How many times have you said or thought:
- I want to tackle X project, but can’t seem to get started.
- I’ve started Y project, but I can’t seem to finish it.
- I want to manage my time better and get more done.
Today, I’m sharing three easy tips that can help you solve these problems in minutes.
1) Create Strict Deadlines + Accountability
A few years ago, I was writing an ebook.
We were planning on using it to get email signups for our startup’s mailing list.
Except that every time I sat down to work on the book, other, easier tasks seemed to magically become a lot more interesting and urgent.
You know the drill.
Finally, somewhere around my 39th refresh of my email inbox, I decided that enough was enough. The book had to get written.
And so, I did something crazy: I sent an email to our mailing list — more than 5,000 subscribers — announcing the ebook. I told them that it would be available for download the following Friday.
That means I’d need to have it to the designer no later than Tuesday.
It was already Thursday afternoon.
It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re about to become a liar to 5,000 people.
I worked furiously for a few days, got the book into our designer’s hands, and we released it on time.
You can use this same approach, and you don’t even need an email list to do it.
There are two important elements at play here:
- The first is setting a strict deadline, which research has shown to be incredibly effective as a productivity booster.
- The second is accountability, another powerful tool for forcing ourselves to get to work. If I didn’t get the project done, I would’ve let down 5,000 people I made a promise to. But it doesn’t have to be such a large group: simply telling one person whose respect you value (and who you don’t want to disappoint) about your deadline is enough.
2) Do Actions, Not Projects
How many times have you had a big task you’ve had to do, yet every time you sat down to do it, you couldn’t even get started?
This technique is, by far, the easiest way to get a big project started (and keep it moving).
One study in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology found that reverse-engineering a strong goal by breaking it into step-by-step actions was far more effective than simplyhaving a strong goal on its own.
Instead of promising yourself that you’re going to “work on Project X,” break it down into tiny tasks.
I don’t just mean “do first half of project X,” I mean really, really small tasks.
Micro-tasks that are so small, they may even seem silly at first. Here’s an example: if your project is to write a blog post, your first action might be to write the first sentence. That’s it.
Write down all of the action steps you need to complete your project, and then get started with the first small task.
Bonus tip: as you complete the micro-tasks, cross them off instead of deleting them, even if you’re using a computer for your list (just use strikethrough). Why? Because as research on the power of “small wins” shows, seeing how much progress you’re making will make you more likely to keep going.
3) Get Real About Your To-Do List
In The Paradox Of Choice, Barry Schwartz tells a story about going to the GAP to buy a pair of jeans. He told the salesperson the size he was looking for, and here’s what happened next:
“Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?” she replied. “Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?”
Schwartz was overwhelmed. He got hit with choice overload, which, as he explains in the book, causes stress and anxiety, and actually crushes our ability to make good decisions.
Think about the how this applies to our to-do lists: most of us want to accomplish a lot of goals.
- We want to read for an hour every day.
- We want to finally clean out the garage.
- We want to learn how to play the guitar.
- And so we add these tasks to our to-do list.
But by increasing the size of our list, we create choice overload. Every time we add to our to-do lists, we have to decide: What’s the importance of this project? How do I break it up into tasks? What should I do next?
And so instead of accomplishing an additional goal, we end up accomplishing less than we would have otherwise.
By getting real about your to-do list, you can avoid setting yourself up for failure before you even start.
Do This Now
Do not try to apply all three of these approaches at once.
Pick the ONE that best applies to your situation right now, and put it into action:
Pick something that you’ve been putting off. Set a deadline, and let a friend or coworker know about it. (For example, say “I’m writing a blog post about X. It’s going up on Wednesday. Would you mind giving it a quick read on Monday? Would love your feedback.”)
Pick a project that you need to get done, and break it down into micro-tasks. Then, take the very first step.
Pick at least one (two or three is better) project from your to-do list, and get rid of it. Be honest with yourself: projects that have gotten pushed back for weeks or months are great candidates for deletion, as they’re probably not that important to you.
One by one, make these techniques part of your productivity playbook. Doing so will help you confidently tackle any project.