Thursday, 18 October 2012

Not To Do Lists

We are used to having To-Do lists. Our email programs, hardback diaries and many apps now available on smart phones allow us to create and manage these lists.

They are useful in that we do need to be reminded of important tasks, its good to be able to prioritise tasks and research has shown that strategies like doing the most unpleasant/difficult tasks first is more productive.

Consider also the use of a Not-To-Do list. We all know the habits, tasks, interactions, where we end up procrastinating, wasting time or where our motivation drops. For example, I noticed over the years that when I decide to take time out from work to check a news website, I'm usually doing it not for the news but to avoid/delay some task. Now if I find myself checking out a news site, I cognitively take a 'time out' and ask myself why. Cutting back on checking news websites in zombie mode saved me quite a bit of time and is a type of 'Canary in the Mine' for how my day is going.

To start this off and see how it works for you, try keeping a diary. Each time you find yourself mentally wandering, your motivation slipping or your frustration building, write down what you are doing or have just done. You will then build up a list of items to be avoided (not everything can be unfortunately) . Hopefully by using this list you will have a more productive day and be a little happier in your work. You may also have identified 'your canaries'.

The thinking behind this was inspired by Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, where we all have conditions where we are more productive and can be immersed in our work is a positive way. My thinking is that if we know what keeps us in Flow, we also need to know what can knock us out of that Flow and avoid (again where possible) these scenarios.

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