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.
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!
Want more like this?
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