A Psychologist’s System

 

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One thing we like to do is to interview people who have successfully used their To-Do systems for years. Who better to interview than an expert in managing human behaviour – a psychologist?

We asked an expert in ‎Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) how she deals with her least favorite tasks, and any tricks she has learnt from her profession.

 

 

This system uses

  • A spiral notebook and a pen

 

Do What You Love

While you can get yourself to do small, unpleasant things that exist in any job, it is also important to enjoy what you do. For the vast majority of your day, you should be doing something that you would almost be doing even if no one paid you.

Sometimes you can change our current jobs to be more as you would like, but at other times you need to take more drastic steps. It is important to enjoy the bulk of your day.

Our psychologist said that it is very easy for her to do the vast majority of her work because she enjoys talking to people, seeing patterns that emerge, and offering advice. She would do this until midnight if she could (and in fact, our interview happened at 8:30pm).

 

Use The Power of Habit

If passion is a great motivator, the next best one is habit.

A successfully ingrained habit – like brushing your teeth – takes no effort at all. Once properly set, it works for us without any conscious input on our part.

For any task that needs to be regularly done, this psychologist recommends setting up a regular time, in your diary or calendar. For her, the worst task is dealing with bookkeeping to get paid for her sessions from the government.

Her solution is to do this for 30 minutes each morning, before anything else. This leaves the rest of her day for more pleasant activities.

Doing habits in the morning is a good idea because if you leave things until the end, they ruin the rest of your day anyway. Having them off your plate lets you enjoy your other activities – to the full, and guilt-free.

Another important point about habits is they allows you to develop faster methods, through practice. For instance, her bookkeeping used to take her several hours a day. Doing it at a regular time allowed a rhythm to emerge, eventually cutting the time it took by two thirds. She became a bookkeeping master.

 

Capturing Tasks on Paper

For all other jobs, she recommends capturing tasks very simply: in her case using a pen and spiral notebook (with spirals on the left hand side).

This she fillS with jobs that must be attended to. Physically crossing off items can give the brain positive endorphins, that help reinforce progress. Similarly, seeing many crossed off items reinforces to yourself the idea that you are a productive person, and can get things done.

 

Prioritizing Jobs

More important than doing “jobs” is doing the right job. The psychologist goes through her book and writes a little 1 by most important items, 2′s by the next most, 3′s by the third most important ones, and so on.

 

The Rule of Two

Perhaps the most surprising advice the psychologist gave was to limit yourself to doing only two things you dislike, per day.

In the past we have heard about systems that suggest five things per day – a “post it note” system uses a small piece of paper, so you cannot write anything more than that.

For her, two is a maximum. Her thoughts are that if you do more than two, you will resent working, seeing your to-do list as an impossible chore. Completing two things per day is a sustainable level that can be maintained over the long run, and – providing they are the most important things – can get more done in the long term, anyway.

Often at least one of those things will be already scheduled as a habit. For the other, she picks something from her list that absolutely must get done on that day – such as a report that needs sending – or else something which has a #1 priority on her list.

 

Pros

  • One of the most “pleasant”, and attractive systems we’ve come across
  • Comes from an expert in how the brain works - everything is backed up by research, and uses positive, self-supporting principles
  • Uses no expensive tools, or any fancy software
  • Enables you to do little, yet have razor-sharp effectiveness
  • Encourages you to do what you love, as the core

 

Cons

  • This may be difficult to maintain before you have made the transition to a job you enjoy. For instance, someone in an office might have difficulty explaining to a boss they should only do two things per day they dislike!
  • Takes a period of effort to get habits to become automatic

 

Variations

  • There is no reason why these basic principles couldn’t be applied to any system you currently enjoy (apps or other software). As a CBT specialist would say, see how your results are, and if they are not to your liking, change your approach.

 

Our Rating

You can’t argue with a pro! Everything makes perfect sense.
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Your Thoughts

Have you tried this system? What are your experiences working with it? Any pros, cons, variations, or tips?


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