Ivan Sutherland had the secret, and it only took one paragraph to share it:
'I used to hate washing dishes. I would delay as long as possible. Eyeing the daunting pile of dishes, I would say to myself, “I'll be here forever at this dumb task.” The enormity of the task deterred me from starting. I still dislike washing dishes, but I now get the dishes done promptly because I learned a simple procedure for doing the job from my wife's uncle. The procedure starts out “Wash first dish...” I have a similar procedure for starting travel vouchers, it goes “Record first expense...”'
edit: his rationale was equally short and sweet:
'Each of my little procedures embodies two different aids to getting started. By invoking a familiar procedure I reduce my need for courage. By breaking the task into smaller tasks through emphasizing that only the first dish need be washed or the first expense need be recorded, I reduce my estimate of risk. Both mechanisms work. These sources of courage are sometimes called “discipline,” especially when being taught to the young. Discipline relies on a practiced use of routine subgoals to avoid defeat by fear. Its highest form comes when the Lieutenant, charging up a heavily defended hill, says, “Follow me men!”—and they do.'
When i was reading that book i was in college and I remember dreading and dreading studying for a particular boring class. I was miserable thinking about it and then it just sort of dawned on me, i got up and went to the library and studied.
It's hard to put in words but you only dread these dreary tasks when you're dreading them.
The trick to making the whole thing work is that you need to have confidence that, once something is on the list, it will get done. That's what allows you to stop fretting about the stuff on the list. But to get that confidence, you need to regularly do the stuff on the list.
That is remarkably insightful and memorable. Thanks!
Just washing one plate does not mean I have to wash all of them. Stopping after only half of them is acceptable and preferable to not starting. So I can pick up and wash one without worrying about the full task.
(When you finally eat whatever it was you so much desired, you didn't really fail, because you are only consuming 1 unit for those 3/5/whatever days, instead of one every day...)
Sorry, projecting a bit. I have absolutely zero discipline when it comes to cake.
The beauty of telling yourself "I can stop" comes in when you're really just lying to yourself to reduce the barrier of the first dish. "Oh, I'll just do a couple and then stop. Well I only have a few left..."
just live the natural and inevitable path
toward a future where it has happened.
That said, I sort of rely on this process where each time I wake up I'm slightly less likely to fall back asleep. Sometimes I grab my phone and figure I'll just look at a few things while I lounge in bed, and within a minute or two my brain is awake and I realize I'm past the hump and may as well just get up. Whereas when I'm less alert, falling back asleep seems FAR easier than just getting up.
So no, it could not be a long form blog post.
It's not just Cal Newport, it's self-help and productivity authors in general. They have an idea, and then they repeat it over and over again until they have a book.
Maybe the repetition benefits the reader. Maybe it's easier to internalize an idea when it is hammered into your skull. Or maybe books are just more profitable than blog posts.
However, better small-scale (paragraph to paragraph) structure of the text and somewhat higher info-density, or simply being more entertainingly-written, can go a long way. See Graeber's Debt for the former and Fussell's Class for the latter.
Cal Newport seems to think GTD is flawed because it doesn't help you prioritize meaningful work: http://calnewport.com/blog/2012/12/21/getting-unremarkable-t...
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking 'cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking out the door.
Identify the dish you dread washing; the dirty pot with baked on grime.
Wash the all other dishes in an effort to avoid the disgusting pot.
Throw out the pot.
That doesn't really endear me to the concept...
I give Sutherland the benefit of the doubt on that one though. He's closer to the WWII generation than the kill-brown-people for "reasons" generations that came before and after.
Sometimes having a low entry barrier and then have some inertia in the activity does create a good rhythm/regular schedule. But sometimes I just give up.
Other times what I need is some god damn good old drive to start rolling up my sleeve and get done with that pile of whatever.
So yes in theory, breaking things down is good, but it's not always the determining factor. I hope it's a bit clearer.
Other times, I don't even have to break the project down into steps. I just dive into it and crank it out, thoroughly enjoying the productivity I'm experiencing.