If you want to get something accomplished, don’t just focus on your goals. Start with your inner nag: that voice that regularly reminds you about the follow up you need to write or the meeting you need to schedule.
The inner nag is also known as the Zeigarnik effect, which was studied in the 1920’s by Russian psychology student Bluma Zeigarnik and her mentor, Kurt Lewin. The research demonstrated that uncomplicated tasks often pop up in our mind until the tasks are completed.
This is why time management coach David Allen teaches his clients to deal with immediate piles first. If the task can get finished in a matter of minutes, do it and get it off your desk; otherwise Allen teaches his clients to use a daily reminder system consisting of folders for each day of the month and for each month of the year. Small tasks are assigned to a folder corresponding to when the task will get addressed, which not only keeps a desk or inbox clean, it also quiets the inner nag.
In addition, Allen eliminates inner nagging and procrastination by creating to-do lists that focus on the next implementable action. For example, signing up for a continuing education course may require several implementable steps. You have to research which course you want to take, coordinate your schedule, and possibly make travel arrangements, which is why you put it off.
Allen teaches his clients to write to-do lists based on the next realistic action, and in the case of continuing education that may be to research course offerings. The next action after that may be to research plane fares. Instead of putting it off, you start getting the task accomplished.
If you want to eliminate piles and disorganization, and if you want to accomplish more in the process, please consider the aforementioned tips for bringing peace to your inner nag.