Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      

Getting Rid of the Little, Distracting Tasks

Strategies and goals

Here’s a quick and easy exercise: look at your task list (or if you don’t have your task list, just start jotting down or typing out a list of things you’d like to get done) until you find an item that will take five minutes or less to do–especially if it’s one that you really don’t at all feel like doing. You don’t have to do it now, so it’s completely safe to pick a really unpleasant one if you can find it.

Now ask yourself: how many times have I thought about/spent time avoiding/reshuffled or scheduled this particular item? If the answer is that you jotted it down on your task list very recently when you were in the middle of something else, or that you just thought of it, either 1) you’re doing amazingly and don’t need any further information on this subject or 2) you have other less-than-five-minute items you’ve actually been avoiding and need to pick one of those instead.

Now ask yourself, just for fun or any insight it may provide, has organizing/keeping track of/thinking about/avoiding the item taken more time and attention so far than actually completing the task would? Even if the answer is “no” in this case, might it be “yes” in other cases? It certainly is sometimes in my life.

An example: my shower hasn’t been draining well lately, something I noticed a couple of weeks ago. I usually shower when I’m gearing up to go somewhere and don’t have a lot of spare time, so whenever I noticed the shower problem, I kept thinking (for the first week) “I have to remember to put that on my task list.” To my credit, as soon as I remembered it anywhere near my task list I did write it down, and I didn’t even fall for the trap of writing down “clear shower clog,” which is vague and doesn’t have a specific action attached to it, but instead wrote down “Check to see if I have any drain opener.”

Then the task sat for another week.

This morning I was reviewing my task list and doing my best to adhere faithfully to David Allen‘s very good advice about not handling things over and over: anything that would take a few minutes or less, I did it immediately rather than shuffling it around. When I got to the “check for drain opener” item, I went and checked to see if I had any drain opener. Nope. I could have then written down the next item “Search the Web for clearing shower drain ideas,” but since that too would only take a few minutes, I did it. A few minutes later I was upstairs in my bathroom, prying the drain cover up with a flat head screwdriver and then extracting gobs of my (and I suspect, the previous resident’s) hair. As a public service, I did not take a picture of that to illustrate this post. I got rid of the hair, washed off the screwdriver, and was back at my computer in hardly the time it would have taken to make a cup of tea. Then I checked the drain opening item off.

This was not always the way I would have handled things. Often in the past I would have thought “No no: organize now, do later.” The change in thinking for me was in considering these tiny tasks part of the the organizing.

Keep in mind that even if the task is very trivial, if it’s got some of your attention, it’s a win to get it done right away. That’s because there’s a point at which a task, however unimportant, takes more of your time and attention not to do than to do.

There’s a more advanced and effective step beyond what I did, which would have been to provide a little extra time to get ready each morning so that I’d have leisure to deal with the shower drain immediately when it came up. Allowing a little extra time here and there allows us to pick off a lot of things as they come up, and makes it easier to keep up with things like quick answers to e-mails, doing a few stray dishes that are sitting in the sink, or making a brief telephone call–all of which offers a more productive and less distracted life. It’s like clearing a clog to let water flow freely. And fortunately, it only takes a few minutes.

Some related articles:

Photo by  ap.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: