Recently I’ve been paying kudos to the method of doing work in parts, and taking the time to “let it sit” in between efforts.
“Letting it sit” means giving ideas time to form and grow, and making a concerted effort to add space around larger tasks. Under this method, tasks are not completed in one sitting, which completely drains you of energy and results in a lower quality deliverable. It’s the theory that when you think about an idea and then revisit it later on, new elements would have formed, allowing your updated version to be an improvement on what it would have been if you’d completed the job in one sitting.
One of the podcasts I listen to is The Three Month Vacation by Sean D’Souza from Psychotactics and he did an episode recently on this exact topic in regards to writing. Listening to this podcast recently has made me more mindful of the practice.
In his podcast, Sean recommends splitting your writing into tasks and allocating time for these tasks across multiple days until you complete the project. For example, on day one you can start by writing down ideas for your piece, you can start structuring the ideas on day two, write a draft on day three and then finalise the writing piece it on day four.
Sean is also a big advocate of setting a timer and not spending longer than the time allocated on a task. He talks about how when we break up our activities in this way, not only can we allow more thoughts and input towards a better outcome, but we are also less inclined to spend all of our energy on one task and rather can spread out efforts and energy across multiple days.
Since listening to this podcast, I have paid more attention to my process and outputs and on the whole I have found that spreading a large task out over multiple defined sittings has resulted in a higher quality of work, higher value thought and a better overall outcome. Definitely some big wins for this method. I have been putting this process into place not just for regular, recurring tasks (like blog articles) but also some of the one off, more strategic tasks that in the past I tend to rush through to tick off the list.
The Danger to Watch Out For
There is one danger of this method though that is worth mentioning. Letting my work simmer for a while can be only a hop, skip and a jump away from procrastination and recently I have to admit that I probably let my task sit for a little too long.
I was putting together some pricing and sponsorship information, which granted isn’t one of my favourite jobs. I spent some time reviewing the previous structure and deciding what changes I’d make for the new year ahead. Then I did all the calculations, checked it all made sense and saved it.
Normally at this point, I would have kept going on to update the associated documents and finalise them for distribution. But due to a few, mostly circumstantial factors, I didn’t keep going at that time and instead it was in fact many days later when I went back to the spreadsheets to do a review and finish the documentation.
What I found was that in the space of this time, the concepts and pricing I had come up with had been turning over in my head. Sometimes this was consciously in a “I really need to get back to that task” kind of (guilt trip) way, but it had obviously also been sitting in my subconscious and an unrelated work conversation resulted me coming up with a new idea that I could incorporate into my sponsorship proposal to add value.
I was able to then go back and look at the solution I had previously defined, add in the new option I had come up with and go on to finalise the documentation. The final result is a much better solution for all parties involved.
The mistake I made in this process though was not allocating a set time to come back and complete this piece of work and I think that is the challenge with ad-hoc tasks which are split into multiple sessions. Had I made the choice to allocate a time to complete the task when I finished the first session, I likely would have reached a similar outcome, but had a more succinct timeframe and removed the guilt around completing this project.
This issue won’t occur though when you able to setup a framework to do the same regular tasks on each day of the week or on some other regular basis. The difficultly is more relevant to ad-hoc tasks that can have a somewhat flexible output timeframe.
It was a good way for me to see both the benefits and risks of doing a split method to this type of project. My closing tip is to not just split the task into multiple sessions to add value and give it time and space to simmer, but also to set a timeframe for multiple deliverables along the way.
In today’s world when we are living to the clock and rushing through the tasks on our plate, slowing down the process of delivering a project is the best way to add some deliberate time and thought to the projects. If I’m going to add extra value to the work I’m delivering, this process will definitely be the way I identify it!