Previous posts about the magic dots method of getting work done are here. Recently, Patrick Dwyer, a solo-practitioner lawyer in Chicago, started using them. He explained how they help:
When I use the magic dots for brief writing it helps me in a few ways. First, it is much less intimidating to set a goal to write for 15 minutes than for 50 hours. Second, it also does not seem so bad to work for just a few more minutes when I am bored or out of ideas rather than wait for that elusive “flow.” Third, it gives me an ability to keep a precise account of my time and what I was doing so that I can show the client a specific task when I send the bill. Fourth, after I have made several boxes at the end of a day, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. All these things help me not to procrastinate. There is also something pleasing about drawing the boxes which seems to be more satisfying than merely writing non-graphic sentences or notes about my time.
I agree with all this, but would add that the method was suggested to me by pigeon research in which none of these factors could have mattered (e.g., pigeons do not bill clients). If the pigeon research and the magic dots method really involve the same mechanism — which seems to be true — then that mechanism is remarkably old. According to this, the common ancestor of birds and humans lived 300 million years ago. Maybe it is hard to notice the mechanism because it is buried so deep in our brains.
Animal learning researchers have always said that by studying animals (such as rats and pigeons) we will learn about humans. This example supports that claim. (As does the Shangri-La Diet.) The pigeon research, which had a very counter-intuitive result, led me to try the magic dots method, which seems like it can’t possibly work, but did. Yet when this actually happened it was hard to notice. I talked about the pigeon results, which I thought were astonishing, for many years before I realized they might help me.