The Art of Taking Action: Use The Two Minute “Do-it-Now” Rule

The Art of Taking Action: Use The Two Minute Do-it-Now Rule

Many tasks that people tend to procrastinate on aren’t really difficult to do. People have the ability, energy, and time to undertake such tasks, but just aren’t disciplined enough to not dodge starting them for one reason or another.

One particular habit that robs people of time is putting all their tasks on a to-do list, prioritizing the list, and then tackling the tasks by priority. But it’s often wiser to skip the to-do list and simply do many tasks immediately. This constitutes the Two Minute Do-it-Now Rule, a discipline popularized by David Allen in his bestselling time management book, Getting Things Done. This rule directs you to act immediately on a contemplated task if it can be completed in less than two minutes.

  • You’ll not only save the time it takes to put the task on your to-do list, but also prevent the buildup of tasks hanging over your head.
  • By limiting the time you’re allocating to get the task done, you can finish it more efficiently and avoid being perfectionistic about it. (See my previous article on Parkinson’s Law, which states that work tends to expand to fill up the time you give it.)
  • You’ll avoid procrastination by getting the task done straightaway and not letting it fall through the cracks. Therefore, this technique has the added advantage of making you appear responsive.

Idea for Impact: Don’t put a task on your to-do list if you can get it done within two minutes. You’ll be surprised at how many tasks you tend to put off that you could get done in two minutes or less.

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn’t Change Even Einstein

“He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still,” wrote the English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1613–1680) in Hudibras (Part iii. Canto iii. Line 547.)

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn't Change Einstein to Quit Smoking

Einstein Wouldn’t Quit Smoking

Consider the case of a rational person as great as Albert Einstein. Grandson Bernhard Caesar Einstein, himself a reputed physicist, recalled in 1998 that Grandpa Einstein’s two prized possessions were his violin and smoking pipe; his reliance on the latter “bordered on dependency.”

Despite deteriorating health, Albert Einstein couldn’t be motivated to quit smoking. His doctor tried but just couldn’t convince Einstein to give it up. To circumvent the doctor’s effort to stop him from smoking, Einstein would scour his neighborhood’s sidewalks to collect discarded cigarette butts to smoke in his pipe.

People Will Change Only if Intrinsically Motivated

People are who they are; they have their (intrinsic) motivations and will continue to live their way. Despite well-meaning intentions, you simply can’t change them or mold their minds into your way of thinking.

You may be frustrated by their reluctance to mend their ways, stop engaging in destructive behavior, or even realize that they’re throwing away their potential. But you just can’t force change down their throats if they aren’t intrinsically motivated. You can only express your opinions, offer help, and even persist. Beyond that, you can only hope they change. You can control your effort and create the conditions for success. Beyond that, the outcomes of your efforts to change are outside your span of control. Control your efforts, not the outcomes.

As I elaborated in a previous article, you will succeed in changing another person’s behavior only if you can translate the extrinsic motivation at your disposal to the elements of his/her intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Extrinsic motivation is pointless in itself

You can’t change people; they must want to change for themselves. In other words, they must be intrinsically motivated to change. Extrinsic motivation is, in itself, pointless.

To Inspire, Translate Extrinsic Motivation to Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Does not Exist

Motivation can be activated and manipulated in another person with the effect of altering his/her behavior and achieving shared objectives.

In a previous article, I have elaborated that motivation is derived from incentives (or disincentives) that are founded either externally or internally, through extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations arise from within—for example, doing a task for its own sake. In contrast, extrinsic motivations propel you to seek external rewards or avoid threatened punishments.

Extrinsic Motivation Doesn’t Exist

One could argue that extrinsic motivation doesn’t exist—that all human behavior is motivated by intrinsic needs alone. In support of this viewpoint, Professor Steven Reiss of Ohio State University observes, “Extrinsic motivation does not exist as a separate and distinct form of motivation” and elaborates,

When I do something to get something else, ultimately I am seeking something of intrinsic value to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I go to work to support my family, and I value my family intrinsically. Some seek wealth so others will respect them, and they value their status intrinsically. In a means-ends chain of behavior, the end is intrinsically motivating, and it is the source of motivation for the means. The motive for the means is the same as for the end; it is an error in logic to assume that means are motivated by a different kind of motivation (extrinsic motivation) than are ends (intrinsic motivation.)

Try to imagine a chain of purposive behaviors that do not ultimately lead to some intrinsically valued goal. You can’t do it because such a chain has nothing to motivate it and, thus, never occurs. All behavior is motivated by an intrinsically valued goal.

Only Intrinsic Motivation Exists

Extrinsic motivation is nothing but a trigger for intrinsic motivation. Suppose that I ask you to refrain from smoking for a week in return for a $100 cash reward. Originally, you do not intend to refrain from smoking for a week, even if you acknowledge that smoking is harmful. In other words, you have no intrinsic motivation to refrain from smoking for a week. Therefore, the $100 offer acts as an extrinsic motivator. Upon further analysis, recognize that even though the $100 appears to be an extrinsic motivator, it capitalizes on your intrinsic desire to take the $100 to perhaps enjoy an evening out, take a loved one to dinner, or buy yourself a present. The $100 thus acts on an element of your intrinsic motivation.

A Case Study: How Xiang Yu Motivated Troops during the Battle of Julu

Commander Xiang Yu Chu Dynasty In ancient China, during the Battle of Julu in 207 BCE, Commander Xiang Yu led 20,000 of his Chu Dynasty troops against the Qin Dynasty. Yu’s troops camped overnight on the banks of the Zhang River. When they woke up the next morning to prepare for their attacks, they were horrified to discover that the boats they had used to get there had been sunk. Not only that, but their cauldrons (cooking pots) had been crushed and all but three days’ worth of rations destroyed.

The Chu troops were infuriated when they learned that it was their commander, Yu, who had ordered the destruction of the boats, cauldrons, and supplies. Yu explained to his troops that this maneuver was to motivate them to mount a spirited attack on the enemies. They had no chance to retreat and were thus forced to achieve victory within three days. Otherwise, they would die trapped within the walls of an enemy city without supplies or any chance of escape. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Yu’s motivated troops defeated the 300,000-strong Qin army and scored a spectacular victory within three days.

Xiang Yu cleverly translated extrinsic motivational devices at his command (viz. lack of boats, cauldrons, and supplies) to instigate a powerful intrinsic motivator of survival and success in his troops.

Idea for Impact: To Motivate Another, Always Lever Elements of Intrinsic Motivation

When trying to motivate a person who lacks intrinsic motivation for a certain behavior, first understand what truly motivates that person—i.e. his/her other elements of intrinsic motivation. Then translate the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) at your disposal through one of the other’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

Seven Ways to Motivate Yourself

Seven Ways to Motivate Yourself

Most people often know what they should do, but can’t seem to make themselves follow through. Here are seven quick and easy ways that might help you get motivated.

  1. Be decisive. Avoid analysis paralysis. The best way to get unstuck is to start somewhere. Don’t wait for the right answer and the golden path to present themselves. Focus on action, which will get you started and build momentum. You can adjust your course of action later. See my previous article: “When in Doubt, Do.”
  2. Avoid the desire to prove yourself. The need to prove yourself to others can be off-putting because you may foresee them disapproving of your work. Let go of the need to prove yourself to everyone else, and free yourself to accomplish what matters most to you. Overcome the fear of failure. Consider low-risk actions.
  3. Develop a Plan B. The most successful people are those who acknowledge when their current plans aren’t working and switch to Plan B.
  4. Accelerate. If things seem under control, you are probably not approaching your goal quickly enough.
  5. If you have made mistakes, don’t be shackled by regret. Things will eventually work out. If you are chained up by a worrisome activity and can’t seem to make progress, switch to another productive activity. Try my ’10-minute Dash’ technique to beat procrastination.
  6. Play favorite scenes in your mind. Envisioning triumph, moments with a loved one or images of playing with a pet have an incredible ability to inspire you.
  7. Try something new and befriend the unfamiliar. Break away from your comfort zone. You will only grow when you let go of discomfort, explore a different path, and try something new.

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation: Focus on the WHY

Motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.

Discipline is Fixating on What You Want

“More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm,” the Buddha taught as per the Dhammapada.

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation Whatever form of personal character it takes—self-control, dedication, endurance, persistence, resolve, willpower, or self-regulation,—discipline is one of the biggest differentiators between successful and unsuccessful people.

The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote in “On Education” (1926,) “Right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities.” Discipline is the conscious ability to prevail over distractions, avoid opportunities for gratification, regulate your emotions and actions, overrule impulses, and exert mindful self-control to fulfill your immediate goals and aspirations.

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

Many of the goals you strive for—like losing weight—require you to choose between a smaller but immediate reward and a larger but remote reward. For instance, if you are dieting and are presented with a cake, you face a choice between the immediate indulgence of eating the cake and the more distant incentive of losing weight. Renouncing immediate pleasure in order to reap future benefits can pose an enormous challenge.

Research by Dr. Kentaro Fujita of Ohio State University shows that participants who considered why they had to do something were better able to inhibit their impulses when presented with immediate temptations. They also exerted greater self-control and stuck with a task longer than those who thought just about how they could do something. For example, Fujita’s research suggests that if you focus on your ultimate goal of losing weight, you are more likely to reinforce your dieting discipline. You are more likely, then, to indulge in a slice or two of pizza and avoid eating the entire pizza than if you would just try to fill up on salad and avoid eating the pizza altogether. This complements my “cut back, do not cut out” tip for dieting success based on how abrupt deprivation from pleasures often results in guilt and over-indulgence.

Idea for Impact: Focus on the ends rather than the means. To build up discipline and self-regulation, keep your goal itself at the front and center of your concentration instead of focusing on how to reach it.

How to Make Your Weekends Feel Longer

Make Your Weekends Feel Longer

During the weekdays, we engage in routine life and long for two blissful days during the weekends. Habitually, we tend to over-plan for the weekends and underachieve. By Sunday evenings, we tend to feel that our weekends just fizzle out.

We feel that our weekends are short-lived — that they are inadequate to accomplish everything that we want to. We wish we had relaxed more, completed more errands and spent more time with family and friends.

This article presents five habits that you could consider to make the most out of each weekend and feel more refreshed for a new week ahead.

Habit 1: Wake-up Early, Seize your Mornings

Try to avoid sleeping-in. When you wake-up late on Saturday and Sunday mornings, you tend to feel that almost half of these days are over. Moreover, sleeping-in during the weekends puts your sleep out of the weekday-rhythm and makes it difficult to wake-up promptly on Monday mornings.

Maintain your weekday wake-up times on Saturday and Sunday mornings as well. If you desire to “catch-up with sleep,” consider getting to bed earlier on Friday and Saturday nights or taking small naps on Saturday and Sunday mid-mornings. Try not to indulge yourself in a Sunday afternoon siesta — you will be able to go to bed early on Sunday night and prevent drowsiness on Monday afternoon.

Wake up early and seize the mornings. Spend some quiet time alone or with your family. Laze around, go for a brisk walk, visit the Farmers’ Market, sit in your porch with coffee and newspaper, and enjoy the serenity of the morning.

Avoid Sleeping-in On Weekends

Habit 2: Shift Chores and Errands to Weekdays

Instead of spending your precious weekend on home projects — laundry, sorting, redecorating, cleaning — and errands, consider redistributing chores and errands among the weekdays. Say, for instance, you tend to spend two hours every weekend on chores, consider spending half an hour each weekday completing these tasks. Set your weekend aside for pleasure.

If you must work on particular home projects and run errands during the weekend, complete them on Saturday. This will enable you to unwind on Sunday. Instead, if you relax on Saturday, you will realize on Sunday morning that you will need to complete various household tasks by Sunday night — you will then hurry through Sunday and exhaust yourself by Sunday night.

Focus on a stress-free, relaxed, fun-filled Sunday with family and friends.

Habit 3: Plan and Prepare; Do Not Over-plan

Contented, Relaxed, Energetic, Effective Weekend Consult your family and friends and prepare an outline for your weekend in advance. Do not wait until the weekend to organize the weekend. On or before Thursday, go out shopping and collect all the resources necessary. By preparing in advance, you will be able to execute your plan as soon as your weekend starts instead of spending time wondering what to do.

Avoid any activity, e.g., catching up with work email, that is part of the weekday routine. Do consider, however, spending time working on important matters e.g., planning your investments, that you have been postponing. Vary your activities each week and avoid establishing a routine for your weekends — routines are for weekdays.

Habit 4: Improvise and Engage in Life’s Little Pleasures

“The happiness of too many days is often destroyed by trying to accomplish too much in one day. We would do well to follow a common rule for our daily lives – Do Less and Do It Better.”
— Dale E. Turner

As you plan your activities for the weekend, be realistic in what you can achieve. Do not over-plan. Try to prioritize your activities. Rushing around can easily exhaust you.

Allow for spontaneity and improvise your weekends. Engage in life’s little pleasures: spend time outdoors, go for a walk, hike, take a bicycle ride, or tend to your garden. Talk to friends and family you have not been in touch for a while, read magazines and books, or look at old pictures. Or, pursue a hobby, go to the beach, visit a museum, attend a concert, or do anything else that is fun for you and your loved ones.

Reflect and Appreciate Having a Good Time with Family and Friends

Habit 5: Reflect and Appreciate

On Sunday evenings, reflect on everything you did during the weekend and appreciate having a good time with family and friends.

Do not fret if you did not complete everything you had planned. There is always another weekend coming-up.

Concluding Thoughts

The key to making your weekend feel longer and having a relaxing time is to reorganize your plans and freeing-up time for your favourite, pleasurable activities during the weekend. By prioritizing, improvising and staying on top of things you can arrive at the end of your weekend contented and full of energy for the fresh week ahead.

Overcome Procrastination: My “10-Minute Dash” Technique to Get a Task Going

How to Overcome Procrastination

“He has half the deed done who has made a beginning.”
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus)

Procrastination: “Why do now what I can do later

'Procrastination is the thief of time.' -- Edward Young Simply, procrastination is a choice to delay an action with the intent to act later.

Most of us are prone to procrastination on tasks big and small. Some of our postponement-problems are instigated by fears of incompletion and failure, or, from assuming that the tasks we face are tedious. Often, our procrastination is nothing more than resentment to working on tasks assigned by others.

The “10-Minute Dash” Technique

The next time you face a ‘job’ that appears overwhelming or unpleasant, beat the temptation to postpone action by committing to work on the job for just ten minutes. Follow these four simple steps.

  • Overcoming Procrastination Consider the ‘job‘ at hand and break it down. Pick two or three simple component-‘tasks‘. For instance, if you want to clean your study room, your component tasks could be to clean the bookshelf, organize the study-desk, etc.
  • Commit to focus on your chosen tasks for just ten minutes. Use a timer, if necessary. For ten minutes, do nothing but your chosen tasks.
  • Avoid distractions or interruptions. For instance, if you unearth Aunt Stella’s letter while cleaning a bookshelf, continue to clean–you can read her letter later.
  • Do not give up. Two minutes into the ten-minute dash, if you find your chosen task tedious, do not stop. After all, you have just eight more minutes to go.

Beginning a Task Builds Momentum

There are two distinct outcomes of doing a ten-minute dash.

  • Procrastination: Beginning a Task Builds Momentum Often, at the end of ten minutes of uninterrupted work, you feel good about working towards your goal. It is likely that beginning to work on the job built a momentum; you got absorbed in the tasks. In contrast to your presumption, the job may turn out to be rather easy and pleasant. Continue to work—schedule ten, twenty or thirty more minutes of work.
  • The less likely outcome is that the ten minutes of work reinforced some of your displeasures about the job. Still, your achievement was that, at the very least, you got ten minutes of work done. If you do not wish to continue working on the task, commit to resume your work later. Ask yourself, “When can I start again?”

Concluding Thoughts

One of the easiest techniques to overcoming procrastination is to begin. Quite often, seemingly difficult tasks get easier once you get working on them. In short time, you get into the ‘flow’ and work towards completion.

Seven Habits to Beat Monday Morning Blues

Seven Habits to Beat Monday Morning BluesRing. Ringggg. RRRRRRING. It is 6:30 on a Monday morning. Your alarm clock goes off. You can’t bear the thought of getting out of bed and going to work. You suddenly remember that you promised your boss an important status report by noon and realize you are yet to begin a test to gather data for the report. Perhaps, you partied all weekend with family and friends, and dread going back to your uncooperative co-workers and a cold boss. You wish you could stay at home and escape from your commitments. You push the snooze button yet again as you cover yourself with your blanket.

Does the above experience sound familiar? If it does, you probably suffer from Monday morning blues. In other words, it sounds like you have the “Case of the Mondays,” to borrow a phrase from the movie ‘Office Space.’

Mondays are a bit of a drag for many of us. We feel our weekends are inadequate to accomplish everything that we want to—we tend to over-plan and underachieve. We wish we had relaxed more, completed more errands and spent more time with family and friends. When we return to work on Monday, we are hung-over from the out-of-work rhythm of the weekend.

Here are seven habits to beat Monday morning blues.

Habit 1: Prepare for Your Weekend

  • Plan all your weekend activities after consulting family and friends. Be realistic in what you can achieve; do not over-plan.
  • Before leaving work on Friday evening, clean and organize your desk and prepare a to-do list for Monday morning.

Habit 2: Have an Organized Weekend

  • Relax on the weekend to beat Monday morning bluesEnjoy a stress-free, relaxed Sunday by planning entertainment and fun activities for Sunday. Spend time with family and friends–go shopping or walking or take your children to the science museum. Or, just be lazy. Focus on recreation on Sunday.
  • Complete your home projects and errands on Saturday. This will enable you to unwind on Sunday, before you start your workweek. Instead, if you relax on Saturday, you will realize on Sunday morning that you will need to complete all your household tasks by Sunday night. You will then hurry through Sunday and feel tired by Sunday night: you will not feel well rested on Monday morning.

Habit 3: Maintain a Regular Sleep Pattern

  • During the weekend, we tend to go to bed late and wake-up late because we are not required to be at work by 8:00am on Saturday or Sunday. With our sleep out-of-rhythm during the weekend, we find it difficult to wake-up promptly on Monday morning. Maintain your wake-up time on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If you desire to ‘catch-up with sleep,’ get to bed earlier on Friday and Saturday.
  • Try not to nap on Sunday afternoon—you will be able to get into sleep early on Sunday night and prevent drowsiness on Monday afternoon.

Habit 4: Prepare on Sunday Night

  • Pack your bags, prepare your clothes and setup the breakfast table on Sunday night. If you brought work home, pack-up and organize your workbag. You will not feel hurried or leave important papers at home on Monday morning.
  • If possible, review your agenda for the rest of the week and your to-do list for Monday morning. Reviewing your commitments will make you more conscious of your plans for the week ahead.

Habit 5: Relax as you Prepare on Monday Morning

  • Relax on Monday morning to beat Monday morning bluesGo to bed early on Sunday night and wake-up early on Monday morning. You will be able to relax as you wake-up, get prepared and have your breakfast.
  • Start from home early. Beat the traffic and listen to good music during your drive to work. By coming to work early, you can concentrate and get high-priority work done with fewer interruptions or before your co-workers stop-by your cubicle to discuss their weekends and developments from across the world.

Habit 6: Choose Work You Enjoy for Monday Morning

  • Having a productive start-of-week is critical to having a great week ahead. If you prepare your to-do list on Friday evening, you can start working as soon as you reach your desk on Monday morning. Firstly, choose the kind of work you enjoy doing for Monday morning. For example, if you like preparing illustrations, work on a presentation of your new proposal for the project workflow.
  • Secondly, avoid negative interactions that may make you feel glum at the start of the workweek. For example, avoid meeting people who may have counterarguments on your project plans or avoid working on emails or memos with arguments against your idea. Experiencing positive interactions will make you feel good about yourself and your work.

Habit 7: Organize the Rest of the Workweek

  • Organize your workweek and beat Monday morning bluesIf possible, do not have important deadlines or schedule update meetings early in the week. If you have a major project deadline on Tuesday or need to meet your boss on Monday afternoons to discuss test results, you may not feel relaxed during the weekend. On Sunday, you will be concerned about how you will prepare for these commitments. Instead, schedule important meetings for the later part of the week. You will feel good: you have the early part of the week to prepare and you can enjoy the weekend with a sense of accomplishment.
  • Plan for fun on Monday evenings: plan on watching a movie or eating-out or taking a walk along the beach on Monday evening. You will have something to look forward to throughout the day on Monday.
  • Take a mini-break during midweek. See my earlier blog article on taking Wednesday afternoon time-offs: leave early on Wednesday and do something out-of-your-routine and relax.

Concluding Thoughts

The key to beating Monday morning blues is organizing your work for maximum leisure during the weekend. By following the above seven habits, you will enjoy relaxed weekends and prepare yourself for a week of action when your alarm clock goes-off on Monday mornings.

Wednesday Afternoon Time-off: Recharge Mid-week

Wednesday Afternoon Time-off: Recharge Mid-weekMost of us feel our weekends are insufficient to accomplish everything that we want to; we tend to over-plan and underachieve. On Sunday evening, we wish we had relaxed more, completed more errands and spent more time with family and friends. If a weekend involves long-distance travel, we tend to leave from work on Friday afternoon and return home exhausted on Sunday evening.

When we return to work on Monday, we are hung-over from the out-of-work rhythm of the weekend and gain momentum during the day. We are at peak energy levels during Tuesday and Wednesday. Once we pass ‘hump day’, we long for a break. By Thursday afternoon, we feel drained and begin to look forward to the weekend. Our energy levels and thus our productivities tend to be lower on Friday as we wrap up our workweek.Wednesday Afternoon Time-off: Recharge Mid-week

Every week, we crave a mid-week break—an opportunity to reenergize during the middle of the week. In response, I present the concept of Wednesday Afternoon Time-off. In essence, this concept involves leaving work early, say at around 3:00pm, and taking a break from routine life.

We can use this time-off from the routine to catch-up with errands, devote time for family and friends, eat out, read a book, visit the beach, relax or to just to arrive at home early. This brief time-off will render us energized and recharged for higher productivity during the last two days of the workweek. Additionally, this break gives us something to look forward to at the middle of the week.

I have practiced this idea of mid-week time-offs during the past few weeks and find the experience amazing. My workplace appreciates the higher energy levels on Thursday and Friday. The two hours of work I miss on Wednesdays are easily compensated for by the extra time I devote to work on other weekdays.

I encourage you to try this practice by blocking off time on your calendar, planning work around leaving work early on Wednesday afternoon and getting a break. I would love to hear about your experience.