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The power of getting stuff done

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For much of the summer a shroud of darkness hung over the Content Team at DLG Digital. This is not a metaphor; a literal shadow was cast over us by a seven-foot banner that blocked the window.

Its presence was discussed almost daily, yet none of us did anything to stop the promotional standee from throwing shade in our direction.

Then, in the autumn our editor got up from his desk, rolled the poster back into its base and moved it. Our faces were lit by glorious sunshine.

Months of moaning was banished, and it only took a minute or two.

It made me think of all the small jobs I’d been putting off. Jobs which would most likely take only minutes to complete:

  • Change the blown bulbs in the kitchen
  • Call my daughter’s nursery to finalise her hours for the new term
  • Tighten a loose screw on the bathroom door handle
  • Arrange scrapping an old car
  • Pay for a new term of toddler ballet
  • Rearrange a dental appointment
  • Close a bank account I’m paying for but don’t use

My list got longer every week.

You’ll almost certainly have a list of similarly simple jobs to complete. If you don’t, well done.

The problem is that these singularly brief tasks can mutate into a paralysing to-do list, preventing us from having a go at the more challenging things we want to achieve.

I go into every weekend with the good intention of clearing my to-do list, yet I never do. A recent weekend was different. On Saturday afternoon, while my wife and daughter made glitter art, I had a go at the Two Minute Rule – as discussed online by many blogs and in David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

The basic principle is that if a job is only going to take a few minutes, do it immediately rather than putting it off. I did, and in about 20 minutes I’d completed all my tasks listed above, and was filled with a sense of accomplishment.

These singularly brief tasks can mutate into a paralysing to-do list.

OK, I averaged closer to three minutes per task, but that was largely the result of being put on hold when speaking to the bank.

I didn’t stop there. With the family content and rapidly making the lounge resemble a Poundland Christmas Grotto, I sat down with my laptop and began outlining a children’s story I’d had an idea for well over a year ago.

It was something I’d been intending to get around to, thinking about doing, but never did. Now I could. Perhaps emptying my to-do list had relieved my mind, freeing it to tackle a bigger challenge.

Or maybe the sense of achievement earned by completing a number of small, easier tasks, encouraged me to tackle another. Navy SEALs are trained to start their day by making their bed.

It’s a task that only takes a few minutes, but the sense of accomplishment sets soldiers up for the rest of the day.

Maybe your mum was onto something when she’d nag you to make your bed in the morning.

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