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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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      Published on October 14, 2019

      10 Organizational Skills Training Techniques for the Overwhelmed

      10 Organizational Skills Training Techniques for the Overwhelmed

      Do you constantly feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks you have to complete at work? If so, then it may be time to look into some organizational skills training techniques.

      Organizational skills are an asset. They allow you to add structure to your day so that you meet deadlines, attend every meeting, and even have enough time to take your breaks (imagine that!). As transferable skills, they can also add value to your personal life.

      So, if being organized and able to perform at your very best at work, even when you’re inundated with duties, sounds appealing to you, then read on.

      Why You Need Organizational Skills Training

      According to the Cambridge Dictionary, organizational skills refers to:[1]

      “the ability to use your time, energy, resources, etc. in an effective way so that you achieve the things you want to achieve.”

      When you’re feeling overwhelmed at work (or anywhere really) achieving anything seems impossible. This is why organizational skills training is crucial. The skills you learn can help you to overcome the feeling of defeat so you can take command of your tasks again.

      The Benefits of Organizational Skills

      Having organizational skills allow you to not only be more organized, but to also be more productive and more effective. You’ll have greater control of your tasks and be able to accomplish more things. It can also reduce stress-levels, and experiencing less stress means leading a healthier lifestyle.

      Examples of organizational skills include:

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      As previously mentioned, while a major benefit for the workplace, they are also valuable in your personal life.

      Think about it, our personal lives are also filled with many tasks and activities. Whether it’s going to the bank or buy groceries, or doing household duties such as vacuuming or taking out the trash, each responsibility is basically a task that needs to be completed in order for our home lives to run as smoothly as possible.

      How to Learn Organizational Skills

      Many businesses and organizations provide organizational skills training, whether it’s a workshop, company presentation, online training course, or an all-out conference. Attending these events is a great start to learning organizational skills. Then, of course, you can set your own goals.

      For most people, organizational skills don’t come naturally. However, fortunately, just like any other skill, they’re learnable. Once you acquire an understanding of a skill, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it.

      If you’re completely new to all of this, your best bet is to start small. Set yourself one goal, select one thing you’d like to improve on, and repeat it regularly until it becomes a habit. Once you’re confident in maintaining the habit, you can add to your goal or expand on it.

      Starting small and gradually adding as you progress is a good course of action, as it can ensure that you actually achieve what you set out to accomplish. If you dive straight into the deep end, you risk being even more overwhelmed than before and may fail to meet expectations completely.

      Surrounding yourself with people that have particular behaviors is another way to learn organizational skills. Having a super organized team leader, manager, or head of business can greatly influence your own actions and behavior.

      10 Organizational Skills Training Techniques

      If you’ve noticed yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed at work recently, then perhaps you could try out one of the following organizational skills training techniques. They could help you to get back control, focus on your tasks, and reduce stress-levels.

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      1. Make a List

      If you’re feeling swamped with tasks, creating a to-do list is great for taking back control of the things you need to do.

      By writing down your tasks in order of importance (make sure you prioritize your list!), you’ll have a visualization of what needs to get done.

      You’ll also get to experience the feeling of great relief when you get to cross a task off your to-do list when it’s completed!

      2. Don’t Rely on Your Memory

      Even if you have superhuman memory, it’s always a good idea to write everything down.

      From project deadlines, to customer details, to product prices, writing things down can serve as a reminder so you don’t forget the important things when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

      And with most of us carrying around smartphones, you’re never far from a tool where you can write something down.

      3. Schedule

      A huge part of being organized is knowing how to plan, and expert planning involves a lot of scheduling.

      Scheduling is taking a step further than creating a to-do list. Not only do you have the things you need to do recorded, but you have a timetable when you should complete them. This helps you to develop your time management skills as you’re expected to coordinate tasks and activities so that deadlines are met and everything is done on time.

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      4. Learn to Delegate

      Learning to delegate tasks is a valuable skill that will help to keep you organized. Not only will it lighten your workload, but it will sharpen your planning and prioritization skills as you will have to learn which tasks should be done by you and which tasks are okay to be given to someone else.

      5. Avoid Multitasking

      While the idea of attempting to do more than one task simultaneously may seem brilliant, in practice, it’s the complete opposite. Multitasking is known to actually lower your productivity as it diminishes your focus and attention and things become more difficult and take longer to complete.

      6. Minimize Interruptions

      It’s impossible to control every aspect of your environment but it doesn’t hurt to try. By minimizing interruptions while you’re at work, it gives you a better chance of completing them as effectively and efficiently as possible.

      Investing in noise-cancelling headphones or installing a social media block on your desktop are examples of ways you could reduce distractions.

      7. Reduce Clutter

      A notable organizational skills training technique is to create a filing system for your documents. Whether it’s at work or at home, we all accumulate documents that we may not currently need but are too afraid to throw away in case we will need it in the future.

      Having an organized system can allow you to locate necessary documents any time you need them. It also keeps them safeguarded which reduces the chance of losing something important. This filing system applies to both actual paperwork and digital documents.

      8. Organize Your Workspace

      Where we work greatly influences how we work. If you have a cluttered and messy workspace, then the chances of you working in an unorganized fashion can be very high.

      Keeping an organized workspace ensures that you’re able to perform at your most productive. You won’t waste time looking for things that have been misplaced and working in a clutter-free environment can be soothing for your mind.

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      9. Get Rid of What You Don’t Need

      Clutter is known to lead to stress and anxiety.[2] If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, then the sight of clutter can increase that feeling.

      Getting rid of things you no longer need clears out your environment and, hopefully, your mind as well.

      Done with that sticky-note? Throw it away! Inbox is filled to the brim with unread emails? Unsubscribe to newsletters you no longer read! Whatever you no longer require in your physical and digital life, get rid of it.

      Here’s a guide to help you declutter: How to Declutter Your Life and Reduce Stress (The Ultimate Guide)

      10. Tidy up Regularly

      While working, it can get easy for your desk to get untidy. You’re focused on work and so keeping everything at your desk in order is probably a lower priority. But it’s something to be conscious of. Doing a regular tidy up can ensure the mess on your desk doesn’t go overboard.

      Whether it’s a quick clean up every day, or a deep clean every month. Being aware of tidying up and fitting it into your routine will help keep you organized and less stressed.

      The Bottom Line

      Possessing organizational skills enables you to get back control of your tasks when you’re feeling overwhelmed and perform better at work. They can make you more productive, more efficient, and of course, more organized.

      Remember, they’re not only valuable at work! Because of their transferability, they can be beneficial in other areas of your life. And really, it doesn’t hurt to be organized at home and socially, as well as at work.

      Featured photo credit: Jeff Sheldon via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Cambridge Dictionary: Organizational Skills
      [2] Psychology Today: Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies

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