The Duck of Minerva

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Sunday Productivity Blogging: Sciral


August 21, 2011

I procrastinate by reading productivity blogs, in the hopes that the Universe will somehow find the irony funny enough to let me avoid the consequences of procrastination. (In year ten of this experiment, I can only say so far that the results are not what I initially desired.) One happy consequence of this habit is that I have picked up a few tools which do actually make me more productive. So, in the spirit of Charli’s nerd-bloggin’ Fridays, let me fill up the dead space of Sunday afternoons with some productivity pr0n.

First up: Sciral’s Consistency, the simplest and most rigorous app I’ve ever encountered.

Tasks fall into three categories: Goals you are highly incentivized to accomplish (viz., watching every episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer), projects you are forced to accomplish (viz., grading exams), and the vast Other Category. Into this last category falls everything that you would like to accomplish (“I’m going to learn Mandarin!”) but which require the sort of daily dedication few of us can credibly commit to (in this case, speaking Mandarin every day). In the absence of a Tiger Mother, many of us often stop practicing languages, going to the gym, or whatever long before we’ve accomplished our goal.

Consistency (the app) aims to change that by simply keeping a record of whether you’ve actually done what you wanted to do.

Given that much of academic work consists of doing exactly these sorts of daily tasks building to a long-term goal, the long-term consequences of procrastination can, ironically, be avoided for weeks or months at a time. But steady progress is preferable both emotionally and for quality’s sake to last-minute sprints to a goal.

Above is a screenshot of my Consistency pane. (I do plan to buy it, but the software works as freeware.) In my case, I’ve learned that if I don’t record my exercising, I won’t go to the gym–it’s far too easy to say that I’ve been “recently” instead of knowing that I’ve failed to meet my goal of showing up 5 out of every 7 days. Similarly, as much as I greatly enjoy quantitative work–and I do!–I have the same feeling about sitting down to actually write code that I got when, as a child, my mother would force me to practice piano scales. The same applies a fortiori to my ability to put off writing for days at a time.

The interface is simple. You tell Consistency how often you want to accomplish a task (I want to write code every day, but in practice I know that 4 out of every 7 days is a very productive week) and then each day you record whether you’ve actually performed the task you assigned yourself. Each time you do, you get a gold star. If you’re meeting your goals, the day turns green. If you’re failing at your goals (as I was in the last few days of the past week), the day is red. Yellow and blue indicate if you are getting farther away or nearer to compliance.

For such a simple program, Consistency’s results are, in fact, remarkable. (You can see that I’ve added a new task, “45 minutes with stats textbook,” to force myself to finish the Gelman and Hill multilevel modelling text.) Record-keeping is easy (it’s literally just double-clicking) and the interpretation is intuitive. Most of all, Consistency makes it tough to mislead yourself about your own progress.

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