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Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

    In Getting Things Done methodology and most other personal productivity systems, dividing projects and large tasks into the smallest tasks divisible is considered a basic, fundamental concept. These systems tell us to divide a task into individual actions until we get close to a point where we can’t break things down into any further actions.

    The point is to focus the brain on something small enough to tackle right away. When we write up our task lists and throw in a fairly large task or project, we’re all prone to procrastinating on the task because they haven’t been defined closely enough and we’re unsure of where to start. This concept takes care of that problem and allows us to rapidly focus and begin working right away, as opposed to beginnning after lengthy, obtuse and inefficient thought processes in an attempt to digest the topic.

    However, it does have an ill side effect. Focusing in on individual actions can increase the mental distance between what we’re doing right now and what the end result is meant to be. When the end result, the goal, is obscured, motivation quickly falls because—subconsciously or not—there doesn’t seem to be a point to acting anymore.

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    Of course, the benefits to breaking tasks down into actions outweigh the disadvantages. Firstly, the motivation drain caused by focusing on small actions is far less detrimental than the motivation drain caused by trying to focus on too large or “impossible” of a task. Don’t get me wrong and assume that it’s best to focus entirely on large tasks, because it’s not—if anything, focusing too small is best. But more importantly, it’s impossible to fix the problems with focusing on too large of an area without breaking it all down—once we’ve broken our projects down, the fixes for the resulting issues are actually pretty easy.

    After all, we started breaking things down to solve the problem with tasks that are too big.

    Where Does the Problem Begin?

    The problem doesn’t begin in the project planning phase. Most often, we’ll format them something like this:

    Important Project Name

    1. Important action one

    2. Important action two

    3. Important action three

    So, as you’re preparing the project itself you’re reminded of the end goal at all times because the name of the project’s right there at the top of the list, and obviously, because the project itself is what you’re thinking of—and specifically, which actions are required to move towards that end goal.

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    The problem begins when you feed projects into your system and take actions from several projects to form a daily task list. The context of the list changes from individual projects and over to the general scope of things that need to be achieved in a day. The end result context is thus lost and here is where we can lose sight of the goal. We lose sight of the motivating factor, which is not just a factor in our own procrastination, but the quality of the end product as well.

    Most task management software with a Next viewpane works pretty well. In Things, the Next tasks for each project are grouped and listed under the project names themselves. You can see this in action here (I am not really organizing a shindig and nor am I writing a book on dung beetles):

      But when you go to create your daily task list, everything changes. You lose the specific framing of each task and they form one amalgamated list.

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      Now, you could use a similar format to the Things Next pane, but then you’d be restricting the order of the tasks and also using up more vertical space on the paper. In past articles on the topic, I’ve mentioned that while I don’t mind filling up horizontal space on my daily task lists, I like keeping a bit of vertical space so the page doesn’t fill up too much and become too confusing to work with. You don’t want to think about your task list much once it has been created; you just want it to guide your day. Having to read it closely line-by-line just because you’ve packed too much in there is thinking about it too much.

      The Solution I’m Trialling

      My solution, which I’ve been trialling for the past week, has been to add another vertical column and indicate the project an action belongs to just next to the task description itself. I try to abbreviate it and ensure that most of the focus of attention on each line remains with the task itself, but it’s important to make those abbreviations meaningful. You don’t want to find yourself going, “What did this code refer to again?” That defeats the whole point.

      It has been a week and I’ve found that I’m looking at each task more as a part of a whole leading to a goal rather than individual tasks that were preset during my weekly review. It feels a lot less like going through the daily motions of getting things done and more like working towards meaningful ends. I’m not actually working on anything more or less meaningful—it’s all in the way you think about these things—but it does seem to be helping with motivation. One can’t quantify this sort of thing, but it’s working for me.

      However, while I’ve found a method of framing tasks within projects that works, I’m not sure I’ve found the best, most efficient way to do this. It has only been through a week’s trial, after all! Do you do anything similar to keep yourself motivated about the end goal when projects start getting a little too action-oriented? I’d love to hear about your techniques and thoughts in the comments.

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      Last Updated on October 16, 2018

      You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

      You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

      Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps people safe and encourages caution when caution is due. But Fear can also be a limiting factor because not everything you’re afraid of should really be feared.

      Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were afraid of making a decision, making a change or taking a risk?

      Did you end up taking that risk or making that decision? Or, did you just stay put and left things as they were? If you did, are you happy with how things have turned out?

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      It’s in our nature to like feeling safe–to be in comfort and away from danger. This has always been the case since the beginning of time, when the first humans only knew how to prioritize survival. Even today, many still choose to play it safe and avoid taking risks or taking leaps of faith when it comes to their choices in life.

      The Realist and the Dreamer

      To put it simply, there are two kinds of people: the realists and the dreamers. The realists are the logical and cautious type of individuals who always think and weigh out the pros and cons before making any decisions–especially the big, life changing ones. Whether it was deciding on what to major in at University, what career path to take, whether or not to purchase that house or car, to go on that holiday, or to splurge on that new watch, the realist thinks long and hard before making a decision, if they even decide. Realists stick to the “what’s next?” plan for the future and may not abstractly consider different possibilities for where life can lead. This is usually because of the confidence they have already devoted to an accepted plan.

      Realists have dreams too, but these are more so rooted in ambition, drive and determination. They are goals that have been enumerated for some time. Realists understand that progress requires more than ambition and drive, but also, connections. They feel that life is never worry-free because of survival, responsibility and…paying a rent or a mortgage. As a result, they tend to make safe choices and stick to their comfort of knowing what’s best for themselves.

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      Now let’s look at the dreamers. The dreamers are well, dreamers. They have big lofty ambitions, are risk takers, sometimes over impulsive, but they often always challenge the norms of society and dare to think outside the box. This is not to say that they do not have plans or a path that they want to follow. But they are more likely to change the course of their journey through time, experience and by following their heart.

      Dreamers derive their inspiration from within. No one else’s perspectives weigh in greatly enough to shift a dreamer’s drive. Dreamers don’t allow their fears to consume them. They may fail from time to time, but they never give up on life or love.

      Embrace Fear

      So which of the two do you think you are? And is one better than the other? In life, balance is always key. I’m sure you would have heard the saying: “everything in moderation”. Likewise, being a realist isn’t any better than being a dreamer. Both come with their challenges. But what I do know, is that no matter where you are in life, fear should always be seen as a way of pushing you towards becoming a better you.

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      Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a type of fear that should be embraced. If you see yourself as a dreamer, then great! Chances are, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t new to you. Whether it’s deciding to drop out of University to start your own business, moving to a new country on your own, taking that step to ask someone out on a date despite thinking they’re way out of your league, or deciding to quit your high paying job of 10 years to become a DJ. You chose to do that because you knew that you would most likely regret the ‘what ifs’ more than the mistakes (if any) of those decisions.

      But if you’ve always been more of a cautious individual (nearing towards being a realist), then I hope you’ll give more thought to embracing the act of stepping out more! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making hasty or bold decisions such as the ones mentioned. It just means opening your mind to the acceptance that stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be hesitant or afraid of.

      Managing Fear

      In times of stress or discomfort, remember that some of the best things happen when you’re afraid or put in an uncomfortable situation. These experiences can both challenge you and help you grow. Commit to giving the situation a try with your best effort, and keep expectations low to reduce additional pressure. Living outside of one’s comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable. Therefore, the best habit you can foster within yourself is the practice of becoming familiar with discomfort.

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      You may be at a crossroad in life and feeling undecided about something, or you may feel like you’re not happy with where you’re at right now. It could be a job that you’re not happy with, a relationship you’re not happy in, or even just knowing that you’re too comfortable with where you’re at that you don’t feel challenged. All of this uncertainty can be traced back to your intentions. What is it that you want? What is it that you’re looking for?

      So, What Are You Looking For?

      If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or know that you need some sort of change, but you’re just not sure how to take that step towards the change, why not subscribe to our newsletter? Our daily inspiration will help you embark on a journey, and will allow you to find that light at the end of the tunnel you’re searching for.

      At Lifehack, we’re dedicated to helping you find the ideal solutions to your problems, and with over 15 years of experience in coaching, we have condensed our knowledge and practices into a highly effective transformational model that you can use to not only help you out of your rut, but to also help you find new and bigger meaning to your life.

      Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always the easiest, but we’re here to make it easier for you to realize your true potential. The time to act is now!

      Featured photo credit: Maher El Aridi via unsplash.com

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