When a short task isn't short

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by Castanea_d., Apr 15, 2018.

  1. Castanea_d.

    Castanea_d. Registered

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    I got caught in a trap yesterday - what should have been a two or three minute task (posting a blog entry that was already written and ready to go on Blogger). But I couldn't get it to include a PNG graphic, something I've done before with ease. I stayed with the task, thinking "it must be something simple. Just another couple of minutes and I'll figure out what I'm doing wrong."

    Ninety minutes later, I got it: the issue was the ad-blocker on my browser, which I have added since I last put a graphic into a Blogger post. Disable the ad-blocker, add the graphic, hit "Publish," done.

    The issues:
    - If I had known it would take a long time, I would have bookmarked the task and put it on the TBD list.
    - Even after I ran into a snag, if it weren't for the feeling that if I tried just one more thing it would be done, I would have laid it aside for another day.
    - The net result was about an hour less of practice time at the organ than I had hoped for. It showed in this morning's service playing, one of my principal accountabilities. My Blogger site is something for which I feel accountable, but at a much lower level.

    This is not the first time I have gotten caught up in a task that I keep thinking is almost done, and the finish line keeps moving just a little further away. For me, it seems to happen especially with computer-related things; I've spent whole nights with issues such as layout details with my music notation software, trying "one more tweak" to see if I can get it to look right on the page.

    So, my question: when should I say "Enough is enough," and put the should-have-been-short task into the TBD list instead of trying to finish it?
     
  2. sholden

    sholden Registered

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  3. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    When dealing with two-minute tasks, perhaps one rule could be that if anything whatsoever goes wrong, the task goes on a list instead.
     
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  4. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    What do you mean by "enough is enough"?
    Did you know in advance that you would have to solve the PNG problem?
    No, you didn't know! And you didn't know how long it would take to solve this problem.
    But you've solved it! A big win!

    IMHO this situation is very similar to traveling by car from Seattle to Portland and having a flat tire near Tacoma. Tacoma is not "enough". Your goal is Portland, not Tacoma, so you have to "waste your time" to replace the tire. Of course the situation would be different if all four tyres were flat... ;-)

    But... if practice time at the organ is a top priority, I would block time for this activity.
     
  5. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    If I followed that rule then nothing would ever not go on a list!
     
  6. Castanea_d.

    Castanea_d. Registered

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    Thanks to all for the good advice! TesTeq found the key for my specific situation on Saturday - practice time that day is a crucial activity, and I should time-block it. Set an alarm when it is time to start. If (say) I was still puzzling over PNG files and ad-blockers, the alarm is my cue to lay it aside, go upstairs to the organ and practice. I already use alarms for impending meetings, etc.; I just haven't been doing it for practice. I think that I will now, at least on Friday and Saturday when it is most imperative.

    More generally, I guess that it is a balancing act. Sometimes it is best to stay with the task when you have momentum and hopefully get it done. Other times it is best to recognize that this is not a little two-minute thing after all. Not infrequently, what starts as a little quick task turns into a full-blown Project.

    As Mr. Allen often says, "Trust your instincts."
     
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  7. John Ismyname

    John Ismyname Registered

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    Hello Castanea;

    I can relate to this to as musician, albeit an amateur one. For musicians and non-musicians alike, there are some great lessons here.



    “This is not the first time I have gotten caught up in a task that I keep thinking is almost done, and the finish line keeps moving just a little further away.”

    “Real artists ship” – Steve Jobs

    "A movie is never finished, only abandoned."- George Lucas.

    Microsoft shipped Windows 3.1 with about a thousand known bugs – it was good enough. George wanted to make the first Star Wars as good as possible. He only had so much money and so much time. Thus, compromises were made. At some point, George and Steve said “done”.


    “For me, it seems to happen especially with computer-related things; I've spent whole nights with issues such as layout details with my music notation software, trying "one more tweak" to see if I can get it to look right on the page.”

    When I started notating music it was with a pencil and stave-lined paper. When I started recording music it was with a 4-track cassette machine. I could only get the quality of my music notating and recording so good with the limited tools of that era. With the advent of technology, I can now always make it better! However, there is no clear line as to when it is good enough.


    Back in the day when I was a pretty good musician, I had to practice 20 minutes a day just to keep up my skill level. If I didn’t do this MY PROGRESS WOULD BACKSLSIDE BY NOT DOING ANYTHING! Whether it be practicing music for fun or working on a project where there is continuous discretionary work, we backslide if we don’t work on it every day. There are a lot of things I’d like to do everyday but only a few things I am committed to doing every day. For those things, time-blocking is the only way to do this. We have to block-off the same time every day to sleep. Why not take a chunk of time on to this before we go sleep or as soon as we wake up to do those things that we are committed to doing?

    “Sometimes it is best to stay with the task when you have momentum and hopefully get it done.”

    I agree…so long as you define what “done” means
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
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  8. Edmundo

    Edmundo Registered

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    Thanks for sharing, Castanea_d. I frequently have a similar type of experience— you described it very well.

    For most of my work as a software engineer, blocking off time doesn't make sense. Generally I don't have a category of activities (like your music practice) that must absolutely happen a specified time. Rather, I have a set of todos that each lie somewhere along three axes— priority, time required, and difficulty.

    Often I'll pick up what I thought was a short, easy task to get myself jump started for a work session. The problem you describe comes about when I begin to realize a few minutes in that it's not the short, easy task I expected.

    sholden's note of the Pomodoro Technique (more generally known as Timeboxing) can be useful here to ensure we have an external indicator in place when we start to invest more time than we thought would be required for a particular. However, I do find that it seems like a lot of work to Timebox every single little task, which is what is required to ensure that the Timeboxing system has no leaks and we can feel confident that no task is overrunning its time budget without our system telling us so. Maybe it's worth it though? I'm interested now and going to experiment a bit with it.

    At its core, this mechanic is due to a paucity of willpower while we're doing the task that is taking too long. We can't seem to extract ourselves because the answer seems like it's potentially just around the corner. Psychologically, this seems almost a gambling dynamic ("Just one more hand...").

    Interestingly, we can understand this from the blood glucose-willpower research in Willpower, which explain would the timeline events as follows:
    1. Start the easy task with a full reserve of glucose.
    2. Easy task turns out to not be so easy, requiring more glucose as we debug the issue and our frustration increases.
    3. At some point, we realize that we're spending too much on the task and should drop for a higher priority task. But, we feel that we're close to solution with this task and just want to be done with it. This step requires higher-level consideration and willpower to drop the "easy" task in lieu of the more important task, but we're now at our lowest point in glucose level. So we opt for the "just finish it now" path, which is a repeat of step 2.
    I find this explanation to be useful in how it informs my optimal working state. Consideration of it is a powerful reminder for me to take breaks, ensure I'm sufficiently hydrated, fed, relaxed, etc. while working.
     
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  9. Castanea_d.

    Castanea_d. Registered

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    Thank you for this. Yes, it does feel like gambling when you think you might finish the task by trying one more thing. I have never thought about it in terms of blood glucose; that certainly seems true to my experience, and I think it will be a useful insight for me.

    John Ismyname, thank you for your thoughts as well. The slippery thing about musical practice (or, I suspect, any other skill-related activity) is what you describe: if you don't do some of it pretty much every day, your skills erode. But most of the time, you don't have an appointed time when you have to do it - any time during the day will suffice. And much of the time, you really can get by with skipping a day. One day; if you skip two days in a row, that becomes dangerous. That is why it seemed counter intuitive for me to set an alarm to go practice, and the system still retains the weakness that somewhere inside, I know that I don't really have to obey the alarm.

    Nonetheless, it is working for me to timebox the practicing. I set an alarm on my phone; I will allow myself one 5-minute extension to tidy up any loose ends (e.g., bookmark what I am doing so I can more readily pick up the task later), then it is off to the piano or organ bench, just as if it were a fixed appointment.

    It has also helped to timebox the other end of the practice session; once I get to the instrument, I set another alarm for one hour later. At that point I get off the bench and stretch (good idea anyway), and re-consider: should I practice for another hour, or is there something else I should do instead, including the possibility of completing what I had laid aside.
     
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