So I hit a bit of a slump over the past month or so. It was partly due to a slow transition of my duties at work, partly due to tiredness, and partly due to the fact that I’m basically a lazy slob.
I always feel terrible where I hit a point where I can’t seem to get things done, although a host of evidence indicates that I’m not alone in this, from sites like lifehacker and diyplanner to the instant cult status of the “Getting Things Done” method.
I think a whole book on getting your act together is a little much – the key for me at least is simplicity in a method. And I’ve finally started to work myself out of the unproductivity hole with a very simple method indeed, so I thought I’d share it.
My big problem is that many tasks just don’t seem to fit in my head. A task like “tidy the apartment”, “write an article” or even “go shopping” just seem to require an unsummonable amount of energy (the size of task deemed “unmanageable” varies depending on how tired I really am.)
But a few basic thought exercises can save me from this paralysis. I tend to actually write out my “game plan” as I form it. The basic method goes as follows:
- Identify the minimum number of actions needed to complete the task. I think of this as “rough cutting” things – removing any extraneous detail so I can see the basic framework.
- For each action you need to perform, cut that into the smallest chunks possible.
- Organise your list of actions into the best possible “flow”. In some cases, this can work best as an iterative process – do some groundwork first, then go back and refine it later.
- Perform the actions in order, one by one. If you can’t do everything today, get as far as you can.
And that’s it. If you have a written game-plan it can help as a motivator, since you can physically tick off each action as you complete it, giving yourself a physical record of progress made.
As a real-world example, I’ve been tackling the “tidy the apartment” task recently. Not only does my flat get pretty untidy (laundry not folded away, papers not filed, pots and pans in the wrong places), but many of my storage spaces aren’t arranged optimally, so it’s harder to keep things in order once they’re tidied.
To fix this, I came up with a two-stage plan: first, put everything in a place (the best currently available), and then reorganise bit-by-bit so that everything has a right place.
The gameplan has about 50 separate tasks on it, split out by individual room (I can feel more progress if the kitchen is now “done”, even if the lounge looks like a pigsty).
So a small part of my gameplan ended up looking like this…
- Put everything in “a place”
- Tidy away all cookware/crockery/cutlery
- Gather all nightstand glasses, coffee mugs etc. into the kitchen
- Separate them into manageable “sinkful” batches
- Wash each batch, drying items and putting them in the correct cupboards
- Clean the kitchen
- Wash the stovetop
- Wipe down surfaces
- Wash the floor
- Hoover the dining room carpet
- Clean the sink (and scrub scratches from the enamel)
- Reorganise the kitchen space
- Move infrequently-used appliances into cupboards.
- Reposition the microwave to maximise counter space.
- Make the coffee machine more accessible.
- Collect wooden spoons, spatulas etc. into a single place.
- Arrange salt/oil etc. into a single space near the cooker.
I find this a satisfying list to complete – most of the tasks took 20-30 minutes at the most, and every few completed “subtasks”, I could tick off one of the main “header” goals as well. In a few hours the kitchen was tidier, cleaner and less cluttered.
I’ve completed the first phase of the “tidy apartment” plan already, so that the place is now looking spotless, even if everything isn’t yet stowed away quite how I’d like it.
And a task which seemed insurmountable a few days ago is now well within my reach.
The approach is really nothing new, and as I understand it a similar methodology underpins “Getting Things Done”. But it’s really working for me, and I’m far happier as a result.