Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Marissa Bracke.
Many of us grew up being told that we could play only after we finished our work, that we could have our dessert only after we ate all of our dinner, and that we could reward ourselves only after we good ‘n duly earned it. In some situations, this advice merits following: when your to-do list includes a sizable (and ever-growing) frog or two, you’re wise to tend to the frog and wipe from your to-do list that task you’ve been dreading.
Frogs, after all, can be helpful.
When you sit down at your desk determined to tackle the task you’ve most been dreading and subsequently accomplish it, you get that triumphant charge of a hurdle cleared, a crisis averted, a self-awarded pat on the back. The momentum from conquering that dreaded task can help you jump into your next (presumably less dreaded) task, eager to keep the glow of accomplishment you’ve already achieved.
But what happens when the frogs–and the momentum–are missing?
There will be days when your to-do list is relatively frog-free, and you’re faced with a list of tasks you’ve got to get done, but which don’t do much to rev up your motor. On the one hand, you’re jazzed that you don’t have any of those high-dread tasks to conquer. On the other hand, you don’t have access to the turbo-load of momentum that you get from crossing a high-dread task off the list. You want to get going, but you’re finding it hard to get some forward momentum from the tasks at hand.
Enter Mary Poppins and her secret ingredient to productive momentum: a spoonful of sugar.
Mary Poppins knew that sometimes the only way to put pep into a task-doer’s step was with a little sweet treat. Though she just declared that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the truth is that a little treat helps the momentum go up as well.
The key is to figuring out your “sugar.”
Everyone has some task that gives them a disproportionately high amount of satisfaction or delight. For example, one of my clients loves inputting her receipts into her bookkeeping software. She said she knows it’s “supposed” to be an undesirable task that everyone longs to outsource, but she enjoys the routine, organized process. Receipts are her “sugar” task. Another client told me that he was pretty sure he should delegate his audio editing, but that he gets a kick out of editing his own files and looks forward to doing so. Audio editing is a “sugar” task for him. One of my own sugar tasks is processing clients’ email inboxes. I find it really soothing (which works out well, since it’s usually not at all a sugar task for the clients).
If you consider your own tasks, you’ll probably notice a few that you really like. You’ll know you’ve identified a “sugar” task when the thought of just diving into it (not just crossing it off) gives you a little charge inside, and the thought of not doing it–or of handing it off to someone else–leaves you feeling disappointed. They’re still tasks (getting a massage or taking a hot bubble bath are treats, but not sugar tasks), but they’re ones you genuinely like.
Putting the sugar on top… of the to-do list
Both of my clients mentioned above (and I too) tend to push these tasks to the backburner. Because we enjoy them, we set them up as “rewards” that we access only when we finish a sufficient number of other less enjoyable tasks. And on some days, that’s effective. We work hard to plow through other tasks so we can indulge in the task we really dig.
But those tasks can also work to jumpstart momentum on days when it seems elusive.
On a day when you can’t seem to get the momentum revved up, try moving one of your “sugar” tasks to the top of your list. Let yourself jump into it above some of your other less sweet tasks, and let yourself enjoy it. Because you enjoy the task, you’re able to get into flow (and into momentum) without much conscious effort. By the time you’ve finished your spoonful of sugar, you’ve already achieved the most difficult part of productive momentum: getting started. You won’t have to try to kick things into gear on a task that you’re merely ambivalent about–you’re already in motion thanks to your sugar task.
Using sugar in moderation
There will be days when you’ve got to tackle the frog tasks first. Ignoring them in order to jump straight to the sugar task tends to be an ineffective long-term strategy. You can’t sugarcoat a frog… at least not for long, because the dread-to-work ratio eventually outweighs the positive jolt you get from your sweet task. But on the days when there aren’t any frogs lurking, or when you’re feeling mired by ambivalent inertia, a smartly utilized spoonful of sugar can re-fuel your productive momentum.
What’s your sugar task? Do you tend to use it as a reward, after the other tasks are done, or do you ever use it as your jumpstart? Does one style work better for you than the other?
Photo Credit: OnMyWayTo