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« Noguchi System Update | Main | Overcoming Procrastination Over Decisions »
Monday
Jul142008

The Procrastination Buster Improved

In my article The Procrastination Buster I talked about how resistance to a task tends to be relative. To give an example, if you are faced with a choice between doing a difficult task and an easy task, the easy task will obviously be the easy option. However if you are faced with a choice between the same difficult task and another even more difficult task then the difficult task will seem to be the easy option.

In the article I developed this principle into a simple system of dealing with an open to do list. The idea is to work through the to do list comparing each task in turn with the next task on the list and doing the one which you are resisting the least. That way each task you do seems like the easy option, even though it may be quite difficult.

The main problem I found in dealing with a to do list in this way was that, as the list gets longer, it can take a very long time to work from one end of the list to the other. In fact if one is adding items fast enough, one never gets to the end of the list!

A simple modification makes the method work much better. Instead of comparing each item with the next item on the list, you compare the first item on the list (i.e. the oldest) with the last item (the newest).

So to illustrate, your list might read as follows:

  • Clear email
  • Tidy desk
  • Sort out ordering system
  • Return client’s phone call

You compare the first item with the last item. Which is easier, check email or return the client’s phone call?

You decide to return the client’s phone call. During the call various action items came up which you added to the list. So it now reads:

  • Clear email
  • Tidy desk
  • Sort out ordering system
  • Return client’s phone call
  • Forward July forecast to client
  • Ask boss about how to handle Project X

Once again you compare the first item with the last item. You decide to clear: your email. Once you have finished it, the list reads like this:

  • Clear email
  • Tidy desk
  • Sort out ordering system
  • Return client’s phone call
  • Forward July forecast to client
  • Ask boss about how to handle Project X
  • Read Project Y report
  • Investigate www.markforster.net

So you now have a choice between tidying your desk and investigating my website. Which are you going to choose?

What I have found is that because the list is being tackled at both ends, it tends to get less bogged down than the previous method I recommended.

If you’re someone who likes to work off an open to do list, then why not try this method out and see how you get on? All feedback will be appreciated.

 

Related article:

The “Georgette Heyer” System

Reader Comments (6)

Thank you Mark for putting words to something I had been doing unconsciously.
July 15, 2008 at 16:56 | Unregistered CommenterBob
Hi, Bob
Thanks for your comment. Would you like to share some of your experiences with this method?
July 16, 2008 at 9:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, have you tried this approach with a closed list? I know the goal is to complete the list everyday but I was wondering if this could help with the resistance?
July 16, 2008 at 15:06 | Unregistered CommenterJim Trucker
Jim:

One of the characteristics of a closed list is that, all other things being equal, it doesn't matter what order you do the items in as long as you do them all. So you are free to use whatever order you find works best for you.

Personally I tend to do the items in a closed list easiest first. That way one is always taking the easy option until the very last item - so I don't see that the method in this article would have much advantage over what most people do naturally in a closed list situation.
July 16, 2008 at 15:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, nice try, but you've really just moved the problem from not getting to the end of the list to not getting to the middle of the list! Another problem I can see is you might start to manipulate the list by adding easy items onto the end, so in effect, you'd never do many of the beginning items. Maybe it might be better picking (at least one of) the items at random?
August 31, 2008 at 14:56 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Geoghegan
Kevin:

Sorry for the delay in replying to your post - I've been on holiday.

My own experience of using this method is that, yes, there is a tendency to put loads of easy items at the end of the list. But actually this is an advantage because the easy items themselves get trapped under a more difficult item, and then the only way to access them is to approach from the other end.

To give a very simplified example suppose the items on your list are:

1. Something you don't want to do
2. Something your really want to do.

And then someone gives you a task that you want to do even less than item 1, your list becomes:

1. Something you don't want to do
2. Something your really want to do.
3. Something you really, really don't want to do.

You can add all the easy items you like to the list, but the only way to access Item 2 is going to be through Item 1 or Item 3.
September 12, 2008 at 11:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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