Failure to Transition

Failure to Transition

Do you find it difficult to get ready and out of the house in the morning? Are you frequently late to appointments? Do you have difficulty making choices?Are you in awe of people who manage to get things done seemingly without much effort or anxiety? Do you keep lots of things out in the open so you won’t forget them? Have you been frustrated because you can’t seem to fix these problems? Well there’s good news. It’s not entirely your fault, and there are things you can do to improve!

The root problem is the failure to transition from one activity to another. This article will offer practical solutions to help you to manage your time better. If this doesn’t describe you, then chances are you know someone who could use this help.

Which Type of Person Are You?

There are two types of people in this world, monochrones and polychrones. Determining which one you are will explain a lot about yourself.

  • Monochrones see time in absolutes, are usually on time, and prefer to work on one project at a time.
  • Polychrones, on the other hand, see time as fluid, are committed to people not to time appointments, change plans often, and are usually working on more than one project at a time.

People who are polychrones have difficulty managing time not because they are lazy or inconsiderate, but because they are wired differently. It’s not good or bad. It just is. The key is for Polychrones to leverage their strengths and to learn skills that will help them overcome the challenges.

Leveraging Strengths

The strengths of Polychrones are their ability to work on more than one project at a time and their strong long term relationships. How can you leverage these? Seek out roles at work and elsewhere in your life that require these abilities. Try to stay clear of roles where you may get bored with only one or limited projects or lack of variety. You may want to find roles in which building long term relationships is important and avoid roles where you don’t have the opportunity to work with people over long periods of time, as this might be a source of frustration for you.

Solutions to Challenges

The main challenge for Polychrones in modern life is the ability to transition from one activity to the next. Polychrones are a perfect demonstration of Newton’s First Law of Motion: a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. If you’re a Polychrone, you’ve experienced this. You immersed in your work when the phone rings. This interruption causes you to “wake up” from your work and, looking at your watch, you panic as you realize you’re going to be late for a meeting. Argh! Is there any way to keep this from happening all the time? Yes and it’s all about learning how to stop, how to disengage. Here’s how:

1. Become Aware of Your Nature. By reading this article, you’ve probably had a light bulb turn on and you’re nodding your head saying, “Oh my, I had no idea!” Ok. Now you know why these things happen.

2. Decide You Want to Change How You Manage Time. If how you manage time doesn’t cause major problems in your life and you’re not motivated to change, then you may not need to. However if you want to stop: being late, letting people down, feeling anxiety when switching gears, and going into panic mode because you’re late again, then make a commitment mentally and read on.

3. Accept Transition Discomfort. For Polychrones there is mental discomfort when switching from one activity to the next and it can be as strong as a child reaching for his mother as she leaves him with a babysitter. Accept that this discomfort will be short lived if you allow yourself to become engaged in the next activity. Also the following steps will help minimize the transition discomfort as well.

4. Accept That Time Moves Faster Than You Realize. Yes, this is something you need to do. For people with many interests and for whom stopping is difficult, this is an important step. Accept that you can’t do everything you want in one day. You need to choose the things that are most important and then…go to Step #5.

5. Plan Your Day with Ultra Realistic Timeframes. Instead of simply jumping into your day, have a pen and paper near your bed. Plan out exactly what you will do today and next to each write down the realistic time it will take. This will help keep you from becoming distracted. Set leaving times 15-30 minutes ahead of when you think you need to leave. Carry your list around with you in the morning before you leave the house. Check things off as you go, and keep moving. Keep distractions at bay. Don’t watch TV or listen to the radio. Wait until you are commuting. You can listen to the radio or if on a train, read the paper then.

6. Nip Distractions in the Bud! As you are moving through your day and something grabs hold of your interest, ask yourself:

  • Do I have time for this now?
  • Is this important to me?

If it is important and you can’t fit it into 2 minutes, then WRITE IT DOWN and schedule it for later. Carry a capture notebook with you at all times. A PocketMod is a great tool for this because it is so small. Then each morning or evening when you plan your next day, you can schedule in those distractions for when you have time. And you may find that some of those things will not be important anymore. That’s OK.

7. Plan Your Transitions. Stopping is the problem. The solution is setting a plan in writing and in your mind where you can visualize how you will stop one activity before moving onto the next. This may sound very “kindegarten” to you, but it works!

Here’s an example: Here’s your a portion of your day:

  • 10am until 12 noon – Work on Project X.
  • 12 noon – Lunch Date .

Time estimates:

  • 15 minutes to walk from your office to where your lunch appointment is.
  • 15 minutes to pack your briefcase, check your notes and use the bathroom before leaving.
  • 10 minutes to wind down your work on Project X for noting where you left off and what your next actions will be when you work on this again.
  • Total Time Needed before your lunch appointment: 40 minutes.

That means you can only work on Project X until 11:20am.
Set a reminder that you will hear and respond to! Suggestions:

Plan how you will stop for all major transitions of your day. Watch how much of a difference this will make!

8. Trick Yourself with Pre-Planned Interruptions. These are interruptions you can’t ignore. It might be having a friend come by your office or home. It might be a phone call with your friend. It could be you put your child or spouse in charge of the alarm clock. When it goes off have your child or spouse tell you it’s quitting time. Make sure you listen to them and thank them so that they will help you in the future. Set the interruption time for 5 minutes before you need to start the next activity. Let your interrupter know ahead of time that you will be taking 5 minutes or less to close up shop after they tag you. To be best prepared for this, when you start the activity, think about the steps you’ll need to take to stop. Even write them down if that helps. Over time, try to make it a goal to close up shop before they get there!

9. Discover the Benefits of Being Early. For many people who are chronically late, in addition to having trouble transitioning, there is the dislike of being early. If you share this feeling, then here is a simple solution. Always carry with you something you can do when you arrive early. This could be a notebook, a book, magazine, knitting, your web-enabled phone or whatever you can do in small amounts of time. Or carry nothing extra, and make a habit of taking a mini meditation nap while waiting.

10. Celebrate Success. You can chart your success or just start noting mentally each time you are early or on time for an appointment. Smile for each successful transition you complete. Reward yourself with fun time where you can daydream, waste time at will and browse all the interesting things of life. Just remember to plan how you’ll stop! 🙂


For more information on this see Martha Beck’s article called Transition Anxiety in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Test to see if you are Monochrone or Polychrone over at O Magazine.

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a great system for anyone including Polychrones.

Getting Things Done Daily Guide in PocketMod format.

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