Done, done, done — don’t you just love the feeling of getting something done, when it is over, when we can cross it off our list, and when we have gotten one step further? I sure do. But somehow, some things never seem to get done. It is not necessarily that we keep postponing them, but rather that the tasks in themselves are ongoing and at least partly consist of similar tasks done repeatedly over long periods of time. For months on end, perhaps years, or what at least feels like an eternity.
They just go on, and on, and on
These tasks could for instance be reading something, researching, doing long-term planning, working with market- or competitive intelligence, or perhaps you are responsible for continuously posting things in the company’s social media channels. These tasks have a few things in common; they are often done over long periods of time, they tend to be a bit ambiguous, and they can be hard to just ”check off” from our to-do-list. So, when can we call it a day? When can we consider ourselves done? How much do we have to work on these tasks before we can feel satisfied? At the end of time itself, or at the end of every day?
I keep referring to the value of feeling that you accomplished something every day, since both I myself and the clients I work with notice what a positive influence being able to check items off our list has on our general well-being (or, if it sounds better to you, you could say that it is a ”kick-ass motivational breakthrough boost!” instead).
There has been a lot of research done on the importance of the small accomplishments and ”victories”, such as getting to check something off our list when we have done one unit of effort, and one of the researchers who has contributed to supporting the idea is Teresa Amiable who has studied what she calls ”the progress principle”.
A more pleasant assignment
You should therefore give yourself clear assignments in the form of small portions of those ambiguous tasks so that they become at least ”partially done” after every session of working on them. Make an estimation of what you consider to be a reasonable portion to do on these tasks every day, once every week, or at some other interval that suits you and the task in question better. If it makes sense to think in terms of portions of time, such as one hour of work, three half-hours, the bus ride home, or by all means, perhaps along the lines of Arne Tammer (who was a famous Swedish sports-enthusiast and with his motto ”Give me fifteen minutes a day… and I will give you a healthy body!” encouraged a healthy lifestyle in the 1940s) and his fifteen minutes a day.
Now, as I am currently writing my next book, I make sure to write an hour every day. I consider an hour to be good enough, so when that hour is up, I stop. Rather than thinking that I should be writing more, and then always have the writing process hanging over me, I feel content having done what I intended to. And once I have written for an hour, I am free to do what I please, without feeling the least guilty about it.
If you have work to do that is somehow ambiguous and hence difficult to feel as you are progressing with, then try this:
- Select one of these ongoing tasks.
- Choose for how long you will work on it and how often. Is it an hour a day, half a day every week, half an hour on Tuesdays, two whole days every month, or some other interval? Perhaps two ”pomodoros” of 25 minutes every morning, as suggested in the Pomodoro method? You do not have to determine the perfect working session in terms of length and frequency right now, just estimate something to start with and try it for a while. If it should turn out that you keep getting behind and need more time at more frequent intervals to finish what you need to do, then simply adjust your method and try again.
- If you want to determine at what time you will work on the task the next time, schedule it in your calendar as a recurring meeting with yourself. But beware so that you do not fill your calendar with tasks such as these though, since this will make your daily schedule far more rigid than what is necessary, and you will eventually step away from what you scheduled in your calendar entirely as more important and urgent tasks are added throughout your day. If the task does not require a specific time during the day to get done, then simply add it to the to-do-list as a recurring task so that you get to check it off every time you do it, but will not risk losing sight of having to do it again.
One clear step at a time
If you give yourself a dose or portion of that ambiguous task regularly, you will get to check it off your list regularly as well, and thus feel that sense of accomplishment that is so good for your motivation. You split the seemingly infinite task into smaller pieces which you complete one by one, and hence make tangible progress. And by doing so, you also get the large, and probably important, task or project done with greater foresight and finish it well before deadline, which you might not have if you would have just left it in its original, indeterminable state and done it in a haste last minute. You get to feel content with accomplishing something often, even if you are not reaching the final goal-post every single day.
What is your trick?
How do you make it clear to yourself that you are actually progressing on tasks that are extensive and spread out over long periods of time? Feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.