Simple, powerful organizing advice

Last week, I came across a helpful article from 2007 on Zen Habits about 27 simple organizing habits. Twenty-seven is a lot of habits, but one of them (a three-parter) really struck me as being essential for an uncluttered life. If you’re looking for straightforward and easy advice to follow, consider adding Leo’s #21 as basic habits to your every day routines:

  1. Write things down
  2. Execute
  3. Tidy up along the way

Write things down

The act of writing things down helps you remember details. Think of the notes you took in college or the shopping list you can “see” in you head. Today more and more people are producing digital notes, but research suggests that’s not the best method as far as recall is concerned.

In 2014, the Association for Psychological Science conducted a study on note-taking and recall. A group of students were told to take notes on a lecture. Half of the subjects used a laptop while the others used pen and paper. While both groups memorized the same number of facts, the pen-and-paper group outperformed their counterparts in tests on the material. Why? It could be because writing is slower.

A recent study by Scientific American suggests that, in a note-taking scenario, we can’t possibly write everything down verbatim. Instead, we must listen closely and record key words or concepts that represent what’s being said in a meaningful way. Conversely, speedy typing lets us “drone out” and record everything, as if simply taking dictation.

Execute

Procrastination is a vile, seductive monster. While beneficial procrastination is possible, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Stop procrastinating and take time to do what must be done and simply do it. I start each day with my three MITs, or Most Important Tasks. When they’re complete, everything else I tackle that day is a bonus.

Tidy up along the way

I recently revealed here on Unclutterer that the tidy life doesn’t come easy for me. As such, I really dislike the idea of an entire Saturday spent cleaning. That’s why I’ve adopted the habit of tidying up along the way. It requires almost no additional effort and is immensely helpful.

Walking upstairs? Grab that book that goes on the upstairs bookshelf. Going outside? Put the recycling on the curb. All of these tiny tasks add almost no time to what you’re already doing, are super simple, and have a huge impact on the state of things in your home and office.

Big thanks to Leo at Zen Habits for inspiring this post. Three simple ideas — write it down, execute, and tidy up — can have a massive improvement on your surroundings and your day. If you make them a part of your routine, you’ll enjoy the results.

Book Reviews: Five new releases on simple living and productivity

Five really terrific books have been published in the past few weeks that might be of interest to our readers:

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
by Chris Guillebeau

Living an uncluttered life isn’t always about stuff. It’s also about clearing clutter from aspects of your life that keep you from doing what you would rather be doing. Chris’ book is perfect for anyone looking to unclutter a bad job or career from your life to do exactly what you should be doing. This isn’t a “dream big” book that leaves you inspired but without steps and tools to achieve what you want. This book is full of every tool you will need to make your job and/or career change happen. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Chris. One of those reasons is because his advice is based on years of research and includes examples from actual people who have taken his advice and found success with it. If you’re unhappy or disgruntled with your work, his book is exactly what you’ll want to read to move productively in a new direction.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
by Felice Cohen

A few years ago, we wrote about Felice because she lived such a full life in such an itty-bitty NYC studio apartment. Since that time, she has sat down and written an entire book exploring her strategies for occupying such a tiny place. You don’t have to live in an extremely small space to benefit from the advice in her book, though. I found her text easy to read — it’s mostly lists that are direct and simple to follow. There are 90 “lessons” in the book to go with the 90 square feet theme. If you know any graduates heading to college or a big city with a tiny space, this book would be perfect for him or her.

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids
by Asha Dornfest

Asha has been writing the ParentHacks website for more than 10 years, and her latest book is a cultivation of all the best advice she’s seen during this time. The book is illustrated and in full color and every page is packed with useful tips to make parenting easier. My favorite thing about this book is how often it transforms objects that on the surface seem to be unitaskers but shows you how they’re really multi-taskers. (16 uses for a baby wipe tub, 13 uses for non-slip shelf liner, 8 uses for a baby bath tub, etc.) If you’re a parent, you will want this book. If you have a friend or family member who is becoming a parent, they will want this book. This book is my new go-to gift for anyone who announces she’s pregnant or becoming a parent in another awesome way. There are so many real-world tips in this book that almost every page contains a piece of advice you can use to make life with kids easier.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker

Today is the release of Joshua’s book and it’s perfect for anyone who is coming to uncluttering with the hope of having a more fulfilling life. His book explores the topic of simple living in a much more philosophical manner than what we usually delve into here on Unclutterer. And this minimalist philosophy speaks to a lot of people, so if that sounds like you, pick up this extremely resourceful and guiding text. The advice is solid and practical. It’s not an organizing book — it’s a live with less stuff book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to minimalism.

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer
by Helene Segura

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Helene’s book and have been eagerly awaiting its release so I could recommend it to you. If you struggle with productivity and time management, THIS is the book for you. The review I emailed to Helene immediately after finishing reading it sums up my opinions about the helpful text: “The Inefficiency Assassin is a concise, straightforward, and comprehensive plan that provides realistically attainable tactics to solve every major productivity problem. It details precisely how to eliminate these issues so you can have the professional and personal life you desire. With Helene Segura’s help, you can say farewell to guilt and exhaustion and to being overworked and overwhelmed.”

Make time to achieve your goals with Google Goals

Technology’s great promise of an easier life is realized with varying degrees of success — sometimes you find the perfect app that saves you time and other times you have a printer you’d like to toss out a window. Last week, Google released a new Calendar feature that focuses on a single aspect of achieving a new target or habit: finding the time to work toward your goal. And I’m glad to report that
Google Goals is quite helpful.

Google Goals works simply. Tell the Calendar app about a goal you’d like to achieve, and Goals looks at your appointments and schedules time for you to work toward it, based on your availability.

Right now, Goals is available on the Google Calendar app for iPhone and Android.

To add a new goal, open the app and tap the “+” in the lower right-hand corner. Three options appear: Event, Reminder, and Goal. Tap Goal and then:

Choose a goal

There are five categories: exercise, build a skill, friends and family, me time, and organize my life. Tap the one that likely fits your goal.

Define an activity

Tapping “organize my life” reveals four options: plan the day, clean, do chores, and a custom option, which can be anything you like.

Choose the frequency

How often do you want to work on this goal? Weekly, twice a week, or something else? Make your selection, and then determine how much time you plan to spend on that task.

Time of day

Lastly, pick your preferred time of day to work on your goal. Again, Google is going to do the specific scheduling for you, so make a general selection like morning, afternoon or evening. Once you’re done, review your choices and confirm the new task.

Google then looks at your calendar and all that you’ve got going on to find the best time for you to work on your goal. I’ve been using it for finding time for my daily walks with great success.

Again, note that Google Goals focuses on one aspect of achieving a goal: finding the time to work on it. The rest is up to you. For help with goal setting, check out our previous posts on realizing your goals.

When procrastination can be a real problem

Almost all of us procrastinate at times. In many cases that might result in some stress and minor inconvenience, but not any major problems. But here’s one situation where I’d suggest you try to avoid procrastinating: getting medical care when needed.

This was brought home to me when a dear friend (who tends to put off seeing her doctors) had some problems that put her in the hospital. If she had waited one more day to seek care, she might well have died. Fortunately, she’s fine now.

And I made my own mistake in this regard, too. When I had some leg pain last year, my doctor said it might be tight muscles (treated with physical therapy) or it might be a hip problem (diagnosed with an X-ray). But I delayed getting the X-ray — and sure enough, it was a hip problem. I’m now scheduled for hip replacement surgery, but I could have avoided months of pain by getting the X-ray sooner, especially when physical therapy didn’t seem to help.

Preventive care, including diagnostic tests, are also important. Janine Adams recently wrote about how she put off having her first colonoscopy for 2 1/2 years. She wrote about why she procrastinated and how good it felt to finally have the test done:

Why was I dragging my feet? Partly because of the horrible things you hear about the prep. … But, in truth, there was also a certain amount of fear that there would be bad news. Irrational, but true. Because of course, if I did have colon cancer, it was better to know than not know. …

Well, it turned out that the prep wasn’t all that bad. Not fun, but not tortuous. And the procedure itself was nothing, because I slept through the whole thing. When it was over the news was good — and immediate. Everything normal. Come back in ten years.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have that behind me. I didn’t realize the psychic energy I was expending avoiding it.

I’ve known people who procrastinate about going to the dentist, too. That might be because they aren’t aware of any problem, but gum disease can be pretty symptom-free until it’s progressed enough to be serious. People might also fear the pain, but my own experience tells me if I have regular cleanings it’s much less of an issue than if I wait too long. Even procedures like root canals sound worse than they feel, at least for me, since they are done with anesthesia. And I’m a wimp about pain.

I know that sometimes there are financial concerns regarding medical care, and I certainly respect any choices you need to make in such a situation. But if there are no financial constraints (and you can find care providers with evening or weekend hours, if need be), please don’t procrastinate on getting the care you need.

Organize goals with the SELF Journal

There are numerous tools on the market to help you organize your goals, and I’ve recently began to use one that might also interest you: The SELF Journal. This little notebook is something I backed on Kickstarter back in 2015. After receiving my journal in December, I used it to successfully plan and implement a new season of my podcast. The experience was so positive, I’ve decided to share it with you.

Are you setting goals effectively?

The problem with goal setting is that many people do it in a way that doesn’t help them to achieve their goals. Many set unrealistic goals (run a marathon next weekend without any training), underestimate completion time, or fail to review progress.

Another big hiccup is not having a plan. Let’s say you set a goal of organizing the garage, top to bottom. Simply saying, “I’m going to organize the garage this weekend,” isn’t enough and probably won’t work. The SELF Journal, aside from being well-made and attractive, features a built-in system for moving toward a goal effectively, day by day.

The SELF Journal method

When my journal arrived last December, I was ready to dive in. I had a project that needed a lot of time and attention, and the journal seemed like a perfect fit for helping me to achieve it. In a nutshell, the book uses these methods:

  1. You create a 13-week roadmap. Many poorly-crafted goals lack a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The SELF Journal helps you to create this timeline and write it down.
  2. A procrastination-busting calendar. You’re encouraged to fill every working time slot with a relevant activity. No, “just checking Twitter real quick” does not count.
  3. Prioritized planning. You’re meant to plan tomorrow’s tasks today, so you’re clear on what’s to be done in the morning.

There are two more aspects that I really like in the journal. The first is tracking and reflection. The journal provides space for you do reflect on your wins for the day and what you’ve learned. The wins emphasize the last aspect of the system — bookending your day with positive psychology — while the opportunity to record lessons learned informs future work.

The book’s morning routine emphasizes the preparation and work, while the evening routine highlights reflection.

I’ve been quite happy with it and I suspect others will also find it beneficial. Its current price is $31.99.

Making the most of commute time

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF), the average travel time to work (one way) in 2011 was 25.5 minutes. Of those who worked outside the home, 8.1 percent had commutes that were 60 minutes or longer. That means the average person spent 4.25 hours commuting each week, and a significant minority spent 10 hours or more.

If you’re one of those people with a sizable commute, how do you make good use of that time? The answer will vary depending on whether you drive, bike, or take public transit, but the following are some suggestions.

If you’re driving: Don’t use your phone

I’ve already written about how dangerous it is to talk on the phone when driving, even if you’re doing it hands-free. And obviously texting is dangerous, too. If you need to check your messages or reply to a call, please find a safe place to pull over before responding.

Use the time for learning

If you’re driving, you can listen to informative radio shows or put interesting podcasts and audio books on your smartphone or other mobile device. Also, a number of universities provide free audio lectures on a wide range of subjects.

You can also save articles from the web to the Pocket app and then use the “listen” function to have them read to you.

You might also use apps or CDs to help you learn a foreign language. I learned some rudimentary but useful French by listening to a few tapes over and over in the car, until the vocabulary stuck. (Yes, tapes — it was a while ago.)

If you’re using public transit, you can obviously expand your possibilities to include magazines, newspapers, physical books, e-books, etc.

Use the time for relaxation

Podcasts, audio books and such don’t have to be educational — they can be just pure fun. Sometimes it’s nice to just get lost in a good novel. Or you might choose to listen to music, either on the radio or on your mobile device. The right music might put you in a good mood to begin the day or might help take the edge off a not-so-wonderful workday on the way home.

If you’re using public transit and have an Internet connection, you could use the time for reading and updating social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Another idea would be to use the commute to practice mindfulness, as Maria Gonzalez explained in the Harvard Business Review:

The idea is that you are continuously aware of three things: your body, what you see, and what you hear. This is what it is to be mindfully present as you drive.

Use the time for work

If it isn’t feasible to leave work behind, and you’re using public transit, you could use your commute time to handle some of your email. You might also update your to-do lists or take some time for planning and strategizing.

Strike up a conversation

If you’re driving, it can sometimes be nice to have a commute partner. Some years ago, I drove to a yoga class that was a half hour from home with someone else from my area, and we both enjoyed getting to know each other better. It even led to a job for me.

And here’s something that might interest those taking public transit. Kathleen Elkins reported in Business Insider on a study done by two behavioral scientists, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, and published in October 2014:

Epley and Schroeder took their experiment to the subway. They randomly assigned three groups of commuters: One was instructed to connect with a stranger, one was asked to remain disconnected, and the control group commuted as they normally would.

While participants predicted their ride would be more enjoyable sitting in solitude, the research team found the exact opposite — those asked to engage in conversation reported a more positive, and no less productive, experience.

How do you use your commute time? Let us know in the comments.

Tech to keep you on-time (and even early)

Yesterday, I wrote about my transition from being chronically late to being perpetually early. This was quite a journey that required some serious reflection, as well as behavior change. There’s a secret I didn’t share with you yesterday that I’ll divulge today, and it’s the little app that’s been a big help: Google Now.

It’s billed as an “intelligent personal assistant,” but really it’s a suite of services that’s closely tied to your Google account. There are free mobile apps for iOS and Android, which I just adore. The following is and explanation of how I use Google Now every day.

The app presents information via what it calls “Cards.” The information you need, like directions, weather, and more, are presented on a series of informative cards. Flip from one to the other to see what’s coming up in your day. Now here’s the cool part: Google presents this information “just when you need it.”

For example, let’s say you have an appointment across town that begins at 12:00. Google Now does so much more than remind you of the pending appointment. It notices where you are, estimates how long you’ll need to get there, and prompts you to leave about five minutes before you need to, based on distance and traffic conditions. It even polls for traffic and picks the quickest route for you.

Here’s my other favorite trick. I can tell Google Now that my daughter has dance class from 12:00 – 3:00 on Saturdays. Not only does it prompt me to leave in time to arrive before noon, it also lets me know when class is about to end, so I can arrive in plenty of time to pick her up.

There are a slew of cards available, which can help you find fun things to do, monitor sports scores, get the latest news, and so much more. For me, it’s all about the scheduling. And, if you use Google Calendar, integration is seamless.

Note that Google Now is most effective when you have a Google account and actively use its mail and calendaring services. That stuff is free, which is another bonus.

I don’t typically gush over software but Google Now is something I use every single day. It helps me do what needs to be done in an elegant, effective, an unobtrusive manner. I recommend checking it out.

Being early

As the person who was voted by his classmates “most likely to have a tardy slip” in eighth grade, I’ve had a lot to overcome when it comes to punctuality.

If someone were to ask me about why I was often late, my most common answer would have been some variation of “I ran out of time.” Does this sound familiar? Additionally, I thought that arriving earlier than I needed was a waste of time. Why sit in the parking lot and do nothing for 15 minutes? Also, there’s a rush that can accompany sprinting out of the door at the last second.

I believe that I was into that rush for a while, at least subconsciously. Waiting until the last possible second generated an adrenaline release that accompanied the sudden, pressing flurry of activity, and that was something I enjoyed. Once I recognized that’s what was going on, it was time to address it.

And, surprisingly, all I did was create a simple pro and con list regarding my persistent tardiness. On the “pro” side (if you can call it that) was the thrill of adrenaline and the other reasons I already mentioned. The con side was much longer, and much more convincing: chronic stress, disappointing others, disrespecting others’ time, shoddy work, etc. With that in mind, I decided to be chronically early.

Ultimately, I discovered that being early can actually save you time. Here’s how:

  1. You have time to relax and prepare before an event. Arriving 15 minutes early isn’t a waste of 15 minutes, it’s a gain. Look over your papers. Review what you’re going to do or say in your head. Or, just sip your coffee or tea and breathe.
  2. Good things pop up. I’ve been in situations where someone has said to me, “Oh, since you’re early do you want to help me with something?” I was able to provide a little unexpected something extra to someone else, which they won’t forget.
  3. Bust out some email replies. When I pick up my daughter from ballet classes, I like to be a good 15 minutes early. The waiting room is quiet and cozy with lots of comfortable furniture — perfect for replying to a few email messages. Again, that’s 15 minutes gained, not wasted.

Finally, and this is my favorite reason to be early: it gives me time to connect with others. “Why are we so early?” my kids often ask. The answer is so we can talk. Or laugh. Or discuss school or friends. Even 10 quiet minutes in the car or a waiting room can be so nice.

Some organization is required to join the perpetually early. Commit to working on projects well before they’re due. Leave the house earlier than you think you need to, and ensure that bags are packed and ready to go the night before they’re needed. You’ll be sipping tea and chilling out while everyone else is speeding along, stressed to the gills in an attempt to show up on time. Welcome to the early club.

Creating a schedule to reflect your priorities

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to get a better handle on my time. I created this resolution because I noticed in the last three or four months of 2015 that the vast majority of my days were spent catching up or just going with the flow instead of actively participating and pursuing what matters most to me. It’s not that I was neglecting my priorities, rather that I was being passive about them.

To help work toward my resolution, I bypassed traditional goal-setting and went straight for creating a list of to-do items. For my first to-do item, I wanted to track exactly how I was spending my time — from the moment I woke up in the morning until I went to bed each night. I grabbed a stopwatch and a notebook and recorded what I did each time I changed activities. Some things I left a little vague, such as “got ready for the day,” since brushing teeth and getting dressed aren’t things I’m going to remove from my daily routine. But for the most part, I kept detailed notes of how I spent my time like, “checked Facebook on phone” and “read 2 pgs. of a book while standing at bus stop waiting for son.” After a week of recording data, I felt that I had a decent idea of how I was spending my time (and I was bored out of my mind with writing down what I was doing). If this is your first time recording data about how to spend your time, you may wish to log your activities for two weeks because often the act of logging what you’re doing influences how you spend your time. Once the novelty of tracking what you’re doing wears off, you’ll get a better idea of how you’re really operating.

My second to-do item was to sort through the logs and label the activities. I chose three colors of highlighters and swiped a color over each activity. Yellow were for activities fully in line with my priorities and my time commitment to those activities or actions taking care of my responsibilities (like depositing money into my retirement fund — it’s not a task I particularly enjoy, but it’s one that takes care of a responsibility that is in line with my priorities). Pink highlights were for activities not in line with my priorities or actions that were in line with my priorities but taking up more of my time than I wanted (like staying in touch with my family and friends is a priority and reading and posting to Facebook is one of the many ways I fulfill that priority, but I don’t need to check in with Facebook four times a day when two times is sufficient). Green highlights were for things in line with my priorities that I wanted to spend more time on than I was (one example that fell into this category was that I was lifting weights three times a week but I wanted to start training for a triathlon, so I needed to increase my numbers and types of workouts to better reflect this priority).

My last to-do item was to create and begin to follow a new schedule that more accurately represents my priorities. I chose to make a weekly calendar, broken into 30-minute increments, to help me with this process. In addition to chores, wake up and bed times, and most of my life’s set activities, I’ve mapped out blocks of time that are more open ended but still have direction. For example, after cleanup from dinner but before it’s time to start getting the kids ready for bed, there is usually an hour of “free” time. Each night I’ve made notes on the calendar for ideas of things to do during this hour that reflect my priorities. Instead of plopping myself down in front of the television (which is not a priority for me on weeknights), I now have a list of things I can do that I know bring me much more happiness than squandering that time (like working on a puzzle with my kids or having a living room dance part with them or playing flashlight tag in the yard if the weather is cooperating or Skyping with my parents).

Since creating the new schedule, I’ve been much happier and feel more like I’m actively participating in my life. I’m not rigid with the schedule — if something falls through the cracks or I come down with a migraine (like I did on Saturday), I’m not freaking out about abandoning the schedule for a bit. It’s there more as a guide than a law, and this attitude is working well for me.

How do you ensure that your time is focused on what matters most to you? Do you think a similar schedule would help you to feel happier and more comfortable with how you’re spending your time? A few changes might be all it takes to get your life more in line with your priorities.

Organizing your thoughts

As you may have guessed, the first step for organizing your thoughts is writing them down. (Especially thoughts related to things you need to do.) It’s not hyperbole to say that writing things down can change your life. It helps clear your mind for important work, offers a record of the past, and can foster a sense of achievement. But even beyond that, having things written down, even when the resulting list is huge, can help you feel like you’re on top of things. But simply making a list isn’t all you need.

For optimal thought organization, consider taking these additional steps. First, and this is the most critical piece in the process, perform a good core dump. Get everything — and I mean everything — out of your mind. When everything is out of your mind, it can stop pestering you about what needs to be done. Your mind is more of a problem solver than a filing cabinet.

Next, find the tool that’s going to work for you for capturing those tasks/ideas and working from them. Notebook? (A Moleskine, a Little List, an Emergent Task Planner) An app? (Evernote, ToDoist, Wunderlist) Desktop software? (OmniFocus, Fantastical, Toodledo) It really doesn’t matter. Just identify the tool that is best for you (a.k.a. that you will actually use over the longterm). One that helps you to prioritize your work and integrates (even manually) with your calendar are also good ideas.

Finally, identify the best time of the day to do the work or tasks you need to accomplish so they stop weighing on you. For years, I was the type who liked to work at night. When the kids were in bed, I could retreat to my home office and work for a few hours. Today, that’s not the case. I find that I like being with my family in the evening and then prepping for the next day in other ways, like making sure backpacks are full, my outfit is ready for the next day, lunches are made, and so on. Instead, I’ve begun doing thoughtful work in the morning, before the rest of the house wakes up and starts their day. The point is: notice what works for you and stick with it.

If you’re looking for ideas for ways to do your core dump, my favorite way is to brainstorm with a mind map. It’s a great way to have a powerful brainstorming session without resulting in a mess that must be sorted before you can get on with the rest of your work.

Now, take the time to find the time and tools that are most amenable for you and enjoy productive thought organization.

Understanding procrastination

Do you tend to procrastinate? I certainly do, at times. But I just read a couple articles about procrastination (thanks to Julie Bestry and Debra Baida, who shared them on Twitter), which provided some valuable insights into how procrastination works and what this means for time management.

Why we procrastinate: time inconsistency

On his personal website, James Clear wrote about time inconsistency: “the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.”

As Clear went on to explain:

When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to lose weight or write a book or learn a language — you are actually making plans for your future self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future and when you think about the future it is easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits.

When the time comes to make a decision, however, you are no longer making a choice for your future self. Now you are in the moment and your brain is thinking about the present self. And researchers have discovered that the present self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.

In this article and another one, Clear provides useful strategies for fighting the effects of time inconsistency and overcoming procrastination. Personally, I realized that when I’ve been most successful in fighting procrastination, I’ve actually said to myself, “Future Me is going to be so glad I did this!” And that’s one of the strategies: vividly visualizing the benefits your future self will enjoy.

One tiny example: I ran errands on a lovely Monday, even when I was feeling lazy and could have put them off for a day, because I knew Future Me would be very glad to not have to leave the house in the forecasted downpour the following Tuesday.

Why procrastination can sometimes be useful

Adam Grant’s recent article in The New York Times was provocatively titled “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate.” Grant explained that he tends toward pre-crastination: “the urge to start a task immediately and finish it as soon as possible.”

But what he came to realize is that for creative tasks (preparing a speech, writing a term paper, etc.) a certain amount of procrastination can be useful. Beginning the project but not rushing to complete it gave him a better result than finishing as quickly as he could. As he explained:

Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. … When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.

But even for creative efforts, there can be too much procrastination. Those who wait until the last minute to begin a project have to “rush to implement the easiest idea instead of working out a novel one.”

So for creative tasks, setting a schedule that allows for some procrastination time may be wise. I know I can write a blog post quickly, but my writing often benefits from taking extra time to ponder the subject. You may well have similar projects that could use that extra time, too.

Eat that frog later?

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” — Mark Twain

The “frog” in the Mark Twain quote above has been adopted by the business community and productivity advocates to represent the one task or activity you’re least looking forward to completing over the course of your day. The idea being that once the unappealing task is done, the rest of the day is a breeze in comparison.

It’s an interesting idea for sure. But let’s consider a minor alteration: is there a benefit to eating the frog second, or even third?

In May 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled, “The Power of Small Wins.” In it, author Teresa Amabile describes something called The Progress Principle:

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

Amabile and her colleagues conducted a study in which they asked people to record details of a “best day” and “worst day” at work, in terms of motivation. The results were interesting. The days labeled as a “best day” were those during which progress was made on a project:

“If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she made some progress. If the person drags out of the office disengaged and joyless, a setback is most likely to blame.”

I’ve noticed this tendency in myself. For that reason, I like to set myself up for early wins with one or two quickie successes early in the morning.

For example, if know I have to sit down at the computer and write a proposal, I might clear a few emails from my inbox first, tackle another small to-do item (like returning an object to a coworker), re-read an article related to my proposal, and then begin writing.

I find that if I clear a few easy items off of my “to-do” list, I experience some of the benefits described in the Progress Principle above, and I can use that momentum to tackle the big project of the day — the frog. A couple little successes can go a long way.