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Done: Reduce Task Friction to Get to Task Completion Print E-mail
Leo Babauta   
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
“If you believe in what you are doing, then let nothing hold you up in your work. Much of the best work of the world has been done against seeming impossibilities. The thing is to get the work done.” - Dale Carnegie

“Done” is a beautiful word.

It means you’ve achieved something, no matter how miniscule, a victory in a world filled with defeats. It is a tiny leap of joy in your heart, not only a step towards something wonderful but actually something wonderful itself.

Done means you’ve won, in a battle against procrastination and distraction and endless boring meetings and the constant requests of others, in the battle against a world conspiring to stop Done from ever happening.

Let’s make that battle easier. Let’s minimize the friction, all the forces against you, and make Done something easy.

Reduce the friction. Grease the slope towards done. Then give yourself a small nudge, and you’re off.


The Friction
What are the things that stop you from getting to done, from even starting on work sometimes? Let’s list a few of bigger culprits:

  • Being overwhelmed by having too much to do.
  • Too many distractions, such as reading on the web.
  • Procrastinating – dreading a task.
  • Not wanting to do a task because it’s boring or hard.
  • Being intimidated by a large project.
  • Tools are distracting or tough to use.
  • Fiddling with tools instead of doing.
  • Other people, making requests, calling, IMing, emailing.
  • Meetings.


Getting to Done
Given the above list of friction, how can we reduce the friction to get to done? I can’t give a solution to every single problem that every single reader faces, except in a general way:

Focus on every single friction, and find a way to reduce or eliminate it.

The more you can do this, the less friction you’ll have. And the easier it’ll be to get done.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Eliminate meetings. As much as possible. They’re toxic. Focus on actual work.
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off email notifications, Twitter, the Internet in general. Turn off phones except certain hours. Only check email at predesignated times. Clear clutter. Don’t dawdle on this, though.
  • Pick simple tools. Not complicated ones, not ones that have distractions. Best tool for writing? A text editor such as TextEdit or Notepad.
  • Make a task really small. Small is not overwhelming or intimidating. It’s easy. You can get to done faster.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Having too many things is overwhelming. What can you do right now that matters?
  • Make a project smaller. Reduce the scope. Have it doable in a few days or a week. Work on the other parts when the first part is done.
  • Set office hours. Ask people not to interrupt you except at certain times of the day.
  • Push back smaller tasks. The other things you need to do that interrupt you. Put them in a text file, and do them an hour before you finish working, so they don’t get in the way.
  • Don’t work on boring stuff. Find stuff that excites you. If you can’t, consider changing jobs.


The Art of the Small
As you might have noticed above, small is better when it comes to getting to completion. It’s easier, which is less friction. It’s less intimidating.

But more than that, small tasks and projects are victories. You can quickly get to completion and feel great about it. And that compels you to keep going.

Recently, for example, I launched my new minimalism blog, mnmlist.com. It took three days. One day to buy the domain, set up Wordpress, and find a theme to start from. Another day to tweak the theme to what I wanted and write a few posts. A third day to write more posts and announce it on Twitter and here on Zen Habits.

Three days, and I was at Done. And getting it public was a big motivator, making it exciting and making me want to work quickly and get to completion.

It doesn’t work this way with large projects. Writing a book, for example, often takes at least six months or even more than a year. Which makes it incredibly difficult, so many writers fail. Lots of large projects work this way — they’re hard to finish, hard to motivate yourself, hard to stay excited about.

A couple other examples: I’m writing a new book, called Focus, by writing it in small chunks (I call them beta versions) and making it public. Each version is a small project, but they can all be done quickly. Also, I released the theme of mnmlist.com by tweaking the theme I was using and making it ready for release, in just one day (see below for more info). Quickly got to done, and released it to the public. It was satisfying.

Keeping tasks and projects small means they have less friction, and it’s easier to stay motivated. Keep things simple. Narrow your focus. Do less, have less features, offer less services. Small is better, because you’ll get to completion.


Bloggers: I’ve released a Wordpress theme based on my new minimalism blog, mnmlist.com … check it out here: mnmlist theme. It’s free, uncopyrighted, and minimalist, for those who just want to blog without distractions, without anything taking away from their content.

Leo Babauta is the owner of one of the Top 100 Blogs on the internet - Zen Habits. He's also the author of a new best-selling book, “The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials … in Work and in Life“. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Please Help - Would you like to get a free copy of my next ebook (The Guide to Minimalism), a phone call with me, or some blog consulting from me? Get it cheap by helping out a good cause. See: Do a Good Deed, Win Some Help from Leo.

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