How Antecedent Arrangement Keeps Me Productive (And Safe)

In dog training, we talk a lot about the concept of antecedent arrangement. Essentially, this concept builds off of the concept that we’re more likely to do things that are easy.

If I want my dog to stop stealing food from the counters, I might start by clearing the counters of all the tasty food before I leave for work. If I want my dog to start to come when called even if there’s a squirrel around, I’ll set up practice scenarios where the squirrel is so far away he barely notices it. Then we build up to him running to me right past a squirrel.

Antecedent arrangement isn’t just for dogs, though. In fact, I use antecedent arrangement every day to keep myself on track.



How Antecedent Arrangement Keeps Me Productive

As a full-time freelancer, I make my own schedule. Sometimes, that’s awesome. I can skip out on work early to go climbing, or take advantage of a beautiful morning for a jog with Barley.

Other days… I can’t keep myself on task to save my life. When sleep deprivation gets bad enough, no amount of antecedent arrangement can keep me on task.Yesterday, I had seven things on my to-do list for the day. I completed one. I succeeded at going for a run, and literally nothing else.

But most days, I use antecedent arrangement to keep myself on task. It usually works like a charm. Here are a few examples:

I reduce decisionmaking so I can focus later. My brain gets tired. I make myself a healthy breakfast of egg scramble once or twice a week, then just eat this every morning. This way, I don’t have to think about how to eat healthily or waste time cooking in the morning.

I install Chrome Plugins that keep me on task. Good antecedent arrangement means creating a good work environment. For me, that means using plugins such as “News Feed Eliminator” and “StayFocused,” which remove my Facebook News Feed and kick me off of Facebook after 20 minutes per day, respectively. Automation is a form of antecedent arrangement that really sets me up for success.

I remove distractions before getting to work. I’m not superhuman. I can’t ignore a pinging email app or a buzzing phone any more than the next person. I set myself up for success by putting my phone on “do not disturb” mode and closing my email app before I get to work on anything. If something is truly urgent, people can call me. My “do not disturb” mode is set to allow calls through if the same number calls more than once in 10 minutes.

I schedule my day and use my hatred of missed deadlines to stay on track. hate missed deadlines. It’s practically a phobia – probably courtesy of Colorado College’s Block Plan. Even when my editors and clients don’t give me a deadline, I create one for myself in Asana. This artificial pressure keeps me focused, even when it would be so easy to just take a nap or go for a walk instead of writing.



How Antecedent Arrangement Keeps Me Healthy

I can be a bit of a health nut. Between skiing 50-kilometer ski races and not eating meat since 2010, I like to think I’m a pretty healthy person.

But that’s neglecting my ruthless addiction to chocolate and inability to stop eating chips if they’re in the house. I know that I have little impulse control around food. I’m also great at delaying workouts when I know they’re going to hurt tomorrow.

I make staying healthy easier for myself by using lots of antecedent arrangement. It’s pretty simple, and many of us already do these small fixes to keep ourselves on track.

I don’t keep junk food nearby. Let’s be real. If there’s chocolate or chips nearby, I’m going to eat them. I am working on my own impulse control, but I’m still pretty bad at ignoring tasty treats. It’s like they’re tapping me on the shoulder all day until I eat them all. I can’t focus on anything. Until I get better at this, my best option for behavior change is antecedent arrangement.

I simply don’t purchase much junk food, because then it’s just one decision: While at the grocery store, don’t put the junk in my cart. This is much easier for me than deciding every 30 seconds not to get up and walk to the fridge.

I keep semi-healthy snacks handy as much as possible. Even if I don’t keep junk food nearby, I still feel the pull of gas station junk or coffee shop sweets if I’m hungry. The downside of all of my marathon running and skiing is that I feel like I’m always hungry.

Rather than setting myself up for failure by ending up hungry and in the car, I keep easy-access snacks hidden around my life. There’s almost always a protein bar or a strip of fruit jerky tucked into my car, my backpack, and my desk. That way, I always have an easy snack to reach for when I inevitably forget to bring food.

I plan and schedule my workouts ahead of time. I hate missing deadlines and leaving to-do boxes unchecked. Why not use that hatred to be more healthy? I add my workouts into my calendar, ensuring people can’t book meetings at that time. I also put workouts on my daily to-do list, so that I haven’t really finished my day without doing them.



How Antecedent Arrangement Keeps Me Safe

It’s easy to forget safety equipment. After a few accidents where I found myself seven miles down a mountain trail without a first aid kit, or racing inky blackness down a trail because I didn’t have my first aid kit, I decided I needed to change something.

I get excited to go outside. So excited that I often forget important tools that I need to keep myself safe.

I put important safety items into my bags ahead of time. It’s a bit goofy, but it works. I have a first aid kit, knife, emergency blanket, and headlamp in almost every bag. This means I own a few extra headlamps, but it also keeps me safe. When I grab my backpack at 4am to go hike a 14,000 foot peak, I don’t have to think about where my first aid kit is or whether or not I have a headlamp. As a responsible Wilderness First Responder, it’s extra-important to me that I am prepared while out and about. 

I put together easy go-bags that have necessary items for each activity type. A related strategy is to have little go-bags. I spent the time and money to build a different first aid kit for different activities. For example, I have a super-small first aid kit that fits in a sandwich bag for trail running, while my backpacking first aid kit is much larger. For rock climbing, I have one of each – a small one that fits in my chalk bag, and a bigger first aid kit to leave with the rope bag.

I also have a quick camping go-bag that includes contact solution, tampons, and other must-haves for each trip.