Productivity hack: Counting tasks

This week I’m writing about a few productivity hacks that I’ve found to be helpful. They aren’t profound, life-changing productivity systems (like Stephen Covey’s First Things First or David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which have both had a significant impact on my life). These are just small, get-the-job-done-faster-or-better hacks that I’ve found to be useful.

PRODUCTIVITY HACK: COUNTING TASKS

When I list the things I want to do accomplish, I used to list them in order from 1 through 10 (or 100 or 1000 or however many there were). But then I found a quick, simple mental trick that made it feel like I was getting things done more effectively: I simply labelled them in reverse sequence, from highest to lowest.

So instead of having 10 tasks labelled 1 through 10, I have 10 tasks labelled 10 through 1.

I first discovered this simple trick when I was working out. In one of the circuit training programs I do, I have to do as many reps as I can in a single minute. And it can be easy to stop at 20 reps and think “I can’t go on any more”. So when I wanted to push myself harder, I reversed the numbering system. Instead of counting up from 1 to whatever I thought I could do, I instead decided to count down from 30. Thus, once I completed 20 reps, I had counted from 30 to 10. I found I could push myself a little more to feel like I was “completing” the number sequence.

Yeah, it’s a small change but it helps you to think about how many tasks (or reps) you have left to do rather than focusing on those “high” numbers that will be just as challenging to complete tomorrow. When you’re working on the 7th or 8th task and you’d rather be playing Frisbee and drinking beer then it can be tempting to just leave the rest of your stuff until tomorrow when you know you’ll have another 10 tasks to do. But reversing the numbering system reminds you that you only have a couple of tasks left and then you’re done.

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