Take On More Projects and Get More Done

  • Someday Lesson: If you’re a procrastinator, taking on more tasks might help motivate you to actually get stuff done.

Stuctured ProcrastinationWant to get more done?

Don’t simplify. Don’t reduce the number of tasks you have to do.

Increase your to-do lists.

Take on more stuff, the more important the better. Then while you’re procrastinating about the most important stuff, you’ll get all the rest done and be highly productive.

That’s the message of Stanford University’s philosophy professor John Perry. He believes that procrastinators will avoid doing whatever is most important. If you have only a few tasks on your to-do list, when you avoid the important stuff, you end up doing completely trivial things like clean the toilet bowl or channel surf.

In contrast, if you have lots of things on your to-do list you end up getting a whole lot accomplished.

I can attest to that. I have a huge to-do list and I’m always adding to it. But instead of feeling overwhelmed, I’m amazed at my productivity! Over the last few weeks, I’ve been timeblocking – moving as many as 14 different tasks forward each day in half-hour chunks.

The key, Perry says, is to choose as your most important tasks things that only seem important, but aren’t. For me, unfortunately that’s been my fiction writing. I get a whole bunch done on my business each day all in the name of avoiding on what I consider the most important part of my life right now, which is writing the first draft on my next novel.

Perry suggests that choosing the right task as important will get you working on the things that actually need to get done. This requires a bit of self-deception, however, and a real belief in that self-deception. For example, as much as I might tell myself that something else is more important than my fiction, in my heart, I know that writing fiction holds the place of honour as the most important task to work on and so I avoid doing it, like the good procrastinator that I am.

Fortunately I’ve discovered a way around it. Perry calls his form of avoiding tasks structured procrastination (and he even sells a t-shirt!), but for me to be really productive and touch everything I’m working on, I need to get even more structured.

I need to get rid of the importance of everything. Nothing I work on is important. It’s only another piece of the timeblocked day. Half an hour here, half an hour there. That’s it.

When I get hyper-structured like that, then I plow through a multitude of tasks, including my fiction because it has no importance whatsoever.

It’s like working on an assembly line. In a factory there are certain processes that are more important than others, but because it’s all systemized and measured out on the assembly line, all tasks have equal importance – it’s just a matter of doing them in the right order.

It’s the same for my to-do list. As long as I don’t put any more importance on any one thing than on any other, I can work step by step to advance them all, half an hour at a time.

And speaking of which, I have five minutes to get this post published, so I better get a move on!

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13 thoughts on “Take On More Projects and Get More Done

  1. Melinda says:

    I’m scratching my head on this one. How can avoiding the really important tasks actually be productive? Even if you’re getting more things done, your most important tasks are still being neglected while you’re working on less important tasks. Maybe I’ve missed something, but that just feels strange to me.

    I like your extra-structured time-blocking. THAT I can see working. Half an hour is not long enough to get bored and for difficult tasks it’s only half an hour and then you’re done.

    Can you tell me a bit more about how you do that Alex? How do you prioritise and organise your time blocking and tasks? What do you use to keep track of time and what you are doing next?

    Melinda´s last blog post..Value Based Coaching Fees? Thinking Out Loud

  2. Janine Adams says:

    Alex, have you checked out Mark Forster’s Autofocus task-management system? It’s all about relative procrastination. You have multi-page lists and use your intuition to do the things that stand out to you on each page. So you’re making decisions on what to work on based on its relative importance/attractiveness to the other things on that page. I think, based on this blog post, you’d really like it. Here’s the link: http://www.markforster.net/autofocus-system/.

  3. When I have more to do and have a very full schedule I definitely get more done. There is something about knowing that you have time to do something later that just makes you want to put it off.

  4. Andy Hayes says:

    Hmm – I’m not following either. To me, the reason your writing is falling by the way side could just be because you’re subconsciously hoping the buiness builds you some support to keep you going until you realise that fiction dream, no?

    Andy Hayes´s last blog post..What’s Wrong with Belgium?

  5. Patricia says:

    I always heard if you want to get something done ask the busiest person to do it….I am like that, the more on my plate the better…and I am certainly not working on my marriage book except as posts, since the contract was blown away…something better will come…

    but in saying this, by working on the marriage posts I am getting more focused on the book I really wish to write…the ideas in my little note book are getting more alive and connected…

    Also at this time in my life, I am working on not being frazzled and I like the moments where I can truly focus for longer stretches of time – I sometimes just resent the socks off interruptions.

    I also have stopped answering the phone during my business hours…this helps too.
    Great post – glad it is working for you…

    Patricia´s last blog post..Summer Reading: Breakfast with Buddha ~Roland Merullo

  6. Alex Fayle says:

    @Melinda
    Perry suggests that it’s all a matter of picking the right important tasks to ignore. Another academic Timothy Pychyl has another take on the Structured Procrastination idea, highlighting how to make it work we must be highly adept and subtle with self-deception. http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200804/structured-procrastination-when-all-else-fails

    Given that I’m no good with that, I had to modify what Perry suggests (even before reading Perry’s article) so that I gave equal importance to all my tasks.

    As for details on how I work my schedule, I’ll leave that for next Tuesday’s post. 😉

    @Janine
    Yes, I’ve looked at it before but for me the challenge isn’t finding importance in tasks – it’s removing importance. When I place emotional importance on something I procrastinate about doing it, but when I make it routine and take away that importance, I sail through the task without any problems.

    @Positively Present
    That’s Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time allowed – in reverse: work shrinks to fit the time allowed. On days like today where I get started late (thanks to going to see Star Trek at the late show), I find I can plow through the routine activities even more quickly than the half-hour allotments.

    @Andy
    While it’s true that when my work hours are cut short but something else going on I cut out my fiction writing, deep down the most important thing emotionally is my fiction writing. Financially the rest at the moment has more importance but emotionally it’s my writing. And because my writing has so much invested emotion, I’d rather just ignore it and run away. When I make it routine and force myself to give it equal calendar-share importance to my work tasks, then I can scoot around the emotion-induced procrastination and just get it done.

    @Patricia
    Sorry to hear the book contract fell through but glad to hear you have other passions sneaking up to replace it. As for distractions and interruptions, that’s why I structure my day so much. By being so ordered, I can ignore the distractions much more easily.

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  8. Andy Hayes says:

    Got it. And now you’ve got me intrigued for next Tuesday’s post.

    *waits impatiently*

    Andy Hayes´s last blog post..What’s Wrong with Belgium?

  9. I can definitely relate. I wish I could have tried this out when I was in graduate school and the only thing I had to do was write my dissertation. For sure, the work expands to fill the time. I always got more done when I was busier.

    Nice post.

    Vi | Maximizing Utility´s last blog post..Where do you position yourself? An exercise in mindfulness

  10. Alex Fayle says:

    @Vi
    I was like that when I took a year off to write my first novel. I wrote only every few days. I’m much better when I’m busier.

  11. Alex Fayle says:

    @All
    I lied the other day – the detailed post is going up today, not Tuesday. 😉

  12. […] On Tuesday I talked about how I’ve upped my productivity and dropped my procrastination by taking on more work instead of cutting back. […]

  13. […] Take On More Projects and Get More Done (somedaysyndrome.com) […]

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