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« Three Types of Urgent | Main | Structure »
Saturday
Sep092006

Plus or Minus?

Do you find that you have difficulty doing all the items on your task list? Perhaps you keep getting stuck because you are resisting some of the items. One way of overcoming this, which I have often written about in this newsletter, is to break bigger tasks down into smaller steps. In fact the most important step is always the first one.

The secret is to pitch your first step so that you don’t mind doing it. So for example if you have a difficult report to write, the item “Write report” might get you resisting hard. On the other hand “Write outline of report headings” might seem easy.

The trouble is that you often don’t succeed in identifying that you are resisting an item until too late. At the end of the day you find you haven’t even made a start on it. Instead you have spent the day on trivial displacement activities. Ideally every item on your list would be pitched just below your level of resistance, and then you could really power through the list.

There is a very simple technique for achieving this. Once you have written out your task list for the day, just run down the list and mark each item with a plus or a minus, depending whether you feel positive or negative towards that item.

So you might end up with a list like this:

- Write report
+ Phone John
- Write new company strategy document
- Organise Charity Ball
and so on

Here there’s no problem phoning John, but you are feeling negative towards the other three items. The next step is to cross each of these three items out and write in a new item which cuts the task down smaller. Then check the new items again to see whether they are plus or minus. So your list might now look like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
- Set up Charity Ball Committee

Now you have three plus items and one minus item. Break the minus item down further and you final list looks like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
+ List names of potential Committee members

Because you are now feeling no resistance towards this list, you can zoom through it. You will either finish or make a good start on all your tasks and will now be able take them to the next stage.

One tip: if you take a lengthy break from actioning your list, make sure you re-evaluate your plusses and minusses on returning to it. It is surprising how resistance can increase overnight!

Reader Comments (13)

Neat tip. I can't wait to try this on my lists. :-)
October 24, 2006 at 13:39 | Unregistered CommenterPercy
Let us know how you get on.
October 24, 2006 at 16:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This is the smartest, most useful article I think I've ever read on getting things done. I've put a "+" next to the newest item on my to-do list (break all the yukky, scary, horribly looming projects down into friendly, slightly enticing tasks). I can hardly wait to begin!
December 11, 2006 at 5:28 | Unregistered Commenteraviva
Good luck with this, Aviva. Let us know how you get on.
December 11, 2006 at 11:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks for surfacing this post. I don't remember coming across it before. It's both brilliant and simple. I'm looking forward to putting it to use.
December 11, 2011 at 13:44 | Unregistered CommenterLenore
Thanks - a very useful tool!
May 5, 2012 at 3:05 | Unregistered CommenterKorou
This wOrks well with FV! For all who have too many unwanted tasks jamming up the front of your FV list, consider if maybe you want to get some of those tasks out of the way, or you want them to be easier. Maybe then you will pick a few more of these want-befores. Then with these the task becomes not Doing, but figuring out what first step you won't resist doing.
May 7, 2012 at 13:51 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Brilliant! Bumping this post to the top so others can see.
October 5, 2013 at 11:54 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
*bump*

I wonder how well this would work with a weekly AF method (similar to DSAF)? A difference being that the '-' items get crossed as part of a larger weekly review.

Great idea by the way!
October 5, 2013 at 15:33 | Unregistered Commenterleon
leon:

"I wonder how well this would work with a weekly AF method (similar to DSAF)? A difference being that the '-' items get crossed as part of a larger weekly review."


In other words:

1. The tasks you feel negative towards eventually find themselves dismissed.

2. At review time the dismissed tasks you felt positive about are let go or rewritten, and the tasks marked with a minus are broken down into smaller tasks that elicit positive feelings and are rewritten at the end of your active list.
October 6, 2013 at 0:47 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
A more elaborate version of this idea is called "Getting Things Fun" at http://medium.com/p/a88ad971cef8

The author groups tasks by the expected type of emotional payoff, such as

Supremely satisfying:
making a tricky phone call, research.

Massive relief:
sorting out insurance, booking flights.


The author says "I’ve learned I have first to find the associated “Why” of the task. Emotions need a why. And “Why to do” to is always a better place to begin your day than “What to do”.
October 31, 2013 at 13:59 | Unregistered Commentermichael
An elaboration of this idea called "Getting Things Fun" is at https://medium.com/understandings-epiphanies/a88ad971cef8


The author groups activities by their emotional impact such as:

Supremely satisfying: making a tricky phone call, research.
Massive relief: sorting out insurance, booking flights.
Avoids physical and psychological meltdown:...

The author writes: " I have first to find the associated “Why” of the task. Emotions need a why. And “Why to do” to is always a better place to begin your day than “What to do”. "
October 31, 2013 at 15:27 | Unregistered Commentermichael
An elaboration of this idea called "Getting Things Fun" is at https://medium.com/understandings-epiphanies/a88ad971cef8


The author groups activities by their emotional impact such as:

Supremely satisfying: making a tricky phone call, research.
Massive relief: sorting out insurance, booking flights.
Avoids physical and psychological meltdown:...

The author writes: " I have first to find the associated “Why” of the task. Emotions need a why. And “Why to do” to is always a better place to begin your day than “What to do”. "
October 31, 2013 at 17:14 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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