our ability to focus is based both on time and tasks

When trying to grow it’s common to think that every action will lead to a good result.
This (I think) is based on the fact that we believe in ourselves and therefore we think we can take it on and succeed.

This is great, in fact it’s a good way to start.
The problem arises when the tasks are too many and you can’t finish even one of them.
Accumulating tasks has a drawback, because any task not only takes up time when you work on it, it takes up mind time when you don’t work on it.

Let’s take these two different examples.

Example 1 – The task you are super-energetic about

So you have found a task you love, it’s great, it’s big, and it’s awesome.
Chances are you’ll think about it every time during your day.
Even when you shouldn’t.

It’s ok to allow our mind be creative, but not when we can’t control it. If we aren’t capable of deciding when to work on that task, well, it’s the task that it’s doing us, not the reverse.

In this case it’s pretty clear how much the tasks takes our mind time, it’s quite easy to spot but it’s hard to let it go because, obviously, you love the task.

The task has somewhat become a personal life-goal, that you must complete both on a professional and human level.

Example 2 – The task you almost forgot

Aside from the thrilling tasks there are the tasks that you almost forgot.
You know, that task that pops up from time to time and lets you think “Oh, I still have to do that

Who hasn’t one of these tasks in his or her mind from time to time?

These are the task you procrastinate over and over, almost endlessly.
You wanted to do it, but you lost the enthusiasm and now they are just a bullet in your todo list.

Maybe once they were those awesome-energetic tasks, but now they are just an obligation you created with yourself.

It might occur you that these tasks doesn’t seem to take up that much mind time, but that isn’t true.
While it is obviously less consuming than the awesome-task before, they still use your mind time and in fact are very dangerous.

First of all they linger.
Like a floating dead body on a lake. You see it only when the flow moves it to you, then you realize it’s always been there.

You don’t think that much, but the way you think about it is de-empowering. It removes energy because you feel frustrated, powerless, stupid.

Also, you always think about them, just not as much as the awesome-task type.
But when you think about them, you usually spend your mind time only to work out another excuse to not do it.

How to get back your mind time again?

Given the very difference from the task type there are 2 issue to solve/implement

  1. Controlled Creativity (you want to use your mind when you decide it)
  2. Useless Task Removal (You want to abandon the task you won’t do).

For the controlled creativity I think only the book “The Art Of Learning” of Josh Waitzkin can really shine some light on the topic.
It’s an enormous topic, but summed in a few lines to control your creativity you need to train (and partly trick) your mind to spark creativity based on some recurring conditions that are under your control.

While you can’t really control creativity, you are able to control the conditions that allow it to sparkle.

The second issue, Useless task removal, is easier to explain and to do.
To achieve it I personally define a maximum number of “rescheduling”, much like “If I procrastinate this thing for 3 times, then I won’t do it”.

Obviously you’ll have to live with the consequences, because if we are talking about professional work you’ll have to explain why you won’t do it, but aside from that it’s a great rule because in case you really want/need to do it, then knowing that you only have 3 shots will eventually lead to you doing it.

That’s pretty much it.

Oh, one small add-on on the awesome-task types.
It’s hard to resist the temptation to think about it, they are shiny and beautiful, aren’t they?
But remember, your ability to focus depends on your attention, if your attention is drawn only from one task then all the others will be less effective, and you will still lose.

Reread this Steve Jobs quote if you’re unsure

Additional Read: the difference between time and attention by Jason Fried

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