…was from one of those “How To Get Stuff Done” articles that someone shared awhile back. And one of the key recommendations of this article was that when you get a task, you should just start it. It doesn’t matter if you can only spend fifteen minutes on it; all you need to do is start. Human beings hate to leave things unfinished (witness, for instance, how many people will even finish books and movies that they hate), and, as a result, when you start a task it’ll always be in the back of your mind.
That piece of advice dovetailed with something I’d long ago observed about myself, which is that within fifteen minutes of beginning a task, I can usually tell how long it’s going to take me. Doesn’t matter if it’s a research paper, homework assignment, revision, blog post, or whatever. I just get a sense of how much progress I’ve made in fifteen minutes and am able to say, “Hmm, this is going to take about three hours.”
But if I try to make my estimate before actually starting, then they’re much more likely to be inaccurate. This screws me in two ways. First of all, sometimes I think a task is going to be huge and take a long time, and I spend weeks putting it off and procrastinating and worrying about it, and then it only takes an hour or two to actually do. And sometimes I think a task is only going to take an hour and I put it off to the last moment, and then find that I actually need to put in a minimum of eight hours.
Even with all this wisdom, I can’t say that I am the best at starting tasks as soon as they’re assigned to me, but I am getting better and better at it. All through grade school and college and the first two years of my working life, I don’t think I ever did any assignment except: a) the night before it was due; and b) entirely in one sitting.
It was only after going freelance that I learned how much effortless life could be. If I start something a week in advance and do an hour or two a day, it’s usually done in time, with no stress or effort.
As the ultimate test of this theory, I sat down in front of my computer for two hours last Sunday and spent fifteen minutes on each task that I had due in the upcoming week. And while the last three days have been extremely hectic, I actually managed to finish everything in good time and without nearly as much stress as I’d have expected.