[This was originally part of the mind-mapping post, but got too long. Then it was pre-empted by novel writing and talking about novel writing. One must have priorities.]
One of the core principles of David Allen’s highly popular task management system Getting Things Done (fondly known as GTD to its devotees) is writing everything down and referring to it later. If you know that your list is complete and comprehensive and used, then you don’t have to worry about remembering to wax the cat or whatever because it’s there. For me at least it helps enormously with the spinny-brain-of-doom.
There’s more to it, of course: organizing by context (phone call; online; errand), breaking big projects into next task (a discrete finishable item rather than a vague amorphous goal). If you’re interested in more on GTD, David Allen’s website is here, but I really prefer the write-ups at 43 Folders.
The latter site is by and for creative professionals, and is very clear that productivity is about managing both time and attention. Also, and key, productivity is about tricking the lazy-ass resentful procrastinatory part of the brain into doing something. I’ve learned a lot of useful tricks from 43 Folders, including the wonderful 10+2 brain-hack.
If you’re like me, you find yourself reluctant to work on certain projects. Too big, too overwhelming, too complicated, too hard. Whatever. So you check your email for the zillionth time, read your favorite blogs, play solitaire for a while. The mind-space devoted to the project you’re avoiding grows and grows. Eventually the deadline hits and you panic and do it. The stress and anguish could all be avoided if you just worked on it when you were supposed to, but you can’t.
So here’s the brilliant part. You can do anything for ten minutes, right? That’s a tiny chunk of time. No matter how daunting the project is, ten minutes is trivial.
So work on it for ten minutes. No more. Set a timer and stop. Then take a two-minute break. See? Not so bad. Repeat four more times.
There. You’ve spent a hour on the horrid awful project, whatever it is. And you’ve made progress. And maybe the project looks less intimidating now. If so, keep going. If not, then do another hour of 10+2.
Maybe ten minutes at a time isn’t the most efficient way to work. But it’s better than playing solitaire, isn’t it?