A Good Video on Getting Things Done

Let’s say you have an idea for a project, but you don’t know where to start, and it seems like it’s too big for you to handle. Or let’s say you need to take care of something, like making a phone call to your bank, and the thought of it fills you with anxiety or frustration.

I came across a YouTube video recently that gives a potentially helpful approach to just getting things done. The advice includes:

  1. Breaking things down into small tasks, as small as you need them to be. (Like, logging onto a website, before taking a short break. Reading one page of an article. Typing one paragraph.)
  2. Giving yourself more than enough time for each task. For instance, you can set aside 15 minutes of your schedule just for logging into a site. Does logging in really take 15 minutes? Generally not. But if you’re dragging your feet for one reason or another, those 15 minutes can give you breathing room and space to plod. You also feel less rushed.
  3. The amount of time you assign to a task may vary. On days when you’re more energetic and feeling hopeful, you may need less time. On days when you’re depressed or low in energy, maybe only set aside time to complete one task. And then wait another day (or week) for the next step. The progress is incremental, but better than nothing.

Synaptic Sunday #5

Psychology/neuroscience link roundup centered on a particular topic – this week, some links on what makes people productive.

1) Would this work for anyone? (If something like it has worked for you, speak up):

Helen Oyeyemi advises writers to download the Write or Die app onto their computer (or does she write on an iPhone?). In ‘kamikaze mode’, if you stop writing for more than 45 seconds it starts deleting the words you have already written.

That sounds like a nightmare to me. Whenever I’d stop to think (or to just sit quietly for a little bit, staring out the window and letting my brain do whatever it does when I appear to be unproductive), I’d be too busy watching the clock to let my brain work.

2) It can be good to let your mind wander! (As long as you’ve put in some focused mental effort beforehand.)

3) When our thoughts and attention wander, the brain isn’t as passive as we imagine it to be: …an interesting study published in a 2009 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that daydreaming also activates parts of our brain associated with ‘high-level, complex problem-solving’ including the lateral pre-frontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.”

I don’t think day-dreaming, and its potential creative benefits, can be forced (then you’re too self-conscious – attending too much to your own thoughts); it also isn’t beneficial when done excessively. But to dismiss it as wasted time is a mistake. And to chain productive and creative thinking to strict time intervals strikes me as useless (and horrifying).