In my last post I highlighted some of my favorite suggestions for boosting productivity contained in Daniel Pink’s newly-published book “When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” More today.
Pink reveals that the prospects of success in an endeavor can be enhanced by following a few simple procedures. First, perform a “pre-mortem.” That’s another way of saying “Begin with the end in mind” (per Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of highly Effective People”), but focusing on taking a look ahead to anticipate what might go awry. So, imagine that you are tasked with completing a complicated analysis, or organizing a social function, or that you decide you want to open a restaurant. If you were to be UNsuccessful, what factors might have contributed? Failure to allow enough time? To get distracted or overwhelmed? To have insufficient monetary resources? Then challenge yourself to develop strategies that would address those factors. As Pink explains, “The technique allows me to make mistakes in advance in my head rather than in real life on a real project.”
Second, to the degree you can, choose the right time to begin an initiative. Per my previous post, for most people the morning is a better time to undertake a project than is the afternoon. Beyond that, extensive research reveals that there are preferred days to begin a project, careful selection of which will actually increase the probability of success. These are all days that mark the beginning of a new cycle. Mondays. Birthdays. The first of the month (or year). The first day back from vacation. Important anniversaries.
Another factor to keep in mind when contemplating when to begin an effort: “when people near the end of the arbitrary marker of a decade, something awakens in their minds that alters their behaviors.” Evidence for this is contained in the curious fact that people aged 29 are twice as likely to run a first marathon as those a year older or younger, and that people aged 49 are three times as likely to run a marathon as someone just a year older. This pattern also holds true for scoring statistics in football: in the last minute of a half teams score twice as many points as in any other single minute. It would seem that as we approach a clear demarcation we boost our efforts. The practical implication of this research? Set yourself clear deadlines. in fact, set deadlines for each stage of a project. When you are approaching that deadline chances are you may try just a little harder.
If, despite following Pink’s multi-faceted advice you find yourself in a slump, there are several tried-and-true methods of re-motivating yourself.
Interim Goals: A tried-and-true method is to break large projects into smaller steps. Facing a large, complicated task can be so daunting as to be paralyzing.
Accountability: “Once you’ve set your sub goals, enlist the power of public commitment. We’re far more likely to stick to a goal if we have someone holding us accountable.”
Interruption: “When you’re in the middle of a project, experiment by ending the day partway through a task with a clear next step. It might fuel your next day motivation.
Don’t break the chain: Jerry Seinfeld makes a habit of writing every day, not just the days he feels inspired. To maintain focus, he prints a calendar with all 365 days of the year, and marks off each day he writes with a big red “X.” “After a few days you’ll have a chain” he says. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain – your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Picture one person your work will help: Dedicating your work to that person will deepen your dedication to the task. Ona work-related project that person might be a boss, colleague, or client. With a more personal project (dieting, exercise, quitting smoking) think about who besides yourself would enjoy the fruits of your success.