Do It Now!
As I have so many unfinished tasks on my to-do list, which seemingly only grows, I am trying a new process. Here is the main idea: if a task on my to-do list comes to mind, I have to work on it right now, regardless of its importance or the current thing I am working on. So that means no walking by dirty dishes in the sink. No avoiding the clean clothes hanging out in the hamper. No telling myself I will work out later tonight. No writing down tasks to be done later. If something comes to mind, it must be addressed on the spot, right now.
The catch is that I only have to work on the task for five minutes. If I start a task and I hit the five minute mark, I stop and get back to whatever else I was doing. When I come by that task again, I spend another five minutes on it. (And if I'm close to completing a task after five minutes, I can choose to simply finish it.) This means I'll often be doing something trivial for a while instead of something important. But important tasks will only be delayed by a trivial amount of time, and the majority of the little things on my to-do list can be positively impacted (or maybe entirely completed) within five minutes.
This flies in the face of the Covey approach I've tried so many times, and which never sticks for me. I've tried writing down my weekly roles and goals, prioritizing, assigning tasks to each day, and doing the first things first. That works for a few weeks or a month before I settle back into my old routine. Eventually I stop filling out the weekly planner and lose any benefit from the system. The rub is that the Covey process doesn't materialize into a habit for me.
The main reason I am taking this approach is to establish a new, positive habit: one that rewards me when I avoid procrastination via small doses of productivity. While I love reading about new approaches and ideas to be more productive or efficient, if the process does not evolve into a habit then I have no chance of leveraging the technique. I'll try it out a few times, get some quick wins, and then probably quit.
To break this pattern, the idea is to work hard for a short time when I think of a task, get the positive emotions associated with accomplishment (even a small accomplishment), and then repeat the process throughout the day. The result I hope to achieve is a positive habit loop, as outlined in the Power of Habit.
The main risk is that I'll spend more time working on small errands and home maintenance while neglecting larger tasks like establishing a side hustle or, you know, working at my actual job. But my guess is that the impact is going to be minimal for a couple reasons. For one, I probably already waste enough five minute stretches during the course of a day that there may not really be a net impact on my time. And even if I spend twelve of these five minute periods on small, immediate tasks every day, that only adds up to an hour. The benefit of a new, productive habit that rewards me when I avoid procrastination seems like a worthwhile use of an hour every day.
I'm not entirely sure what the end result will be. My tasks will probably be a little more disjointed, switching back and forth between different activities. My days might have more small periods of maintenance than long sustained periods of heads down work. If nothing else, the house will be a little cleaner and I should procrastinate less. Even that would be great: I love a clean house, though I rarely have one. I already feel better for having spent some time to finish this post today, instead of letting it rot on the vine even longer. In time, maybe the habit will spread from avoiding small, five minute activities to avoiding procrastination on larger, important activities.
But the first goal is a sustainable habit, so I'll just have to keep track of my actions and report back. I'm terrible at sustaining new activities over the long term, so wish me luck on that front.
That's all for now. Thanks, as always, for reading. I just remembered I need to work out, so I'm off to do some push-ups and stretches.
*Photo is from Nizaad at Flickr Creative Commons.