Browsing the archives for the troubleshooting motivation tag.
Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      


How to Become More Focused and Enthusiastic, Part II: What Matters and Keeping Score

Strategies and goals

In the first article in this series, I talked about the difference between not being focused or driven on the one hand and being distracted on the other. The difference is important because the two problems have different kinds of solutions.

I also began to talk about the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves to begin work on fixing our focus or enthusiasm. These questions tap into elements that research strongly suggests are important for self-motivation. The first element, talked about in that first article, was belief that we can actually accomplish our goal. Without that belief, we undermine our own efforts.

What is it worth?
The second question to ask is whether the goal feels worthwhile to us. What value is it?

Take, for example, my focus on fitness. Years ago I was 60 pounds heavier and much less strong and flexible than I am today–not to mention less energetic and happy. It took some real work to change my eating habits and to make exercise central in my life. Once I got close to my goal fitness level, though, motivation became much harder. Why? Because I had already reached the level where I was at peak health, and losing more weight would only really contribute to how much definition I had–that is, it was no longer a matter of health, but now only a matter of wanting to look great. I was still motivated, but my motivation wasn’t nearly as strong.

If your goal doesn’t seem worthwhile to you, then the two possibilities are that it really is worthwhile and you just don’t feel in touch with that, or it really isn’t worthwhile and you should find another goal. If you believe in your goal but don’t feel in touch with its value, spend time writing or talking about your reasons for attempting it and about what you want to achieve.

Measurability: Are we moving yet?
The third question we will want to ask ourselves is whether or not we can measure our progress. While being able to see progress isn’t an absolute necessity, most of us will get discouraged or at least very uneasy if we’re putting in a lot of work and not getting an indication of whether or not it makes a difference. That’s one reason it’s so frustrating for writers, for example, to wait for editors and agents to respond to submissions. Once you’ve done everything you can to write a good piece and get it out the door, you want to know how successful you were, to judge where you are in your process and what you’re doing effectively or ineffectively.

Some kinds of goals are difficult to measure. Even getting fit is hard to track, since weight alone isn’t an ideal measure of getting fit. With these kinds of goals, though, it is at least possible to note what you’re doing each day–that is, to track progress, which while it doesn’t give you results, at least shows how well you’re doing in keeping to the new habits you’re trying to form.

Photo by Thomas Webster

1 Comment

How to Become More Focused and Enthusiastic, Part I: Plausibility

Strategies and goals

This is the first in a set of Willpower Engine articles on focus and enthusiasm.

Distraction or Enthusiasm?
If you’re having trouble focusing on a goal, there are at least two possible problems. One is that you’re getting distracted. If this is the real issue, then handling the distractions is all that’s needed to get on track. I’ve had a chance to talk about distractions in depth in the following four articles, so if that’s the subject of most interest to you, try these out:

The other possibility when it gets difficult to focus is that there isn’t enough enthusiasm, drive, or commitment toward the goal. For instance, someone who wants to learn Spanish but doesn’t take out the materials very often and isn’t very energetic about studying might not have the short-term enthusiasm about learning Spanish that would be needed to really make it happen–but at the same time, it might be honestly important to that person to learn Spanish. Unfortunately, importance doesn’t always translate to a sense of urgency and enthusiasm. Bridging that gap is what this and the articles that come after it are about.

Can it be done?
If you find yourself wanting to do something but not driven or enthusiastic to do it, a good approach early on is to ask yourself a few frank questions. There have been some very useful psychological studies in recent years that spell out some of the things a person needs in order to feel committed to a goal.

If your goal doesn’t feel realistic, or if it feels realistic for someone else but not for you, then it’s very difficult to feel enthusiastic about chasing it. After all, if you don’t believe you can do it then on some level you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re wasting your effort and heading for failure and disappointment.

It may seem like simple common sense to make sure a goal feels possible before pursuing it, but realistically, many of the best goals really don’t seem like they’ll ever happen until they do. For instance, a person who has received dozens of rejections on novels may not have much confidence about sending out a new book, but statistically is much more likely to succeed than someone who has never tried. Someone who wants to lose 100 pounds may be completely incapable of imagining a body that much fitter, yet every pound that comes off is proof that it is possible to lose the weight.

Convincing yourself
If you have a goal that logically seems like it should be possible but that doesn’t feel possible, the first thing to do is to make sure that you believe in that goal for good reasons. For instance, when I was a teenager I had a goal of becoming conversant in enough languages to speak at least a little to the majority of the world’s population. Learning those dozen or more languages might be possible in theory, but not unless I devoted all my efforts to it–and while I like languages, I wouldn’t want to do nothing but learn languages day in and day out!

If you conclude that your goal is realistic, the next thing is to prove it to yourself in a way you can understand on a gut level. Calculating that something can be done doesn’t always translate to confidence that we’ll really do that thing. Here are some ways to get from here to there:

  • Think about things you’ve achieved in your life so far. Is any of them similar in important ways to what you’re trying to achieve? If so, go back and remind yourself of that experience in detail.
  • Find role models, whether through magazine articles, documentaries, interviews, news reports, blogs, looking among the people you already know, or elsewhere. My conviction that I could lose weight and get fit came in large part from seeing my sister do just that (60 pounds later, my conviction proved to be right).
  • Look at the exact requirements and think about how you’ll tackle each one. If your goal is to get a much better job, research job descriptions for those positions and even ask companies that hire for them what they look for in a candidate. Then map out a specific plan to getting as many of those qualifications as possible. When you have a very precise plan and know what you need to achieve, it’s much easier to feel confident.
  • Plan or do your first step. If the end goal is hard to picture, just picture what it would look like to move a little bit toward that. For instance, if you want to get your whole house organized, concentrate on only one very small area and organize that. If you can do that effectively, then organizing the rest of the house is mainly a matter of repeating something you’ve already done successfully.
  • Visualize what it will be like to accomplish your goal. Get a very clear, vivid picture in your mind of what you want to achieve, and daydream about that situation often–daily or more if you can, the more often the better!

The next article in these series will pick up with more questions that are important to ask if you want to be fully committed to a goal.

Photo by Omara Enero

2 Comments

Mental Schemas #8: Enmeshment and Undeveloped Self

Handling negative emotions

This is the eighth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.


Where do you end and I begin?
A person with the enmeshment schema is completely wrapped up in someone else’s life. It’s often a parent, but it can be anyone with a strong personality: a husband, a wife, a boss, a brother or sister … even a best friend. Enmeshed people ignore their own preferences and ideas and order everything in their lives according to the needs of the parent or other person they’re enmeshed with.

Some common feelings enmeshed people have are:

  • They/I/we couldn’t survive without this bond
  • I feel guilty if I keep anything separate
  • I feel completely smothered

Enmeshed people almost always have an “undeveloped self”: they don’t know what they want or need, what they prefer, where they’re going in life, or what would make them happy. It’s possible also to have the undeveloped self problem without the enmeshment problem, to feel empty and directionless and uncertain of wants and needs without necessarily being wrapped up in another person.

There’s a related schema called “subjugation,” where a person feels like they must act according to other people’s wishes, but instead of feeling closeness, subjugated people usually feel resentment, anger, and despair. An enmeshed person feels smothered; a subjugated person feels crushed. I’ll talk about subjugation in a separate post in future.

Enmeshed people and other people with undeveloped selves usually end up that way because of parents or other figures in their lives who are overprotective, abusive, or controlling.

Disentangling
In order to make progress in their own lives, enmeshed people first have to come to feel it’s OK to separate from the other, to be their own person. If they’re able to get to that point, they can begin to reflect on what they themselves really like, want, need, aspire to, and believe. Really knowing who we are and what’s important to us personally in life is what allows us to develop.

There are some dangers for an enmeshed person trying to get out of enmeshment. For instance, sometimes it can happen that an enmeshed person separates from the other by deciding that they hate everything that person loves, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, this still isn’t finding an individual self, because just doing the opposite of someone else still means that one’s decisions are based on another person.

Another danger is of getting out of an enmeshed situation is falling right into another–for instance, leaving a too-close relationship with a parent by getting into a romantic relationship with someone who has a very strong personality and becoming enmeshed with that person instead, or working through enmeshment in therapy and separating from the other person only to become enmeshed with the therapist. (Good therapists take pains to prevent this from getting very far!)

So the other goal, in addition to finding one’s own preferences and identity, is to learn how to have healthy relationships with other people, relationships that are connected but not enmeshed. The best tool I know of for this is mindfulness, being aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences from moment to moment in our lives. It’s only when we lose track of our own thinking that we can get overwhelmed with someone else’s.

Ending enmeshment and developing the self take a lot of hard work and understanding, and can often be especially well helped by a good cognitive therapist.

Photo by Djuliet

1 Comment

Feeling Tired? Need Energy? Here are 9 Ways to Get Charged Up

Strategies and goals

Energy to spare

In a recent e-mail to me, a correspondent talked about the problem of not having energy left after her daytime obligations:

My major problem is I have some studying to do and I am not able to do anything once I am back home. I am so tired. I’m basically brain dead too. I need the weekend to recuperate and so I am not productive at all during the weekend.

It’s a common problem: most of us seem to have days when the energy we want to have just isn’t there. Here are nine approaches that can help dredge up energy when no energy seems to be available.

1. Are you getting enough sleep? (See How Much Sleep Do You Need? 8 Hours Isn’t for Everyone) If not, are there ways you can get more, for instance by giving up a small amount of recreation time?

2. If worry is tiring you out, there are some things you can do to relieve the worry and leave more energy for getting things done. These include idea repair (see How to Detect Broken Ideas, How to Repair a Broken Idea, Step by Step, and Examples of Broken Ideas (Cognitive Distortions)), meditation (see Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation), brief walks in natural surroundings (see The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise), talking with a trusted friend or family member about worries you have, and writing in journals. Worry not only saps energy, but also makes it harder to use what energy you do have for constructive things.

3. Try to get into flow (see Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated and Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow), a state where you’re concentrating fully on what you’re doing. Even if you feel tired at the beginning, if you really get deeply involved in a task that interests you, you can start feeling energized by the task itself.

4. Choose things to eat that will make you feel good in the short term. Of course this tends to mean whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. Fats take a lot of digestive energy to break down and tend to make a person feel groggy, as does eating too much. Sugars tend to give a quick boost and then drop a person into a low that’s a good bit more tired than they were before the sugar high. Caffeine also tends to give a boost at one point but take much more out later. Drink enough water to ensure you’re not dehydrated: dehydration is a common cause of fatigue, as detailed in this article on the Psychology Today site. The article also contains other good anti-fatigue eating advice, like getting plenty of iron.

Of course it’s difficult to make healthy eating choices sometimes, but it can help to think about wanting to feel good right away from good food choices instead of thinking more of their long-term benefits, (though of course the long-term benefits are great, too).

5. Work yourself into an excited state about a project. Again this tends to mean talking to someone or writing about the project. This is similar to getting into flow, as it engages your mind and your interest and wakes you up.

6. Put on music that gives you a lift (see How and Why Music Changes Mood).

7. Think about things that make you happy. Reflecting on good things that happened to you over the last day, anticipating something you’re looking forward to doing soon, or thinking about someone whose company you really enjoy can make your mood more buoyant.

8. Tidy up. If your environment is messy or chaotic, you may tend to feel a little exhausted just being in it from the constant, low-level annoyance of clutter or mess. (See How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part II: Letting Your Environment Help You.)

9. Meditate, or sit still for a short while. Meditation (see Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation) can help release tension and create calm and focus. If you’re not experienced in meditation, one easy way to start is with this 15-Minute Online Guided Meditation from Kelly McGonigal. Just sitting still gives you a chance to relax and let go. If you take this approach, don’t try to do anything, keep TV and music off, and just gaze out the window.

Photo by eMotionblogster karolien taverniers

No Comments

Does Guilt Help or Hurt Self-Motivation?

Handling negative emotions

A warning light

Let’s say Derek is a student, and on his mid-term exam he did badly because he blew off studying. Let’s further say that Derek feels pretty crummy about this. Is feeling crummy going to help him or hurt him? Will it make him more or less likely to study next time? Will it improve him in other ways, or hurt him in other ways, or both? Does he have some kind of moral obligation to feel guilt?

Guilt is useful … sometimes. If I feel guilty, it means that I’ve looked back on something I did and compared it to how I’d like to act. This is a very smart thing to do, because if I’m not aware of whether or not I’m following my own best instincts, then I have no idea what I might want to improve or how I would need to improve it. Guilt is a red flag, a warning indicator on the dashboard saying that something has gone wrong. And guilt can persist for quite a while if the problem doesn’t get fixed.

That warning job, as far as I can tell from research, coaching, and personal experience, is the only useful thing there is about guilt. Once you get that message and commit to doing something about it, the guilt is no longer useful, providing you won’t forget about your commitment the minute the guilt is gone–so it makes sense to get rid of it. How? By detecting and repairing the broken ideas that are keeping the guilt going. (I won’t go into more detail about that for here, but just follow the links for more detailed information.)

In addition to that helpful warning role, guilt plays a harmful role in other ways. It can make it painful to think about certain obligations–for instance, if Derek feels guilty about not studying for his mid-term, he may avoid thinking about studying for his finals because he doesn’t want to revisit the unpleasant subject of him failing to study. Guilt sucks up attention and causes negative emotions like sadness and anxiety, which can make it harder to be motivated even in unrelated areas.

So the best possible use of guilt is to experience it, pay attention to it, figure out what needs to be done, and then get rid of it.

A study by Michael J.A. Wohl, Timothy A. Pychyla, and Shannon H. Bennetta (“I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination“), published this past February, supports this view of guilt as damaging in the long term. It surveyed students who felt guilty about past studying habits, whether they forgave themselves, and how that forgiveness (or lack of it) related to their studying afterward. Wohl and colleagues concluded that students who forgave themselves (a kind of organic idea repair–though that’s a subject for a future post) tended to do better studying afterward than students who kept beating themselves up. In other words, letting go of the guilt helped them act better so that they wouldn’t need to feel guilty in future.

Thanks to Jeremy Dean of Psyblog for the mention of the article.

Photo by akeg

No Comments

How Not to Make Excuses

States of mind

An experiment in excuses
For most of my life I’ve been running an experiment between two categories of things in my life: the “excuses are OK” group and “no excuses” group. It’s only recently that I noticed I was running this experiment, though, and so the years and years of results are only now starting to come in handy.

Let me give some examples of choices that have been in each group. By the way, though I talk a lot about eating well in this post, the points about excuses and exceptions apply just as well to forming any other kind of habit.

“Excuses are OK” group

  • Eating foods that I’d be better off not eating
  • Going to bed at a reasonable hour
  • Keeping track of incoming mail

“No Excuses” group

  • Parenting
  • Vegetarianism (for the 22 years I decided to do that)
  • Going to work

So I might do well for a stretch at making good eating choices, then hit a day when I was traveling and didn’t have many options, so I’d say to myself “Oh well, it’s really hard to eat well on a day like today–I’ll just eat whatever.”

But on that same trip I would not say “Oh well, it’s really hard to eat vegetarian on a day like today–I’ll just get a hamburger.”

My results
Knowing what I know these days about self-motivation, it shouldn’t surprise me that the “no excuses” group of activities were much more successful than the “excuses OK” group. For instance, when I started making a rule of eating only at specific times of day, it became much easier to make better eating choices. I went 22 years without knowingly eating any red meat, seafood, or poultry–even that time back in my 20’s when I was out of money and extremely hungry while traveling and someone offered me a hamburger. By contrast, it’s rare that I’ve gone 22 days without overeating (though all the days I have eaten well count for something, as I eventually lost 60 pounds and have been in great shape for quite a while now).

To look at it another way, and in terms of a real experiment, one study on habit formation found that those participants who kept up the behavior they wanted to make into a habit with no more than one exception over the course of months were much more successful at forming durable habits than those who made two or more exceptions.

The secret of excuses and exceptions
The thing about excuses and exceptions is that if we’re trying to build habits, there’s no good reason for excuses short of total catastrophe. Any time we don’t stick with the behavior we’re trying to build up–that is, any time we make exceptions–we lose some of the habitual behavior we’re trying to build. There may be days when eating well is inconvenient, boring, or annoying, but if I use inconvenience, boredom, and annoyance as excuses, then they’ll wreck my attempts to build a habit over time.

That’s not to say that making one excuse is the end of the world, but it is true that taking excuses as a serious problem and not an acceptable norm will help us develop the habits we want to create.

Easier said than done–but possible!
“That’s really nice,” you might say, “but it doesn’t help me for you to just tell me to behave the way I’d like to all the time. Not behaving the way I want to is the problem in the first place!” And that would be a reasonable thing to mention. Fortunately, there is a practical takeaway here: excuses are red flags and should be treated as such. There’s no such thing as a good excuse when trying to build a habit, there are only catastrophic interruptions. If a friend of yours is in the hospital and you end up throwing your good eating habits out the window from stress and limited choices, that’s fine; it’s not the end of the world–but it is a catastrophic interruption, and it means you’re damaging a good habit you’re working on for something more important. But good friends are more important than good food, and that’s a reasonable choice if you really need to focus on your friend.

On the other hand, what if you just interrupt a good habit because you’re in a bad mood or happen to be in a restaurant that serves something you like? Many of us immediately reach for the excuse box.

But if we recognize excuses and exceptions as danger signs, we can stop ourselves and say “My goal here is to build a habit, not to come up with excuses to screw that up.” Using this kind of awareness, making rules, taking responsibility, surrendering excuses, and making use of any useful tactics we can learn (like this list of 24 Ways to Stop Feeling Hungry), we can move ourselves out of the “Excuses OK” group and into the group that’s really kicking experimental butt.

Photo by ariel.chico

No Comments

Mental Schemas #7: Vulnerability to Harm

Handling negative emotions

This is the seventh in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

How vulnerability schemas work
A person with the vulnerability schema has thoughts like these:

  • What if something happens to the plane while we’re in flight?
  • He’s late. Maybe he got in an accident.
  • Business hasn’t been good lately. What if I get fired and can’t get another job?
  • I can’t sleep when it rains because I keep worrying about flooding

Being vulnerable is part of being alive. No one is completely immune to natural catastrophes, disease, accidents, war, financial setbacks, crime, and all of the other kinds of trouble that can arise even when things are going well. Most of us either ignore this (“I’ll deal with it if it ever comes up”) or accept it on some level (“Sometimes bad things happen; I’ll just try to be prepared and not worry too much about it”), but people with the vulnerability schema have a lot of trouble letting go of these worries. Fear of something bad happening causes them to be overprotective, hyperanxious, or too timid to take chances.

People with the vulnerability schema generally get it from a parent who worried too much about things that might happen and passed the idea along to their children, insisting that the world is a dangerous place. Some children don’t acquire these ideas from the parents, learning from others or from experience that harm doesn’t lurk around every corner. Others, however, follow the model their parents (or other significant people in their lives) set.

Getting past a vulnerability schema
As with any schema, the vulnerability schema tends to come out in part as a series of broken ideas, like fortune telling (“I’m going to get swine flu from a sick kid at school!”) and emotional reasoning (“I’m so worried about earthquakes that I know one will happen before long.”) The day to day healthy habit of repairing these kinds of ideas helps weaken the vulnerability schema.

Also as with any schema, getting past a vulnerability schema means both accepting the idea of harm (“Sometimes bad things happen, and I’ll just do the best I can to get through them when they come up.”) and rejecting an obsession with harm (“Just because I’ve been worried about all of these things in the past doesn’t mean that I have to continue to be worried about them, or that I’m justified in my worry.”)

Photo by tj.blackwell

No Comments

Mental Schemas #6: Incompetence

Handling negative emotions

This is the sixth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

Ever felt stupid? Not just like you did something stupid, but that you are stupid, can’t learn, are incompetent, are talentless or useless? That you in a basic and profound way are just not up to the mark?

Most of us feel some of that at least a few times in our lives, but people with the incompetence schema feel that way every day. On a basic level, they feel as though they’re not good enough. If this feels like you or sounds like someone you know, learning about this schema might come in handy for you.

How incompetence schemas work
Incompetence schemas usually develop in childhood, when parents or other important figures in a kid’s life start telling them–whether in so many words or through attitudes and actions–that they can’t hack it, that they’re not up to the challenge.

Studies of randomly-generated praise have shown that when someone is doing a task, even completely meaningless, computer-generated encouragement tends to improve their mood and make them feel more competent. I suspect on some basic level it’s built into us to need a certain amount of encouragement. Some of us eventually internalize that encouragement and can provide it for ourselves, mentally telling ourselves “You’ve got this!” and “You’re going to kick butt!”

People with this schema never got enough of that encouragement in their formative years and therefore have trouble generating their own encouragement or believing other people’s. This can lead to expecting failure, fearing challenges, and shying away from anything that might “prove” the incompetence.

Getting past an incompetence schema
How do you get the best of an incompetence schema? Well, external encouragement may help, but there are two things that have to happen inside a person for a real change to emerge over time: acceptance that failure is a normal part of life, but also understanding that one failure doesn’t doesn’t define a person. A person can fail without being a failure. People who have failed once may very well succeed when the next challenge comes along. Thomas Edison claimed famously that he had thousands of failed attempts  before he came up with a working light bulb.

In terms of broken ideas, an incompetence schema can show up in a variety of ways: all-or-nothing thinking (“I’m completely incompetent at math.”), overgeneralization (“The woman I asked last year turned me down for a date, so I’m obviously not desirable”), mental filtering (“Winning that poetry prize was a fluke; the judges probably just felt sorry for me”), fortune telling (“I know I’m going to screw up this project”), and so on. Each of these ideas can be detected and repaired on its own, slowly breaking away the barrier of feeling incompetent and revealing the truer, brighter possibilities behind it.

Photo by Paul in Uijeongbu

No Comments

How Do You Keep a Good Thing Going?

Strategies and goals

I’ve been corresponding with someone who has recently become more productive, and this person brought up a very useful question: once you start doing well with something, how do you make sure it continues? Some of the material I’ve dug up in the course of writing for this site offers some answers.

Use feedback loops
First, take a little time to figure out what you’re doing right. The best ways I know of to do this are to talk the situation through with someone sympathetic to your success or to write down your thoughts. What kinds of things do you think about before and during a successful experience? What kinds of thoughts are keeping you on track? Have you made any changes to your schedule, organizing, etc. that might be helping? The more you know about what’s going right now, the more likely you are to be able to keep it going or do it again in the future.

Build a Habit
Second, if you’re not doing it already, you may want to try to get into a habit of doing things at the same time and place each day. By repeating the successful behavior in the same context again and again, you can encourage it to become a habit over time, so that eventually you find yourself getting into the successful behavior automatically.

Troubleshoot
Third, keep a sharp eye out for obstacles. If you start to feel avoidant or negative, that’s not necessarily a problem: we all have our ups and downs. But it can become a problem if the feelings aren’t recognized, understood, and worked through, so it helps to pay special attention to exactly what your thoughts are and use idea repair as needed–the earlier, the better.

Photo by K2D2vaca

No Comments

My Top 1 Task

Strategies and goals

Merlin Mann on his 43 Folders site (currently posting only occasionally as he works on his book) quotes Frank Chimero asking and answering this question:

Q: How do you maintain focus (on work, dreams, goals, life)?
A: You do one thing at a time.

While I think there’s more to know, I also think Frank has hit the nail on the head. As I mention in my post “How to Multitask, and When Not To,” our brains are rigged to only really focus on one thing at a time. This is one reason task lists fail sometimes: we get the whole list of everything in there, but then we look at it and say “Aah! I can’t do all that stuff! That’s overwhelming!” Then we run and hide, or perhaps waste three and a half hours surfing the Net to find out what happened to our favorite childhood TV stars.

Even when we bravely face our task lists instead of running away, it’s still difficult to get up motivation to do something when you’re simultaneously staring at three dozen other things you need to do. My solution to this was to create a separate “At the Moment” list in the task list system I use and to put just a few items at a time in that list, the ones that I’m pretty confident I’m going to get done in the next little while, or at latest by the end of the day.

My “At the Moment” list has proven very helpful, but it hasn’t entirely solved the problem. Nor has it solved the problem of sometimes picking whichever item from the “At the Moment” list is easiest or most fun, letting myself forget that others are more important or more pressing.

So I created yet another category: my Top 1 list. I’ve mentioned before the importance of knowing the next thing you’re going to be focusing on so that as soon as you get a chance to focus on it, you can start right in instead of having to regroup. The Top 1 list just takes this idea and makes it into a practice: whatever the next thing I’m going to do is, it goes on the Top 1 list. Then as soon as I’m done whatever I’ve been doing and am free to move on to the next thing, I look at the Top 1 list–the contents of which I usually already know–and there is the thing I need to tackle. Even if that one thing is unappealing, just spending a very short time–say, 30 seconds–thinking about getting that done is usually enough to get me in gear and ready to tackle it. Having that much focus on that one item alone makes it much more likely I’ll get it done.

Of course I put a new item on there as soon as the Top 1 task is under way, feeding from my At the Moment list, which is short enough to make this process fairly painless. And choosing a task to do next is usually a little easier than choosing a task to do now, since you don’t yet have to face the task when you’re just choosing it to do a little later.

All this process does is shove a few obstacles temporarily out of the way, but often just this little advantage can make a big difference; it certainly has for me.

Photo by Koshyk

No Comments
« Older Posts
Newer Posts »


%d bloggers like this: