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Thursday
Sep302010

Using resistance as a guide

One of the points I made strongly in my first book Get Everything Done And Still Have Time to Play was that I could use my resistance to doing certain tasks as a guide. The reason for this is that the things I tend to resist are those that take me out of my comfort zone. And the things which take me out of my comfort zone tend to be those actions which are going to take my life forward. If I just do those things which I feel comfortable doing, I will end up stuck in a rut.

It would probably be oversimplifying things to say that I could boil this down to two recipes:

1) To be a success: first do the things which you are most resisting.

2) To be a failure: first do the things which you are least resisting.

Hmm… maybe it’s not oversimplifying things much at all!

Reader Comments (28)

I remember trying this when you posted the idea on your "In Terra Aliena" blog. But it didn't work for me. I found that there's another reason that a task may offer resistance, besides taking me out of my comfort zone: Sometimes a task really doesn't need to be done at all. The "resistance" measure alone couldn't distinguish between these two kinds of tasks. Was I missing something?

Thanks!
October 1, 2010 at 8:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
AutoFocus seems to help me here. I don't think much about resistance at all, but every week stuff that's been ignored is ready to be dismissed. As I see things approaching the cutoff mark I decide about each:
1) Is this unimportant? Delete
2) Is this better done at a later time? File
3) Anything else fits the above. I've been resisting it, and it's time to get moving on it. Once I start it may take time to get up to speed but I will continue to work on it.

Following this, nothing stagnates more than a week, unless I make an active decision to postpone it.
October 1, 2010 at 17:32 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
There might be more reasons not to proceed with a task, such as ethical concerns only your gut is aware of.

But Mark's point is still valid: there might be just a few task worth being considered as severe "treats" to your (hindering?) comfort zones.

I do however question the common interpretation how good or bad comfort zones are four us and that leaving them is the receipt to be successful. Personally, I appreciate comfort zones. They provide security, stability, continuity, and make me feel just well. And, feeling well is good start for thorough actions, especially those which I am uncomfortable with.

As a marathon runner I do know about leaving my comfort zones. But I try to leave them better regularly than with one big leap - which could literally cause damage.

When I come across a task I didn't wanna do for some time, I'd typically try to break it into smaller peaces, leaving me a step still creating progress, but small enough to be swallowed.
October 2, 2010 at 10:48 | Unregistered CommenterRainer
When I read your first book I followed the 'Follow the path of greatest resistance' principle for quite a while. I found that resistance was definitely a clear indicator of what I should do next, but that knowledge wasn't always enough to trigger me into action. Once I added the 'I'm not really...I'm just going to...' trick, that bumped up how often I would dive into the tasks of greatest resistance, but didn't eliminate the struggle. Once I started using Autofocus (first v.1, then v.2 for about two years, now recently onto v.4), resistance almost COMPLETELY disappeared. Very magical. I completed an MA in Classics, and planned a wedding, using v.2, and the system took everything I could throw at it.

I think the reason Autofocus works is because it will always present you a task that matches your energy levels at that time - I often find that my mind needs to 'warm up' on some easy tasks, 'quick-wins', before I'm ready to do one that will take me out of my comfort zone. On some evenings when I get home from work I definitely don't have the energy to do my highest resistance tasks, but instead of vegging out and watching trash TV and doing absolutely nothing productive all evening, I know I can safely go to my AF and it will present me with a selection of tasks that are easy but still productive, even if it's just reading a book I haven't got round to or writing an easy email. In my opinion the high resistance tasks get done often enough, and usually just at the right time - the only task that has dismally failed to get done in the last year, and remained almost permenantly on every AF I've used, is cleaning the oven, so I can only conclude that life's too short for cleaning the oven. No doubt AF will give it to me well before it reaches a carcinogencic level of toxicity, so I'm really not worried about it:).

I have been trying DWM over the last few weeks, which I know you're still beta-ing, but I've really struggled with it. I found that having all those tasks dispersed over 30 days also dispersed my motivation to do them, and I kept forgetting to add new tasks, or adding them twice cos I'd lost them. I've gone back to AF v.4, and think its great - am getting through my backlog much quicker with this one as it forces to confront your oldest tasks much more effectively and quickly. I'm currently using a modifed DWM with a 3 day and 10 day timeframe instead for one of my jobs, AF v.4 for my other job, and another AF v.4 for the rest of my life.

I realise this is a long post, but thought it was time you got some feedback from me seeing as I have graduated through every one of your systems as you have developed them over quite a few years now, and my family credit you with saving my A-levels (I used to be a chronic procrastinator)! Thank you for all your brilliant ideas!
October 2, 2010 at 21:56 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
It reminds me of how I eat.
I eat what I like less first and then theres always space for the stuff I really like.
October 3, 2010 at 9:49 | Unregistered CommenterErik
This reminds me of my HoneyDo list, and the kids' Christmas wish lists. I encourage them to be long and varied. There's always something on the list that's ridiculously difficult or expensive, and something at the opposite end of the spectrum (an "if all else fails" type entry), and several in the middle that have a good chance of happening. A too-short list is either filled with "See, you got me nothing from the list, you don't love me!" or "Well, if I can only put on things you're likely to get." Letting it be long encourages them to work on the middle stuff.
October 3, 2010 at 20:09 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Erik wrote:
<<<It reminds me of how I eat. I eat what I like less first and then theres always space for the stuff I really like. >>>

I also eat that way. At first it didn't really seem worth commenting on: just another "Me too!". But then I got thinking about it...

This has become a habit for me that I really enjoy, and I don't even think about it. In other words, it doesn't offer any resistance, though logically, perhaps it should.

Why doesn't it offer any resistance? Because I use my natural hunger when I first sit down to eat, which makes it easy to eat the stuff I don't like very much. And it's always easy to eat the stuff I really like, just like Erik said.

The basic idea seems to be: use my natural hunger and drives to my advantage, rather than fighting against them. Maybe I should organize my life around this principle. How can I really make that happen?

For example, how could this be used to make sure my paper in box stops piling up, and similar maintenance tasks? Usually I resist this, because I am focused on some "high priority" task with a real deadline that I really need to get done. It's hard to break away and do stuff that may or may not be important or urgent. This continues until I have a crisis of some kind -- an unpaid bill sitting in that pile suddenly becomes due. DWM and AF haven't really helped with this -- the "little and often" principle usually translates to "look for the first piece of junk mail out of the stack, and toss it in the trash" -- probably not really what Mark meant by "little and often". :-)

Perhaps a solution would be: I could work on these maintenance tasks for half an hour before those high-priority projects have a chance to captivate my attention. That seems like it might work.

However, thinking back on different things I have tried, I've actually tried that before. I found that I got captivated doing maintenance tasks, and started resisting my project work. I'd start with 30 minutes, but then it would grow to 60, or 120, or all day. I'd be constantly scanning my various inboxes, clearing out the smallest incoming items, just to make sure I was always on top of them. Major projects would sit on the side. "Little and often" would translate to "open the folder, and close it again", allowing me to mark it as "progress" and write it at the end of the AF or DWM list again.

Maybe I could alternate -- one day focus on maintenance, the next day on projects. But that's already sounding too complicated -- another whole system based on my particular neurosis of overfocus.

I've been thinking that maybe Erik's pomodoro idea might work for me -- I've been pondering how to implement that. It seems kind of like the "envelope" method of budgeting, which I've always thought would be interesting to apply to time management.

Anyway, I have strayed from my main theme -- using one's natural hungers and drives to facilitate better time management. Does anyone have any success stories harnessing your hungers and drives in this way?
October 4, 2010 at 6:16 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I have an opposite story for that. My eldest got grumpier and pickier when he got hungry. I used chocolate chip cookies as appetizers (while keeping an eye on total food for the day). They got him to the table and thinking about food. They also raised his blood sugar enough that he wasn't starving and grumpy, so he would eat healthy food.
October 4, 2010 at 15:16 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
@Seraphim

Wooo, I totally missed this one.
You'll maybe be surprised to know (or maybe not) but the envelope budgeting is the basis for my blocs as a system. The flow is regulated by the Kanban...
October 5, 2010 at 12:43 | Registered CommenterErik
Beautiful in it's simplicity and applicability - Thank You Sir.
October 6, 2010 at 1:48 | Unregistered CommenterDan Collins
Due to my internet outage I haven't been able to respond to the very interesting comments on my short posting. At this stage I'm not going to try to respond to them all, but there are a few points that I want to make. Most of them are dealt with in "Get Everything Done".

1) As several people have pointed out, there are several possible reasons for resisting a task. And maybe I should have said "First *deal* with the things that you are most resisting" rather than "First *do* the things...". For example if you have an ethical mismatch with a task or project, then it's important to recognise that and solve it. You are not likely to be successful if you have that sort of conflict going on inside you. Resistance is a good pointer to that sort of thing.

2) Resistance varies with the time of day and circumstances. It's not just a matter of doing the most unpleasant task first. What you may be resisting at any given time may be something simple like hanging up your coat rather than leaving it lying around. Or it make be to take some rest or leave the office on time. My own experience is that once I recognise this, I always have the energy to do what I am resisting at that moment.
October 6, 2010 at 23:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I pondered overnight about resistance to large projects. First, as I wrote above, resistence to me is obvious: it's whatever is languishing on the AF closed list.

For small projects, it's as Mark wrote: define little tasks and you'll soon find it easy to work the project. For big projects, it's trickier. They tend to decompose into smaller projects, and while you can easily put a small project on your AF list and deal with it as above, a big project which involves little projects gets stuck.

"Marketing" is an awfully big and undefined project. "Market product X to segment Y" is more specific but still big. I think the key is to define specific short term goals that lead toward the projects' success. Those mini goals can be both your motivation and the specific subproject you work on. If you're still stuck you need to get more specific about What or Why.

My most recent thoughts, anyway.
October 7, 2010 at 14:34 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Nice to hear how the principle of resistance can work on all levels. There is a book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, in which resistance plays a major role.
Some bits about it are on his blog.
http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2010/07/start-before-youre-ready/
October 7, 2010 at 17:49 | Registered CommenterErin
Alan:

I tend to enter projects like Marketing in the following way:

Marketing Action?

That leaves me free to take as much or as little action as I like, and I find it a lot less threatening than just putting:

Marketing

As well as having a task for the whole project, I may enter some of the individual Marketing tasks as well. Whatever gets the job done!
October 7, 2010 at 20:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks for your link to Steven Pressburg's blog, Erin. I've left a comment on the article you link to.
October 7, 2010 at 20:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The trouble with "Marketing Action?" is that Marketing hasn't been defined. When will you be done marketing? How sophisticated should it be? I suppose you could just start, select one action at a time, and keep going (little by little) until somebody says stop. That can work for small projects, but Marketing is an open-ended never-ending project. I think short term goals need to be figured. "Marketing: Define Next Objective!"
October 7, 2010 at 22:30 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

The right place for this sort of data is in the project documentation, not on your AF list.

"Marketing: Define Next Objective" is one possible action within "Marketing Action?"

"Defining scope of marketing plan", "Decide on level of sophistication of marketing" and "Decide end date of marketing campaign" are also possible actions within the wider heading, depending on the stage you have reached.

You are free to put all or some of them on your AF list as well as or instead of "Marketing Action?". The point is that you can do it whichever way works best for a particular project.
October 8, 2010 at 9:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Completely in agreement. Thanks.
October 8, 2010 at 11:37 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan wrote:
<<<The trouble with "Marketing Action?" is that Marketing hasn't been defined. When will you be done marketing? How sophisticated should it be?>>>

You seem to be implying that everything on the AF list must be "SMART", making sure you clearly define "DONE". Those kinds of requirements just slow me down. Usually the task at hand is very clear in my head and there's no real reason to write it all down. For me, "Marketing Action?" would indicate a very specific set of tasks -- there's not necessarily any reason to list all those tasks.

But then again, you can list them (or some of them) if you want... Like Mark said - whatever gets the job done.

I've been finding that it works pretty well to throw everything at the list. While working the list, when I come across a project task that stands out, I have been getting into the habit of switching over to my project plan and see what needs to be done, and then doing that, not necessarily the task that was actually on the list.

Example: Task XYZ is on my AF list, and is part of Project A. I see Task XYZ on my AF list and it "stands out". So I switch to my project plan for Project A and see what needs to be done:

Maybe Task XYZ is already incorporated into my Project Plan, and it really is a "next action", so I go ahead and work on Task XYZ, either completing it, or re-entering it after a completing some work.

Maybe Task XYZ hasn't been incorporated into that plan yet -- so I incorporate it, and then maybe work on Project A a little, and when I'm done, I re-enter "Project A" onto the AF list.

Or maybe Task XYZ is already incorporated, but Task UVW is actually the thing to do right now. So I do Task UVW instead, and re-enter Task XYZ back on my AF list.

Over time this helps with two things:

(1) The AF list has a mixture of some "Project A" listings (big generic monsters that may be hard to slay, but on the other hand are a good indication of my major deliverables), and other Task ABC listings (specific actionable tasks, but maybe not ready to be done yet, or maybe not integrated into the project as a whole yet). Sometimes the Project-type listing will catch my attention, but other times the specific Task listings catch my attention. Either way, the project gets attention and I make some progress.

(2) Fractured miscellaneous project-related tasks can be more easily assimilated into the overall project. This way the list gets cleaned up as I go through it.

YMMV, etc. :-)
October 9, 2010 at 2:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
As of late, the nature of my tasks has led me to simply write the name of the task on my AF list. Everything else - action checklists, documents, drafts, research material - goes to the project documentation placeholder. The former is on paper, the later is in OneNote.

The result has been a really uncluttered AF list. When the Project stands out, I go to the documentation. But Seraphim, I like the way you've remained flexible. It can be in either or both. I can see how it can be an advantage when a task gets thrown at you. Put it on the AF list first. It may or may not go to the project list as part of a larger plan or it may just get done if it stands out.
October 9, 2010 at 2:55 | Registered CommenterJD
I agree with Mark, Seraphim, and JD. One exception though: While it isn't necessary that projects always get a SMART definition, yet in many cases it helps. Two specific benefits:

1. I'm motivated by the possibility to finish a project. Choosing a clear definition enables this.
2. A good definition keeps me focused and not doing related work that actually doesn't help with the real goal.

BTW, I chose "marketing" to be an example of a project where I don't know the tasks involved. Because the project is unfamiliar to me, working out the precise goal is especially important to me. Which does *not* mean Define Goal must be done first or second. It *does* mean that all unfamiliar projects implicitly have Define Goal as one of their tasks.
October 9, 2010 at 4:00 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
The Dalek Stratagem: "RESISTANCE IS USEFUL!"
October 9, 2010 at 6:31 | Registered CommenterWill
I agree that SMART* doesn't need to be applied to everything. Just write stuff in and do it. But when it comes to resistence (I.e., not actually working on a project), defining the project more narrowly helps immensely. It's much easier to start a precise subgoal than to start a vague unending project.

*SMART goal setting means to define goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timeboxed.
October 10, 2010 at 13:52 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:


<< *SMART goal setting means to define goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timeboxed. >>

I've heard an alternative version which I like better in which the A stands for "Agreed".
October 10, 2010 at 18:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Full of admiration for anyone who manages to have separate project lists and cross reference from their AF to that - I can see how it works but the problem I've found is that having a separate task list means that a whole new lot of resistance builds up just around that project, and it makes me more liekly to resist the AF task that leads me to it.

I have actually just created a separate AF 4 for exercise which I'm finding quite fun - idea being to get me to do more variety of exercise - so I list all the forms that I think I ever do - tennis, running, strength moves, yoga, walking, gardening, surfing, cycling etc., put a line at the end, and try to hit an exercise from the 'backlog' before I go into my 'active' list. The link from my everyday AF is just 'exercise'. I spose all the tasks could be just as well integrated into my normal AF but am enjoying this so far - works as quite a good training log too as I can see what I'm doing most often.
October 11, 2010 at 13:58 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
I learned about SMART and ISPPE as a teenager and 25 years later I still apply them to almost all non-routine tasks.

ISPPE: Investigate, Select. Plan, Participate, Evaluate. It can be done on a small scale (which speck of dust to wipe up) or large (which house to buy), or any scale in between.

On the other hand, sometimes it's better to get the idea (project, goal, whatever) on the main list quickly. If the new idea is luring me away from what I should be working on, do the absolute minimum that will let my brain get back on track.

Sometimes an idea needs to percolate through my subconscious for a few weeks before I apply them. It can sit on my big list in whatever form works and grab a bit of attention when I review the list.

When I'm resisting something, applying SMART and ISPPE usually unstick them. Sometimes applying them shows why I'm resisting. Maybe the goal isn't measurable or I haven't finished evaluating earlier similar goals.

In short, they are useful tools once an item is on the list, but I'd rather get ideas on the list quickly and easily rather than take the time to examine them in depth.

I use Next Action more often. If there's no next action, it's either assumed to be "apply SMART and ISPPE" or I don't intend to do anything on the idea for a few months.
October 11, 2010 at 22:56 | Registered CommenterCricket
+AJPM+

I personally use the mnemonic "5 C's" that I learned at school on good writing: Clear, Concise, Complete, Correct, Clean. I've since added another C, Covered, to plan for contingencies. I find that applying these to any task will make it a bit more easy.
October 11, 2010 at 23:35 | Registered Commenternuntym
Back to the original topic. It seems if there's something you don't want to do, it fits two categories: You should do it, or you needn't do it. Throw the latter away.
If there's something you want to do, it fits two categories: You should do it, or you needn't do it. The former you will easily be sure to achieve.

So what's left are things you should do but don't want to, and things you want to do but really don't need to do. And obviously you are better off having done the important things than the unimportant.
October 12, 2010 at 14:17 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

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