The world these days is made for distraction. Even with the best of intentions its easy to find yourself opening up your email program to write a reply to someone and next thing you know you’ve read a Facebook notification, browsed 10 LOL cats, and found yourself researching the Swedish Lynx on Wikipedia before you realize how long you’ve been off task.
I find that small tasks are the most vulnerable to distraction. Processing emails, returning phone calls, following up on projects, and pushing forward small steps. Every time you complete one of these tasks there’s a moment where you need to figure out what’s next and centre yourself on a new activity. In these gaps its easy to wander off into distractions. In comes the idea of sprinting. In a sprint you identify a series of tasks to complete in a limited block of time and then work your butt off to get to the end with the most things completed.
Setting up a Sprint
1. Line-up your tasks
Use a task list app or a piece of paper. Get everything you want to do put into a priority order that is clear. There will be no hunting and picking on the sprint, you’ll simply go from task 1 to task 2 to task 3, etc. I recommend Evernote, Remember the Milk, or Todoist.
2. Make your tasks into actionable chunks.
Whether you’re working on tasks from multiple projects or you are digging into one mondo project, make sure all of the tasks on your sprint list are clear directives that don’t require you to stop and ask “What do I do now?” Tip: You can make a task on your sprint “Create list of tasks for project”
3. Set a Time Goal.
I recommend that you sprint for no more than 90 minutes and I find that 40-60 minutes is generally optimal for me. I use the sprint idea to force me into productivity in gaps in my day – 30 minutes before the next meeting, lets see what I can do in a short sprint. I also use sprints when I have large chunks of time to make sure I truly use the time productively and don’t squander time because I feel like I have so much of it.
4. Do Do Do.
The key in sprinting is to just move like a machine from one task to the next. Don’t leave yourself time to judge or question. Just do it. Don’t change the order, don’t skip or hunt and pick, just do one task then the next. If you feel prone to being distracted, remind yourself that you only have X minutes left and then you can go down the rabbit hole to your heart’s content.
5. Sprint and Break, Don’t Procrastinate
I find procrastination to be a very low value form of resting. It tends to be more about delaying pain or effort rather than rejuvenation or feeding your body and brain. Instead of procrastinating during activities or between little tasks, do a 60 minute sprint and then give yourself a 15 minute break to spend time on something that truly meets your soul. I think you’ll find true productivity followed by a guilt-free break are a far better combination.