by Stingray

Ever had one of those times when you needed to get something done and you just couldn't focus enough to actually get on and do it?

Yes, of course you have. Everybody does, at some point or other.

The worst thing is that the more you put off doing it, the worse you feel about doing it...which now makes it even harder to do it. Oh dear, what a mess.


In a nutshell, you're in a negative feedback loop.

You feel bad because you're not doing the thing you think you want to do...but you can't do it because you feel so bad/mad at yourself for not doing it. And so you practice some avoidance behavior to keep your mind from focusing on the pain of not having done it, but that makes you feel even worse because you know you're still not doing it...and round we go around the loop again.

I've gone through this myself on a number of occasions and I've seen others go through this too many times.

And it also happens quite a lot with finances too. i.e. you spend more on things you don't need because you feel bad that you've spent so much already on things you don't need (perhaps with mounting debt), and so you spend more on things you don't need to avoid that pain, which makes you feel even worse that you've spent so much...etc....

You need to find a way to start focusing on the positive outcomes, not the negative ones, and turn that feedback loop into a positive one instead of a negative one.

Here's how to break free

So let's cut to the chase and get you feeling better immediately about this.

Get yourself a timer of some kind. A kitchen timer is fine, it doesn't matter. But it must catch your attention when it goes off - either an audio alarm, or visual alarms are usually better.

Now make a list of everything you feel you absolutely must do today. Leave everything else for tomorrow.

Let's say you have 5 tasks (or 5 things you must study today).

Here is what you do.

Set the timer for 5 minutes and promise yourself that you are going to work on task 1 for 5 minutes only...and you are going to keep that promise to yourself...this is not a trick to get you to do some extra work beyond 5 minutes...this is about breaking out of that negative feedback loop.

So now, work on task 1 for 5 minutes.

When the alarm goes off, stop work immediately. Don't do any tidying up of anything unfinished. You must stop immediately you hear the alarm and put that work to one side immediately.

The unexpected twist

Now here's the interesting twist.

You now start work immediately on task 2 on your list...for only five minutes again. Reset your timer immediately to do this. Don't even give yourself time to think, just reset the timer immediately and start it off for task 2.

After 5 minutes on task 2 is complete, take a 5 minute break.

But again set your timer immediately for this. Five minutes and no more - and don't even think about your something else completely. And also, during that time, just congratulate yourself for just how much better you feel for having focused for even that short period of time.

When the five minute break is up (your timer should have sounded), start work immediatelyon task 1 again for 10 minutes (5 minutes more than last time).

When that time is up, start work on task 2 for 10 minutes.

Now here is another twist, when task 2's time is up, work on task 3 for 5 minutes only.

After that, take your 5 minute break again.

So here is a summary of where we are so far, if you are tracking your progress (which I recommend you do).

Task 15m 10m 15m
Task 25m 10m 15m
Task 35m 10m
Task 4: 5m
Task 5: (introduce this on the next loop around)

On the next loop around, you are going to do Task 1 & Task 2 for 15 minutes, Task 3 for 10 minutes, and then you are going to introduce Task 4 to the system for 5 minutes.

Every hour to an hour-and-a-half, give yourself a timed 20-30 minute break instead of a 5 minute break. I usually do this only at the end of a loop

Keep increasing the length of the timed bursts in the manner described until either the item is complete, or you reach a maximum length of 25 minutes. Don't go beyond 25 minutes per task...just keep re-entering it into the system at a length of 25 minutes.

This timed bursts approach is highly effective at getting you going again when you are feeling overwhelmed and it can rebuild your confidence extremely quickly.

For more information about it (and variations of it), I can recommend a time management book called Get Everything Done And Still Have Time To Play by Mark Forster.

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