Unsticking Things

Sometimes you need to get unstuck. Here are a few techniques known to work:

1. *Invert the problem*: what are the concrete things you could do to make the opposite result happen? Want to finish that book or article? What are the necessary steps to make sure you don’t finish it? (How many of those steps are you already undertaking?) Even if you end up with a depressing list of things you are already doing to undermine yourself, you can then begin to undo each of those things. Instead of whipping yourself for not getting the big thing done, focus on *not* doing one of the corrosive things. When you’ve stopped doing one, stop doing another. (It’s the opposite of creating a good habit: it’s eliminating bad habits. It seems silly, but what happens is you start finding yourself with time. If nothing else, maybe you’ll stare at the clouds more.)
2. *Eliminate the inessential*: there is, perhaps apocryphal, story of Warren Buffett guiding his pilot through three steps. In the first, he tells the pilot to write down his top 25 career goals. In the second step, he tells him to circle his top 5. Then he asks, in the third step, about the remaining 20. When the pilot says those are important, too, and he’ll try to get to them, Buffett responds that those 20 are to be avoided at all costs. The logic here is that we spread ourselves too thin, we either want to do more than we can or we want to please more people than we can. The result is that we end up paralyzed by too much. Don’t be paralyzed. Focus on the most important things and get them done. Who knows, once they’re done, you can re-assess things and maybe some of those top 20 contenders will be in the next five. (Honestly, five things may be too many.)
3. *Use Eisenhower’s Box*: Stephen Covey, so far as I can tell, adapted and refined the same box that Eisenhower used throughout his long and distinguished career. I’m guessing someone taught it to Ike, so it’s got some years on it. I could draw a diagram, but, honestly, you’ve seen this particular 2-by-2 grid so many times, you can imagine it for yourself — and that’s probably for the better:
* IMPORTANT & URGENT: Do it now.
* IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT: Schedule a time to do it.
* NOT IMPORTANT BUT URGENT: Delegate it.
* NOT IMPORTANT & NOT URGENT: Delete it.

The effectiveness is when you recognize that things like watching television or checking social media are probably in that last category. So, yeah, sorry about that.

James Clear is a big fan of the two-minute rule, which he divides into two parts. The first is taken from David Allen’s GTD methodology which dictates that anything that can be done in two minutes, that needs to get done, should get done right away. The second one is good: new habits should take less than two minutes to do. It’s one way to get them to stick.

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