Some time back, I explored using a list to help me stop procrastinating at home and work. It worked decently at work (although it lost its effectiveness over time) and didn’t work at all at home.
List Goals Alongside Tasks
LifeHacker has a theory for why lists fail: we forget why we put a task on our list, so we lose the motivation to complete it.
The answer? When you make a list, also include why you need to complete the task. (This isn’t going to be applicable if you make a daily to-do at work, like “check voice mail;” it’s really for longer/more complicated tasks that require more motivation.) So, my task list at home might look like this:
- Rip out the carpet tacks in the spare bathroom so I can lay some tile.
- Buy and lay some tile in the bathroom so it’s easier to clean up and keep clean.
- Clean up the bathroom because it’s starting to look like an episode of Hoarders in there and it’s driving me crazy. What if we had company???
- Invite company to the house so I will be forced to do 1-3.
(This is actually an old list. I had to redo all of the tile I laid because it wouldn’t stay stuck–and I still have a few tiles I need to re-glue–but at least it’s decent for company now.)
List Accomplishments Instead of Tasks
Something that I’ve been doing lately to motivate myself is the opposite of the task list. Rather than writing a bunch of stuff down and then marking it off (it’s very easy to overload your plate and it’s depressing if you fail), I’ve been making a list of the things I accomplish. Amazingly, I get 2-3 times more stuff done this way. And a long list of accomplishments is actually more encouraging (for me, at least) than a shorter list of things marked off.
In conjunction with the accomplishment list, I work 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. Scott H. Young has a blog post about the need to work in short bursts. If you stay on one task too long, your mind will start to wander and you actually accomplish less than if you took a short break and then got back on task refreshed. Studies have actually found that people who take periodic breaks from work to surf the web are more productive than people who keep their nose to the grindstone all day.
So, whether you’re a student studying; a writer trying to grind out a word count, edits, blog or social media posts, or marketing; or just someone who is staring at a large, unpleasant task at work that you’ve been avoiding (filing, anyone?), try 15 minutes on/15 minutes off.
Download a desktop clock from CNet or use an online version (in case you can’t d/l at work). If you’re away from your computer, use an egg timer or the timer on your stove or microwave. (And then there are those people living in the 21st century who have a timer app on their phone.)
Spend 15 minutes working hard; don’t let yourself be distracted. Then, when your timer goes off, do whatever you want–surf the internet, Facebook, Angry Birds, make a phone call, etc.–for 15 minutes. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 15-minute chunks and how less unpleasant the task becomes.