things. It’s kind of similar to Basecamp but it’s not email-based.
Kelly Exeter: It’s kind of messaging within a team. But they’re not anything else I’ve ever used. I don’t really know how else to explain it.
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, it’s fantastic. And the whole concept of moving away from email is absolutely genius because a lot of my distraction comes from, if I’m working on a task or I’m writing an article and there’s a link on Facebook that I have to get and then there’s a text message that a friend sent me that has a piece of information and then there’s like a whole bunch of stuff that someone has emailed me, I’m legitimately visiting each of those three places for work but there’s no way I’m going to go on Facebook and just get that one thing I need and not click on my notifications. Although…
Kelly Exeter: It’s that little red notification button. You can’t ignore that little red number. Come on. who can do that?
Carly Jacobs: Exactly. And most tasks do require you to gather information from a variety of different social media platforms. So if you get a little bit more organized and just streamline your information and move it away from social media platforms and keep even just Word documents on your computer or if you have a program like Asana where you can have a to-do list where you’ve got files attached to that kind of thing. That way, you go to Asana and all your information is in there. And it stops you having to visit four or five different social media platforms to gather the required information and just have a little sneaky tweet or a sneaky little Instagram at the same time.
Kelly Exeter: Yeah, this is definitely a writer’s life thing because I do the same. When I’m writing a blog post or if I’m writing an article or even if I’m editing something and I think oh I can link to something I’ve read here. As soon as you go to another side to get that link, it’s over. You’re going to be starting again because like I said, as soon as you get stuck into all these other sites, you come out of them feeling a little bit exhausted. And you feel the need to go and give yourself a break. So you leave the room and then you get that the whole thing happening that you were talking about before. But the other thing is probably going to be a little bit unpopular but we’re just going to have to learn to exercise some self-control and I’m not big on self-control… I’m not big on it. And I hate having to call on willpower and self-control for anything. It really irritates me so I try to just build good habits instead so I guess what we’ve really spoken about today is just building good habits around your work flows and how you approach sitting down at your desk ready to start work for the day. And once you’ve built those good habits in then you have to call on self control and willpower a lot less, which is…
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, it also take a lot of practice. A lot of people who are trying to stop Facebook for texting, they’ll be on Facebook and be like, Oh damn I checked Facebook oh well, I might as well just hang out here for about half an hour. But it’s so much better to accidentally find yourself on Facebook four times in the space of half an hour and click away from Facebook immediately than it is to just give in the first time you click over. So keep practicing and don’t feel like it’s a failure if you find yourself on Facebook and then just go oh well I’m here. I might as well marry Facebook. Just be like, Oh no I’m here. I’m going to try again to not be here and then leave again.
Kelly Exeter: Exactly. And we’re doing this. We’re the same. We know all this stuff because we’re talking about it. And we’ll catch ourselves doing it. But I think that’s the important thing. The important thing is catching yourself and going, oh there I go again. Why am I here? Alright, let’s get out of here. And like you said, not checking in the whole day because oh my god I’d end up on Facebook once. So overall, obviously we think this is a good thing to do, the whole starting again thing there is not really any middle ground or anything to debate there. So I think one of them, something to do, we’re going to finish with a little bit of a challenge for you guys who are listening. Do you want to do the challenge Carl or should I?
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, sure. So tomorrow, this is our challenge for you. We want you to sit down at your desk. Oh before you sit down at your desk, we want you to sit somewhere else and write down the one thing thing that you must accomplish in the next hour. We want you to write it down on a post-it note and then put the post-it note on your computer at the top of your screen somewhere where it’s going to be really annoying and the rule is that you can’t take the post-it note off until you’ve done that task.
Kelly Exeter: Yeah, and I think just take note of the things that get in the way of you getting that one thing done because like with anything, self-awareness is the key. So once you start seeing like say little bits of behavior that, oh no I’m going to get back to that task. Oh, I’m going to get back to that task. You stop picking up on little bits of behavior and once you start picking up on that bits of behavior, then you can do something about changing them long term. It’s not going to be a click-your-fingers and it’s done kind of thing. It’s a long term behavior will change that we’re trying to affect here. But it starts with self-awareness and that’s what that…
Carly Jacobs: Exactly. And awareness is really the biggest part of most of what you need to do to change a bad habit. For instance, when I was writing out my show notes for this, I literally went and checked my email and I’ve written that in the show notes. I’ve written “bad Carly” in the show notes because I was like what am I doing? I am literally writing about how silly it is to check your email for no reason. And then I was like why did I just check my email and actually one of the reasons why I do check my email is that I still haven’t got past the 1999 feeling of getting an email. Like back then, I’d be like oh my god I’ve got an email. Somebody loves me. Email is actually unexciting anymore and they haven’t been for a really, really long time. Like we need to stop expecting that way.
Kelly Exeter: Email is not only other people’s problems remember?
Carly Jacobs: Yeah, exactly, And it’s like every time I open my inbox I keep expecting like someone to be like, “You’ve won an award.” Or I’d like to publish a book that you’re going to write or you’ve got…
Kelly Exeter: Must respond in ten minutes otherwise the offer is off.
Carly Jacobs: Exactly. Like it’s going to be like this amazing time to offer that I’m going to miss out on. That has never, ever happened. Like I have rarely ever received a very, very excellent email yet I still think I’m going to. So I have that awareness now. I know that I’m not going to get an email from Susan Sarandon saying, Oh I listen to your podcast. Can you interview me? Like that’s just not going to happen. So let’s not romanticize email because no one gets good emails anymore.
Kelly Exeter: And that’s it. Yes. So you guys, do the post-it note thing and tweet us or tweet us and tag us or Instagram and tag us using #straightandcurly. We’d love to know how you go with this little challenge.
Carly Jacobs: And we do love hearing from our readers. We’ve been getting emails and we’re so excited. If you do have anything that you want to say please email us because it gives us an absolute thrill. Oh that’s actually a good email. That’s an example of a good email. I just realized I’m like yehey when we hear from listeners. It’s just absolutely making a week and we’re getting lots of emails and we’re loving it so please keep them coming.
Kelly Exeter: Thank you so much for listening to Straight and Curly. This week’s show notes and links will be available at straightandcurly.com.
Carly Jacobs: And if you have any questions or with self-improvement hacks you want us to trial, you can tweet us @kellyexeter or @smaggle or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.