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How do you abandon a task that isn't worthwhile? For example, I've been trying to get Firefox portable to work from a USB drive on the library computers with certain add-ons installed.

  1. I find this interesting, but if I got it to work it would have little or no value to me (though I could probably convince myself otherwise).

  2. I'm wasting time on it.

How do I force myself to give up on something that isn't worth the hassle (usually something insignificant)?

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If you happen to enjoy the task, and the task may or may not be meaningless, just try to schedule (less) time for it rather than completely trying to stop. The fact that you enjoy it and the fact that it is something which may result in a measurable product/outcome should count for something. –  AsheeshR Jan 14 at 2:23

5 Answers 5

This might sound obvious, but it really is the answer to your question, so here we go.

Do something else.

I've come to understand that a lot of the things we try to do, a lot of our inspirations, pet side projects, etc., are less important than they feel when we get the idea. Work on it for a while. If you hit a wall or aren't motivated anymore, take a break. If you still feel compelled to come back to it after spending time at something else, maybe it actually is important. If you forget about it, let it slip, and never encounter a problem, then it wasn't really that important, after all.

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I understand what you mean, and probably those 'distractions' include something you like or they are something you know how to do compared to important tasks that can look a bit overwhelming?
A very simple tool to use to identify those distractions is to use the Covey time management / prioritization matrix. You classify tasks based on urgency and importance, very simple, but it works. I used this quadrant at work, and it gets very obvious if you are not spending time on the right stuff. I even used a big white sheet with this quadrant building my priorities every week. When you cross out tasks in the distraction quadrant, it really shows. So try to focus on the right quadrants and then reward yourself for your productivity! This is a good explanation of this tool : http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm

Hope this will help you !

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I also suggest you look at the reason(s) you're doing this and work from there, because these reasons fall into two different categories:

  1. You do not want to do what you are supposed to do (negative)

  2. You find those distractions interesting (positive)

Unraveling your motives along these lines may help.

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I can see it's a mixture of both 1 and 2. I mean if you're trying to get out of doing something necessary you probably will try to do something that is enjoyable. Let me know if you have any other ideas or advice! –  Celeritas Jan 17 at 10:58
    
Then break it down for each specific case. The question you asked is broad/unspecific so we can only give you techniques. The actual reasons you have to investigate/value yourself. Some reasons will differ from case to case, but you'll find patterns as well ;-) –  Jan Doggen Jan 17 at 11:06

Do you have a GTD list? If it bothers you that much, just toss it on the list and review it next week. If you still think it's important by then but have better things to do, you can keep it on your list.

I have tons of these pointless little things on my list, like "find a lyric plugin for Winamp". Now Winamp's gone extinct and the item has been replaced with "find a better MP3 player". It could be one of those things that time finds the solution to.

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The fact that an activity is interesting is probably an indicator of some value...it's just not a currency that you want to be spending at that particular time. Perhaps, then, the question isn't about abandoning anything but about managing the time you spend on those tasks that have (apparently) inherent interest but aren't contributing to other goals you feel are important.

I say this as a person who has to be very careful not to fall into this trap all the time. I can spend hours messing around with my Vim installation or re-arranging and refining my little personal information wiki or tweaking my blogs...you get the picture.

My solution has been applying, as strictly as possible, calendaring/scheduling and Pomodoro techniques. I intentionally schedule time for that kind of play and I use the Pomodoro technique both while spending that time--so I am as focused as possible--and while I am doing other things (so I feel less temptation to drift off into that fun but lower-value activity).

Depending on the task, I might actually spend my "break" time between work sprints on some of those activities.

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