I've realized another perfectionist tendency that I've been letting defeat me. The result has been that the big hard (and interesting) tasks are starving for attention because the little tasks are being given center stage of the always elusive and much coveted big block of time. I've learned through my years of focusing on productivity with increasing responsibility that you aren't going to be able to sit and work on a problem for 10 hours straight without lots of other stuff just exploding. The obvious solution to this is to break things up from 10 hour tasks into smaller chunks. That way the chunks can be interleaved throughout your day, and you work in layers[^1].

The problem arrises is that some tasks can't be chunked up, they are hard, consequently they are the ones I enjoy the most. Sitting down and really thinking about a hard problem to come up with a clean solution is one of the things I enjoy most. But perversely I will resist starting the hard tasks.

The pain associated with being interrupted at such a task is real and is brutal. So I resist because I am certain I will be interrupted and I am not completely certain that there isn't something else more important to do. I have tons of snack-tasks[^2] that have piled up into a big-meal sized task. These snacks are very important to me and each can and must be taken care of quickly and efficiently. Often some need to be done before I can decide what big task I should work on. The problem is, to continue the snack metaphor, I have ruined my productive appetite for a big meal with snacks. The piled up snacks are now a big-meal task in their own right. So instead of quickly clearing the inbox from 9:00 - 9:15. I am doing a GTD style weekly review from 9:00 - 11:00. This leaves me only an hour before lunch, when I know I don't have enough time to make a proper start on one of my big tasks.

So I've realized the real problem is not that my queue of bite-sized tasks has reached meal size, but that I have implicitly decided that I need to eat the whole meal. I had properly queued the tasks when I was doing other things so as not to be distracted, but instead of just taking a few things or 15 minutes worth of things off the queue a few times a day. I have decided that I must empty the queue now before continuing or I will (*horror*) have left the task incomplete. This is the same problem as thinking you need to do the whole project in one sitting rather than just the next-action. The allure is these little tasks are usually easy to do, and if I'm interrupted easy to resume later.

So I've decided the solution is to not empty the queue every time I process the inbox, or go to read flagged articles. It's to use natural time limits, 4 minutes before a meeting, 10 minutes before lunch, 30 minutes before I need to take Allison to school, to get as many of them done as possible. Or set an artificial time limit at the outset of my chunk of time, process the queue until the time limit expires and reserve my big blocks of uninterruptible time for the big, fun and ugly tasks.

My hope is that by challenging the idea that I need to completely process every one of these queued up snack-tasks, I will be able to interrupt myself from them to realize I actually have an unbroken 2.5 hours ahead of me and I could stop snacking on almonds and dig in on a big juicy steak.

[^1]: The concept of working in layers is something I learned from Jean Moroney at [Thinking Directions](http://thinkingdirections.com/). I highly recommend her course on Thinking Tactics and am anxiously awaiting her book.

[^2]: By snack-task, I mean things like clearing my inbox, updating financial information, reading some articles I've flagged as interesting, having a quick phone call with a vendor or anything that can be done completely in a short amount of time, say between 2 and 30 minutes.

AuthorKevin McAllister