At a friend’s recommendation, I recently tried a service called Focusmate. It’s pretty simple—you spend 50 minutes in a one-on-one video meeting with a total stranger, each of you working on some task you need to do. Interaction is limited to a brief greeting (including a quick summary of what you plan to work on) and a quick debriefing and farewell at the end. Even though your “coworker” is a stranger, the social pressure of doing the work you agreed to do is extremely motivating.
When I find myself procrastinating on a big project, it’s often because I don’t remember where I left things last time or what needs to be done next. Here’s a tactic I’ve successful employed recently to fix this problem. In starting the day’s work on a project, I set my first task as: “load project into working memory.” This means getting all my materials out (paper notes, books, journal articles, etc.
Decisions are hard for many of us. And while some people make decisions too carelessly, I doubt that’s a problem for most readers of this blog. More likely, you (like me) tend to overthink things. Careful deliberation is appropriate for massive, irreversible decisions. But most decisions are reversible—they’re what Jeff Bezos calls two-way doors. Making decisions and learning as you go is usually a much quicker path than deliberating endlessly in an attempt to make the perfect decision.
We’re not good at walking away from our work. We eat lunch at our desks. We compulsively check our work email well into the evening, and on vacation, too. We log a few hours on the weekend to catch up from last week (or get ahead on next week). There’s mounting evidence that constant work makes our lives worse without improving our output, and the solution is simple, if not easy: work hard, and then stop working.
The urgent would like your attention, please. The urgent does not care about the important. The urgent is not concerned about year-end numbers or long-term professional goals. The urgent wants you to check your email. Right now, if you don’t mind. Giving in to the urgent feels good. Other people appreciate quick responses, and putting out fires seems productive. On the other hand, logging a couple of hours on an important, long-term project isn’t very gratifying.