That Big Project Can Wait. Just For A Little Bit.

20 Feb

Google “Do the hardest thing first” and you’ll find ten articles like this one. These articles implore us to tackle the toughest task on our to-do list first, which is sound, practical advice on productivity.  But it’s all wrong.

Don’t start the day with your most onerous project.  Start with something else first and then take a crack at that tough task.

Here are two reasons why:

1)     Too often, I’ve slogged through my toughest task for an entire morning of work, only to realize that I still haven’t finished it and have 15 other chores to complete before heading home.  This causes PANIC.  I rush through the rest of the difficult task, a chore that by definition can’t be rushed, so that I can move down my to-do list.  Paradoxically, by trying to give the toughest task the most attention by starting with it first, I often give it less attention than it deserves because I feel pressure to get it done and move on to the other projects waiting for me.

On the other hand, when I spend the first hour of the day crossing off one or two other tasks before tackling the doozie, I’m more relaxed and less compelled to rush through the big project when it takes multiple hours to complete.  With an item or two already completed, the stress of needing to move on subsides, allowing me to devote more energy to that tough task.

2)     I believe in momentum.  Starting with a task that’s difficult, yet able to be finished in a reasonable time frame sets a tone of productivity that lingers the rest of the day.  If I’m able to cross off a task or two in the morning, I’m often amazed at my momentum.  The day turns into a steady march through a variety of projects—and a stress free one at that.

I’m not telling you to procrastinate tackling that one hard project looming over your head.  But by finishing one or two less difficult projects before starting, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that will allow you to devote your full energies to the big project.  

Which, of course, is the goal in the first place.

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