During one particular period when I was actively tweaking my “GTD” system, trying out all sorts of software tools, and scouring numerous productivity blogs, I came to a startling realization. I was guilty of something. Something unproductive. Something that went against the very nature of what I was trying to accomplish. But what? I needed a name for it. The name I came up with was “procrastivity”. Yes, that was it. I was guilty of procrastivity. Uhg. I was procrastinating by organizing and re-organizing task lists and task management tools, all under the guise of productivity.
So why was I doing this? Well, first of all it was fun. It’s interesting to see what new tool or technology is out there. It’s fun to try them out, make mods and customizations, and try to bend the tools to my will. The second reason is that there were some daunting tasks on my to-do list. I could easily rationalize that by working on this tool I was indirectly working on those tasks. Not true, and pretty pathetic.
So how do I break this cycle? Well, procrastivity is like any other addiction. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. You also have to realize that if you’re not careful, you can fall back into the bad behavior at any time. From there, the next big step is to regain focus by making sure that those things on your to-do list are actually doable. The question that comes to mind, based on a quote by GEN Creighton Abrams, is “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.” In other words, your to-do list should not contain the task “eat the elephant”. You would start off with a task like “take a bite of elephant’s leg (without getting stepped on)”. In GTD parlance, David Allen would have you create a project titled “Eat elephant”, and place only the next action (take a bite) on your to-do list. When I first read his book, I didn’t give much credence to the project list. I thought, “Why would I want to manage yet another list?” It would be much simpler to have only one list to worry about, right? Not so much. It turns out that the “one list” gets too crowded with fuzzy ill-defined tasks (a.k.a. projects). Every time I would glance at it, I had to work out in my head what to do next. This probably happened 50+ times during the course of a normal workday. Lots of wasted energy.
There are two ways I handle my projects now: (1) project pages in Microsoft OneNote, and (2) PigPog tasks for those multi-step tasks that aren’t quite big enough to warrant a dedicated project page. Since there are pros and cons to each, I use both depending on the “project”. I will write about each of these in more detail in a future post. The only list that gets printed and travels with me is my to-do list. The projects stay tucked away until my weekly review and do not distract me during a normal workday. In addition to the basic principles of project vs. next actions, there are some very nice tips on the ZenHabits web site and on LifeHacker.
Another tip is to slow the pace of your tweaking. Allow yourself to only make changes to your “system” once per quarter. To help resist the urge, create a project for your system. Every time you think of a tweak you want to make, just jot it down as a next action in that project. Knowing that the tweak is captured will help you resist the urge to jump in and immediately start tweaking. For those engineers and technical folks, think of this like a field test or pilot run, or even a beta test. You need to stop making changes long enough to test the system, right? Once per quarter, you pick the best tweaks/ideas off the list and roll them into your system. Purge any ideas that no longer apply. Then, test the updated system for the next quarter by actually using it!
One last tip to avoid procrastivity: Energize your conscience. Let it remind you if your current actions are unproductive or if you are guilty of procrastivity. One way to do that is with the self-check timer, which I previously discussed here.
That’s it. Good luck out there!