Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I can never get myself to start things. When I do, however, and there's an unsolvable problem that needs solving, if I pick up even a little momentum in trying to solve it, I will stay on the task/project like Gorilla Glue on rye. Literally, I will forgo meals and sleep till I can get the problem solved.

I think this mindset is largely why it's hard to get started -- Projects and tasks feel overwhelming, where I unconsciously feel like I'll have to finish it all in one go, even if it takes hours on end. It's hard have momentum and then stop and switch to something else.

How do I better shift "gears" by switching to other tasks/projects that need doing/solving? How do you feel OK about leaving something unfinished for the time being and switching to something else?

share|improve this question

The first thing to do is convince yourself that you will be more productive by taking breaks. And you will. You aren't thinking at 100% efficiency if you don't eat and sleep.

The Pomodoro technique emphasizes the need to take a break regularly. You will probably find a 5 minute break every 25 minutes too far from where you are to start there. (I only do it for certain types of tasks.) But what if you set a timer for once an hour. At which point you get up and stretch. Or walk. Or something. This helps in the problem solving mode because it lets your mind settle the ideas and come up with new thoughts.

As far as leaving the task, have the last thing you do be a starting point. In code, this is often writing a failing test. In other wok, it may be a post it note with the next thing you want to work on. I like to keep a piece of scrap paper next to me so I can write down stray thoughts as I think of them.

share|improve this answer

My advice would be to try and break your task down into much smaller sub-tasks. I believe that most tasks are not atomic, and can be spit into smaller parts. Try and get your one mega-task down to smaller tasks which will take no more than an hour or two to complete.

By doing this, you can attack each task with the voracity that is your natural style, without getting bogged down in long-running and crippling projects.

share|improve this answer

I agree with Dean Chalks post on Mar 9. For me the only thing that effectively works is to have a small "gateway" task to get rolling on a new project. Jumping from one thing to another is difficult if you have to start on something that takes some serious brainpower.

I've found that literally everything can be broken down into a series of small steps - if you follow them you'll get there, if you don't you may or may not.

share|improve this answer
I can completely relate to that being helpful, but it would be super cool to get more clarity on how and when to set up gateway tasks. A guiding rule on the topic... – counterbeing Sep 7 '14 at 3:58

I'll suggest you to maintain a spreadsheet. Create following sheets;

  1. Backlog : Write your all tasks to do. If any new idea comes in your mind ,note it down to this sheet. Try to estimate the efforts in days or hours which is required to complete that task.
  2. In progress / Current : Move some tasks from Backlog to this sheet. With every task, attach a note. And mention what are its subtasks.

When you need to switch to another task due to any reason, move the current tasks to backlog. And mention, Which sub task is currently in progress. Define the progress in %.

So when you'll finish your current task, you can easily decide which task should be picked next, which is small task to finish etc.

You can read more about kanban and scrum (agile methodologies).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.