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« Revisiting "Get Everything Done" | Main | Obligation a Cause of Procrastination »

How to Crack a Difficult Task

I’ve been reminding myself this week of how effective the use of timed bursts can be. In particular, the method which I have been using to crack a number of major highly-resistable tasks is the use of a series of bursts of increasing length. The sequence is a burst of 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes and so on - each time adding another 5 minutes to the length of the burst.

Although my book “Get Everything Done” recommends alternating these bursts on several tasks, I’ve been using the method on one task at a time. I’ve found a 2 minute gap between the bursts works best for me, though this may depend on the nature of the task and the person doing the task!

Using this method I’ve cleared among other things a backlog of paper that had been refusing to shift, caught up with the adminstrative work for my coming seminars, and sorted out action needed on my financial arrangements. These are all things which had been hanging around for some time, and of course building up resistance.

This method is ideal for use with the Current Initiative in the Do It Tomorrow system. There are two main reasons why it works so well. The first is that by starting with a short burst of only 5 minutes you get through the worst part of any project, which is making a start. The second reason is that having a clearly defined burst of action concentrates your work. By the time you get to a 40-minute burst you will have spent three hours on the task. But you will have accomplished far more than if you had just worked for three hours straight. If you don’t believe me, try it!

Reader Comments (5)

Seems to me this is a good method for tasks that involve drudgery, as in clearing accumulated paperwork etc. However, for tasks requiring creative thinking, like writing a paper or designing a product, wouldn't the gaps prevent getting in the "flow"?
October 15, 2008 at 19:46 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Zeldes
Hi, Nathan

In my experience the answer is no, the gaps don't prevent getting in the flow. In fact they encourage it. Try it and see!
October 15, 2008 at 22:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I use this method with my children. We see how much of the playroom we can tidy in 10 minutes - usually it's all of it.
October 18, 2008 at 7:40 | Unregistered CommenterJane CD
@Mark - I use a similar system on some of my training runs - run 5s, jog 5s, run 6s, jog 6s...up to 20s or more if I'm fit. And then back down again to 5s.
I cover a lot of ground, get the physiological benefits of interval training and the psychological 'pull' on the downward part of the triangle ( 20s rest, 19 s run etc...)

Although I like the occasional "long, steady run" the variety of the 'pyramid' works well for me.

I experiment with similar ideas in my day-2-day work flows, including your GED recommendations. Variety is indeed the spice of life.
October 18, 2008 at 13:02 | Unregistered CommenterMark McClure Coaching
I've been doing the same thing--applying increasing timed bursts to a single task--and found that to be the single most valuable idea from GED.
October 24, 2008 at 15:57 | Unregistered CommenterPam Phillips

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