Some days I hate that I have to coerce myself into productivity. There are so many little tricks I’ve seen to help procrastinators such as Merlin Mann’s (10+2)*5 hack. One trick to avoid distraction I’ve discovered is what I call the “24-hour To-Do Queue”. It’s a MacGuffin, as there is nothing to it but a little psychological manipulation.
I use the trick to help me stay focused on the task at hand when I have a strong desire to goof off instead. I keep a piece of paper next to my keyboard. When some random thing comes to mind that will distract me from what I need to get done, I write that random thing down in the queue. I also write down anything that is useful, but also a distraction at that moment.
So by the end of the day I may have a list like this:
- Check out what Megadeth is up to.
- Research Happy Days “Jump the Shark” episode.
- What’s going on with the Principality of Sealand?
- Learn more about oAuth.
- Research home inventory software.
The next morning, when I’m reviewing my tasks for the day, I pull out the 24-hour To-Do Queue. I can see that “Megadeth”, “Jumping the Shark” and “Sealand” were momentary flirtations but “learning oAuth” and “home inventory software” are worthwhile tasks. I move the worthy items to my real to do list. I discard the useless tasks and start a new queue for the day.
The trick is that by writing down these frivolous tasks, I’m essentially giving myself “permission” to do them, just not right now. Tomorrow I’ll know better and ignore them, but they are written down where I won’t “forget” about them.