When I was a kid, I had a little metal coin bank with motivational sayings on the side. One that stuck with me is "Little and often fills the purse." I think it meant that steady saving, no matter how small the amount, makes a big difference in the long run.
Productivity guru Mark Forster applies this bit of wisdom to projects, particularly ones that you’re procrastinating about. As he says in my new favorite book: Do It Tomorrow,
"For almost any initiative, the route to success is regular, focused action.”It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea – GTD recommends a similar approach with its focus on “next actions” – but I’ve found his advice surprisingly productive in my own work.
As I wrote yesterday, one way to make progress on "high resistance" tasks that you’ve been avoiding is to work in small, non-threatening, timed bursts. In Do It Tomorrow, Forster shows how he puts this into practice while writing. He sits down for a specified period of time – half an hour, say – and just starts putting stuff down on paper. The first session results mostly in an outline. The second starts to flesh it out a bit. The third might result in a few actual complete sentences.
In each case, he doesn’t get freaked out about stopping because he knows that another draft will come soon. In between sessions, his mind gets a chance to process what he’s written and think of new ideas. He also fools his mind by using a timer and stopping as soon as it rings. The idea is that by stopping work regardless of whether you’re "done" – in the middle of a sentence for example – you leave your mind wanting more. The mind likes completion, he says, and stopping in the middle of something makes you more willing to work on it the next time.
Short bursts of focused action are also valuable, says Forster, in completing tasks or projects that are past due - what he calls a "backlog." The idea is that you pick something that needs to be done, that you might ordinarily not get around to, and do it first thing in the morning. You work on it for as long as you can, every day, until it’s done.
I’ll talk more about backlogs and current initiatives tomorrow. My timed burst is up.