Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dangling Tasks

I was one of those guys back in school who would do an assignment right when it was assigned. If there was still time in class, all the better. I really didn't like having work pile up when I didn't know exactly how I was going to get it done and I really hate having a deadline looming overhead. Once a task is started, it is easier to finish (apparently Newton's first law of motion applies) so I would start as early as possible and in many cases that would be sufficient and the project would get done soon after. That hasn't changed. When I get a new project, I like to get started quickly and let inertia keep it going. Doing the next thing is always easier than doing the first thing and it is pretty easy to build up a big head of steam when I'm doing things like writing an app or out on a photo shoot.
Conversely, I really don't like those little tasks that need to be done, and will take some preparation, but are not part of a larger effort. I call these dangling tasks. A mail-in rebates is a great example of a dangling task. There is usually a deadline for it and I need to do some work (chopping off UPC codes, finding and envelope and the right postage, actually mailing it) and it never really fits in to a project large enough to feel any satisfaction about getting it done. Similarly, returning products bought online, renewing prescriptions and getting an oil change are examples of dangling tasks.
While I love task lists for big projects (“Ooh! Look at all the fun things I get to do!”), the most annoying thing, for me, is needing to create a to-do list full of dangling tasks. Each item has its own friction that needs to be overcome to get it going and starting any dangling item has no impact on any other one. Emptying that list rarely happens because invariably a few of the items never overcome the inertia of me not giving a shit.

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