Reader Jeff Covey shares how he’s started beating procrastination with a dash. Jeff’s system features a very fast daily start-up and a clever way to make sure every to-do gets touched first thing every morning.
Running a Progressive Dash
by Jeff Covey
The recent post about running a
dash gave me an idea which has turned out to be a good way to get
myself in motion. It's something like a train pulling out of a station,
with a lot of force and effort at the beginning leading to smooth
gliding through the long haul.
One of my gtd scripts is named "tenmins", and I've used it to make sure
I put at least a little time into each of my next actions lists each
day. As the name implies, I picked ten minutes as the arbitrary amount
of time to give each category of work. tenmins would look through my
lists for any which had items waiting to be done. Then it would say,
for example, "work on phone calls", display a timer counting down the
time remaining, and pop up a message saying "stop" when the time was up.
Last week, I decided to try putting tenmins on a loop which starts with
one minute for each category and adds another minute on each iteration.
I start the day with an all-out sprint through my work landscape with a
minute for each actions list, then stretch out with two minutes for
each, then three and four and so on. I'm finding a number of benefits
hiding in this simple trick:
- Since all bases are touched at least once, my whole workload
becomes fresh in my mind after just a few minutes (1 minute * the
number of active next action lists). There are no worries that
there's something waiting in hiding to bite me.
- I rush at the beginning of the work day when I'm fresh, and at a
more leisurely pace later, instead of spending a lot of time on one
thing (not necessarily the most important thing) and facing a panicked
race to get through everything else. I have progressively more and
more time to get things done, instead of less and less.
- As I add items to my lists, they get done more quickly, or at
least started sooner (the next time that list comes up in the cycle).
- I feel my load lightening as I dispatch everything that can be done
in one minute, then two minutes, etc. By the time I get to something
that's going to take an hour, I know there's really nothing else I
should be doing.
- Chipping away at a project one minute at a time, then two, then
three, I find projects starting to be finished today that I thought
would take the rest of the week.
- The reverse psychology described in The
Now Habit comes into play. I take something I don't want to
do at all and limit myself to only spending a minute or two on it.
By the end of that time, I wish I could continue and get more done.
Pretty soon, I'm wanting to get back to it and finish it instead of
procrastinating about it.
- Since I only have a minute to get started on something, sometimes
I just use
screen to create a new screen, name it after what I'm doing, and open a
document or start a program or do whatever it is I need to get
started. Then, when it comes around again, the work material is
already laid out, and it's much easier to get started and do something
even in just two or three minutes. When I have a screen dedicated to
a certain project, I'm more likely to want to get that project done
and close the screen than to close it undone.
I’ve liked this so well that I’ve added three more notices to the end of
the tenmins loop:
- Incoming mailboxes
- Once I’ve gone through all the next actions lists, tenmins checks
for any non-zero-sized mbox files that procmail has placed in
~/mail/incoming/ (general inbox, work mail, mailing
lists, etc.), and asks me to spend
x minutes on each.
If I get done early with one of them, I grab the next one and the
next until time’s up. By the time tenmins is through finding ones
I haven’t already emptied, I’m often back to zero.
- Postponed mail
- tenmins then checks whether I have any draft messages in
~/mail/postponed and bugs me to work on them.
- When everything else is done, tenmins asks me to spend some time
on my list of things to read (articles, books, RSS feeds, etc.).
I wouldn’t recommend this as a regular means of working; constantly
changing from one project to another can break your chain of thought.
It can frustrate you when you come back to something and have to spend
time getting back into the flow of it, trying to retrace where you were
headed before the last interruption. But though it may not be the best
way to choose how to use your time all the time, it can be a good trick
for getting you moving on all fronts, especially if you’re not sure what
to do next.
— Jeff Covey