I’ve been thinking a lot about why it’s easier to give in to interruptions than not. Interruptions are probably the biggest challenge in my life today.
Between working at an annuity startup—where things are almost always in triage mode because our growth has far outstripped our staff—to my side jobs and projects… to being a parent of a still-measured-in-months-old, interruptions and disruptions are common.
Incessant interruptions are great inspiration for giving up, especially giving up on self-initiated projects.
After all, pushing a heavy cart is way easier when it’s already in motion. The first push is always the hardest. Having to repeatedly do the first push is incredibly exhausting. I think interruptions often win because they beget restarting, and constant restarting is tiring.
I want to make restarting easier.
The resume task
Like most things GTD, what I’m about to say is academically obvious. The magic is in the execution. I personally use OmniFocus, but I think the principle here transcends software.
Starting something after being pulled away is hard because you usually don’t remember where you left off. (I said it was obvious.)
So: tell your future self where to start again. Make it easy. Here are some examples from my recent past:
I almost never have time to read a long PDF in one sitting, and unless I’ve got it stored in iBooks, there’s no chance the PDF will be on the same page when I see it again. So I try to fire a simple task into my inbox: “Start reading again at p. 42”.
Recently I was working on a project that required me to watch some instructional videos. If I got interrupted during one of them, I would make a task to “Resume watching video at 15:30 mark”.
Much of my paid work involves plodding through the bowels of very complicated risk management models. It’s easy to lose my place (and mind) in the guts of actuarial software code. Not only do I try to make tasks like “Resume looking into the dynamic lapse formula for product ABC”, I’ll use the notes field in OmniFocus actions to record my thoughts at the moment.
I’m currently helping evaluate over 80 ideas for actuarial mobile apps that were submitted to the Society of Actuaries. The ideas are fairly detailed, and I’m making notes on each one. I don’t have time to go through the whole list in one sitting, so I’m just doing a few at a time. After each session, I’ll make a task at the top of the OmniFocus project to “Resume reviewing at idea 61”, for example.
For me, these are quintessential next actions. If I’ve left a project, the next action is obviously to start it again. Resume tasks prevent interruptions from cauterizing project reentry points, and they take almost no effort to create.
Best of all, a disciplined use of the resume task builds confidence. I know life will never let me boil the ocean in one sitting, but I can at least tell myself which teaspoon to heat next.