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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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      More by this author

      Joel Falconer

      Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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      Last Updated on June 1, 2021

      7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

      7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

      “Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

      “Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

      As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

      Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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      The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

      To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

      1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

      Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

      “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

      2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

      Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

      3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

      If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

      It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

      4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

      One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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      If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

      5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

      It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

      If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

      Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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      6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

      If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

      7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

      If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

      So, How To Get out of Busyness?

      Take a look at this video:

      And these articles to help you get unstuck:

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      Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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