I’ve gotten stuck recently with getting work done, and I stumbled on an approach that works well to get unstuck.
I write down a laundry list of “What I could do” and then choose from that list.
Its early going, but when I do this I find my productivity matches any other day, but I’m more relaxed and get into flow more easily.
Why does this work so well?
- Move from obligation to choice. Seeing everything you can do reminds you that you have a choice in your actions. If you’re stuck on shoulds, this difference feels amazing.
- Save on willpower. I’ve struggled with making a checklist of what I have to do each day and I think its because this list becomes shoulds instead of coulds. Shoulds cost willpower, but coulds reinforce willpower. (This is also why my diet emphasizes eating more of good foods I enjoy rather than removing bad foods.)
When I create a list of what I could do, it gives me willpower back somehow.
- Regain perspective on choices. My list often includes housecleaning tasks, which I struggle with because they feel low value but they improve my productivity when I do them. Seeing them on the list reminds me that I can complete some of them and still do important work.
Whats missing from list, usually, is the low grade procrastination such as checking social media, news, video games etc. I mean, I could add them to the list, but I don’t actually get value from them and they don’t come to mind.
But sometimes these are actually useful and I feel okay about doing them. Today I included playing Civ 5 on my list, because I want to explore a few dimensions of the game. I may or may not do it, but I feel okay about playing it because its on my list.
Goal oriented procrastination is usually ok, while distraction-oriented procrastination feels like empty calories.
- Make procrastination productive.
When I was a university student, I had this gnarly habit of going to the library a week before finals and checking out a dozen books unrelated to my classes. This didn’t do much for my grades, but I learned a lot.
Lets say you have this huge task you want to do, but its daunting, and you have this other important task that you don’t really want to do, but its just a bit less daunting. Seeing them in your list, you might choose one to avoid the other. Thats productive, its way.
I’ve actually done well to pick the most important tasks on my list and complete them, but this can be an upside to the list.
- Get it out of your head. Just acknowledging what tasks lay before you, writing them down, you no longer have to think about them.
I might have borrowed this idea from GTD, but I never trusted their approach to keep a list and always refer back to it. I do it differently: I write down a new list every morning, so I always know where it is.
- See your progress. Listing out the tasks you feel compelled to complete, and seeing them checked off, feels amazing. Quantity doesn’t trump quality here, but quantity of checkmarks can give you the momentum for quality.
- Reminder to have fun. My list often includes things I can do for health, or for relaxation. Just seeing them written down reminds me that I have a choice, I have the freedom to do those things instead.