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Inspirational Nugget of the Week
Eat That Frog!
I often experience a situation like this: I have this one task on my todo list for weeks already. It's an important task that I cannot just skip. It's often something that's outside of my comfort zone like talking to someone I don't know yet (also called "networking" *shudder*), working on a codebase that is no fun to work with, or starting work on a project that I know will bind me for a long time.
Even though this task has been on my todo list for a long time already, I have absolutely no motivation to tackle it. There always seem to be more important issues worth my time. I can't just drop everything I'm currently working to pay attention to this irritating task!
But when I'm honest with myself I see that all those important tasks that take my time are not in fact important. They might be urgent, but they're not important. It's usually things like reacting to emails or Slack messages or working on planned work that's part of the current sprint that I feel obliged to finish as soon as possible.
I usually also see that the task that I've been putting off is indeed important. It expands my horizon and is a step towards the next career level. If I realize that the task is not important after all, I just ditch it and stop beating myself up about it.
The logical thing to do to get more time working on the important stuff would be to delay some of those urgent, not important tasks and instead tackle the important, but not urgent task.
Why is that so hard?
Well, urgency is just a very welcome excuse for our brain to deal with the easy tasks instead of the hard ones. "Recency bias" is one way of describing it. Our brains give more credit to recent events (emails, Slack messages) than to events that have happened some time ago. How can we make the brain deal with the important, hard tasks, instead? Here are some ideas that have worked for me in the past.
Increase your accountability. Tell people you respect that you're going to work on that nasty task this week. This will make it harder to put off the task even longer because you don't want to disappoint them.
Make your priorities transparent. Write down your top 3 or top 5 priorities in your current role. Does this nasty task fit into any of those priorities? If not, you might not want to do it, after all. If it is, you now know for sure that you should do it. I recently published my top 3 priorities on a public Wiki page at work, including how many days of my week I plan to invest in each of them. This made it very clear for myself and every reader of that page what to expect from me and forces me to spend my time accordingly.
Block time in your calendar. Depending on how busy your calendar is, it might be hard to do things that are not planned ahead of time. So, just block an hour or two in your calendar for that important task. This is very helpful if the task is actually about talking to someone because then you can just book a slot in both your calendars and you are committed to be prepared for that meeting. In my experience, it doesn't work nearly as well if you book time only in your own calendar, because this slot of time is easily sacrificed for urgent, unimportant things.
Do it first thing in the morning. How do you start your day? Reading emails and Slack notifications from while you were offline? I'm working in an international company, so people are working even when I sleep, and I have new emails and Slack notifications waiting for me every morning. They provide a very convenient excuse for some urgent work to keep me from my important tasks. So, I just don't open Slack and my email client until late morning. This gives me room to work on the important stuff.
Choose tomorrow's important task today. If you choose today what important task to do tomorrow, you don't even need to look into your todo list to start on that task tomorrow morning. Combine this with "do it first thing in the morning", and you have an hour or two of blissful focus time that is not interrupted by emails, chat messages, or urgent tasks from your todo list.
These were just some things that worked for me and I guess will work for a lot of other people as well. Let me know what works for you!