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Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

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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 September 21, 2021

      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

      The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

      In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

      1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

      Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

      But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

      Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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      Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

      Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

      While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

      Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

      2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

      At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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      Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

      Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

      Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

      McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

      From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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      3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

      An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

      McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

      Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

      Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

      Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

      So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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      The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

      If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

      Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

      Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

      Reference

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