Concerned about your productivity? If your to-do list stresses you, consider that you might be more productive if you don’t get in your own way. Worrying and over-thinking your task list decreases your effectiveness and wastes time.
Eliminating over-thinking begins with careful planning. Commit to spending ten minutes a day planning your daily tasks, either the evening before, or first thing in the morning.
During your planning session, prioritize your tasks for the day into three groups: Must Do Today, Do If I Have Time, and Do Later.
Aim for just three to six tasks you MUST do today.
Next, experiment with the following processes.
1. Describe the project, then chunk your tasks down.
Stress and over-thinking develop if you’re not clear on what a project or task entails. When you’re given a new assignment or project brief, describe it in your own words and write down your description.
Then contact the person who assigned the task, and ask them whether you’ve covered everything: “Just to be clear, I need to_____ (describe the project in your own words.)”
Although this tactic is simple, it works. When both you and the project assigner know what you’re doing not only will you eliminate procrastination, you’ll zoom through tasks faster.
Is it a project, or a task? Chunk it down.
If you’ve been procrastinating on a project, think about your reasons.
Do you have all the information you need?
Have you chunked the project down into tasks, and those tasks into sub-tasks? “Writing a book” for example is a huge project. Chunk down once, and then again, and again.
I like to chunk projects down so that no task takes longer than 20 minutes to half an hour. It’s hugely satisfying to tick off tasks in a big project because you’re assured that you’re making progress. You’re confident, so you’re eager to get to the next task, and the next one after that.
When you get stuck on a project or task, allow your subconscious mind to help.
Albert Einstein said that: “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Let your subconscious mind do the work if you’re stuck. A flash of insight for a solution which allows you to move forward will dawn on you. I get my best inspirations when I’m walking my dog; some people get them in the bath or shower.
2. Give yourself half the time you think you’ll need for a project.
Although this tactic sounds weird, it works. It stops you over-thinking, and getting in your own way.
When you’re assigned a project, estimate the time you’ll need. Then cut the time in half.
For example, let’s say that you’re asked to create a presentation which you’ll deliver at an upcoming meeting. You need time to research, create the presentation, and rehearse it.
You estimate the project will take you six hours. Give yourself three hours.
Although this is a fake deadline, you’ll be amazed at the results. Clever time-saving ideas will come to you, and you may find that you deliver better results when you work faster.
3. Time everything: time really is money.
Get a timer, and use it. I use Repeat Timer Pro on my iPhone and iPad.
Use your timer for everything. If you’re dealing with email, and you estimate you’ll need 90 minutes to clear your Inbox for example, give yourself 45 minutes, and set your timer. You’ll hesitate less. You’ll delete with abandon.
Tip: create boilerplate text for email, and then use a text-expanding app, so you can type an abbreviation which expands into a complete message. I use TextExpander on my Mac. If you’re on Windows, I’ve heard good things about Breevy.
Try the three tactics: describe your projects and chunk them down. Then give yourself a fake deadline–see if you can get it done in half the time. And finally, time everything.
You’ll be more productive, and happier too, when you stop over-thinking.