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25 Oct

One long and ten quick ones

Datum: 2023-10-25 15:03
Six small tomatoes in a row, followed by one large and one tiny one. All are red, round, and still have the green stem attached.

Niclas recent­ly wrote to me and described a com­mon sit­u­a­tion that can eas­i­ly give us stress­ful afternoons:

If I have say 10 small, sim­ple tasks to do in a day and one big one, I have noticed that I tend to do all the short­er and eas­i­er ones first before get­ting start­ed on the big­ger task.

I find it chal­leng­ing to get going with the big one and enjoy the feel­ing of hav­ing the lit­tle ones out of the way before get­ting start­ed since it feels as if I will be less stressed then.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

The down­side of this method is of course that I do not start work­ing on the big task until I am real­ly tired, and I often have to work into the evening to fin­ish it.”

What he describes is famil­iar at least to me. It is excel­lent that we get the ten small­er tasks done first, but what if we could have dealt with the large task ear­li­er in the day when we were more alert, and then would have done the small­er and less demand­ing tasks to fin­ish the day off? If we would only have been dif­fer­ent, more like one of those peo­ple who likes swal­low­ing the biggest frog first …

No need to change your disposition

Since chang­ing your whole per­son­al­i­ty and accom­pa­ny­ing pref­er­ences is both time-con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult, it is a good thing indeed that we do not have to change at the core of our­selves to improve our work­ing meth­ods. Instead, we can ben­e­fit from our seem­ing­ly dis­ad­van­ta­geous trait, which appears to make us do what is small and easy before get­ting to the big and complicated.

As I see it, we can choose to pur­sue at least one of these two strategies:

  • Either we can embrace want­i­ng to do the lit­tle things first but set a lim­it for how many we are allowed to do before start­ing with the larg­er task.
  • Or, split the large task into many small parts.

Do this

The next time you both have many small tasks and at least one larg­er task to do dur­ing a day (per­haps today is that day?) and you notice feel­ing tempt­ed to clear away” a bunch of small­er tasks even though you know it would be best if you did that major assign­ment first, then do one of the following:

  • Choose a few small­er tasks that you will do imme­di­ate­ly, per­haps three. If you do all the small tasks first, you will not have enough time and ener­gy for the larg­er task, but if you only choose to do a few of these small­er, bite-size tasks, you will get to the task that will demand your focus and atten­tion ear­ly on in the day. Be gen­er­ous with tick­ing the tasks off your list so that you feel the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of hav­ing accom­plished some­thing, and feel moti­vat­ed to con­tin­ue by hav­ing a go at the larg­er task.
  • Or, use the fact that you enjoy tick­ing small­er tasks off your list by defin­ing one or sev­er­al small­er tasks from the larg­er task that lies ahead. You can either for­mu­late a small­er to-do task that you first do and then tick off the list, or you can decide to work for an equiv­a­lent amount of time on the big­ger task as a small task would take, and then tick hav­ing done so off some­how or have a break. Repeat until the large task is done, or as long as you need to keep up the pace and moti­va­tion. When I make small­er tasks out of larg­er ones, I usu­al­ly do not have to bite off small­er por­tions to do more than a few times before I feel that I have got­ten some motion and the rest of the task almost fin­ish­es itself.

Who wants to get a grip anyway?

If you take advan­tage of the fact that you are tempt­ed to do small things before deal­ing with larg­er and more intim­i­dat­ing ones, instead of beat­ing up on your­self for doing so and telling your­self to get a grip and just get on with it!”, you will both get the large task done ear­ly in the day and work with greater peace of mind. Instead of work­ing in oppo­si­tion to your pref­er­ences and ten­den­cies, you will use them to your advan­tage. And isn’t that a much nicer (and more effi­cient) way of working?

What is your way?

Do you have some oth­er way to solve the prob­lem Niclas described? Then, tell me!

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