Productivity, To-Do Lists, & The Story Of A Mountain Climber

Jeff Berman
February 9, 2011

I think most solos and small business owners feel the same pain.  You've got more things to do than time to do them.  Sometimes it's almost paralyzing.  Projects and to-do lists grow to the point that work either becomes inefficient, sloppy, or worse yet important projects or tasks get ignored completely.

It doesn't have to be this way though.  By learning how to break projects into smaller and smaller pieces you will be able to bite off small chunks at a time.  Your productivity and motivation will increase and you'll find work loads that used to seem insurmountable can be handled with less anxiety.

Take the story of Joe Simpson, a mountain climber with a severely broken leg that made it back down from a mountain top by setting small goals along the way:

Touching The Void

Touching the Void is a movie about the survival of two young mountain climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.  IMDB offers us the following synopsis:

In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevice and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevice.

Break It Down Into Small Achievable Goals

Joe was able to survive this ordeal because he set small achievable goals along the way rather than focusing on the massive effort that was in front of him.  By setting smaller goals, such as reaching a rock in the distance in a set time period, he was able to stay motivated and moving.  Had he only focused on reaching camp as the end goal, the task would have become overwhelming and he would eventually have lost all motivation and quit.  For him this would have meant death on the mountain.

Tactics To Stay Productive

So how should we approach the daily to-do lists we all face?  How can we remain productive and motivated?

The book Rework discusses the following tactic:

Long lists are guilt trips.  The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it.

There's a better way.  Break that long list down into a bunch of smaller lists.  For example, break a single list of a hundred items into ten lists of ten items.  that means when you finish an item on a list, you've completed 10 percent of that list, instead of 1 percent.

Even though the work load is the same, your perception of overall progress changes.  When you feel you are making headway you will remain motivated and encouraged.  That's a lot better than feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and demoralized.

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman, is co-founder of AttorneySync. "Properly marketing a law firm online is about producing relevant content that helps a prospective client understand your expertise and how you are able to help them. Finally, it’s about getting that content found by the people you are trying to help."
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