Intermittent "frog" task difficulty?


#1

Hi folks!

The largest issue in my system now is that some tasks end up sitting forever. I’ve done some hard thinking, and they all are one-off, or randomly-repeating but infrequent, tasks without clear deadlines that aren’t really in projects.

For instance, I got a check mailed to me for a invoice I sent a while ago. (How silly to put off getting money! It takes me maybe five minutes to deposit it!) I deposited it earlier this week, but it sat for maybe three weeks. It had no real deadline, wasn’t part of a project, and it happens pretty infrequently. When I have tasks that fall into all of these, it’s so easy for me to put them off for an embarrassingly long time.

This is kinda like “Frog” tasks, except they’re also not of particularly high importance, I don’t think.

Any thoughts? I’m certainly open to working on this outside of Beeminder, but also open to doing sometime inside of Beeminder.


Most elegant way to create one-off must-do event with penalty?
#2

My thoughts so far:

  1. This is related to backlogminding, which we have some scratch notes about, including ideas from @shepheb, @byorgey, @dsernst, Mark Forster, Mark Wilson, Sasha Chua, John Langford, @chipmanaged, …
  2. Commits.to could be a partial solution, for the subset of frogs that you tell someone else you’ll do…

#3

Ah. I had never thought of it like that before. I do a lot of backlog minding, actually, with a few helper scripts for gmail and pocket.


#4

I definitely have this problem, hence my pondering and interest in the backlog minding question. I need some way to make the odious tasks stop sitting forever.

The truly horrifying example for me is one task that’s been on my plate for literally 3 years. It will take maybe four hours over a couple of days. It costs nothing to put off, except that if it isn’t squared away before it’s too late, I will lose six figures. That deadline is Poisson, not fixed, and it could be days or decades. When I really put that into focus, I am terrified and kind of shocked at my lack of discipline, but not motivated. (God I hope outing it here helps me get it done.)


#5

Braden, I know exactly what you mean. It isn’t the same scale, but I
had a check for over a thousand dollars sit on my desk for over a
month. Eek!


#6

Yeah, I’m relating so hard. Another embarrassing example is something that bleeds money at like $100/mo and each month I somehow decide that I’m willing to incur the $100 cost to put off dealing with it, which is not necessarily irrational for any particular month but then that happens for years on end.

One more idea for beeminding these things:


#7

So, care to make a commitment? :grinning: How can we help you make sure it gets done? In terms of commitment devices this sounds like it needs a bigger gun than Beeminder.


#8

Does anyone have any names for this sort of task? Does anyone else see any more qualifiers outside of “one-off, or randomly-repeating but infrequent, tasks without clear deadlines that aren’t really in projects”?


#9

I’m pretty enamored with calling them frogs now!


#10

…I had a check for $6k sit on my desk for… two months. To be fair, it had to be deposited by mail, to an address that I could only find by calling someone, so it was a series of odious tasks with no clear deadline. On the other hand, it was 6 thousand dollars, so you’d have THOUGHT I’d have gotten around to it.

Honestly, the only thing that’s worked for me is making them annoying – in the check’s case, I stuck it right in the front of my desk, with the envelope and stamp and phone number to call, where it kept getting in my way (and was exactly where I normally put my food when I’m eating). After a couple weeks of this, the sheer irritation caused me to just call the damn number. I’ve also had luck in making multi-page to-do lists, and crossing things off as they get done. Eventually there’s just a couple of irritating frogs left, keeping the page from being Entirely Done, and at that point I get properly motivated to do them so I can check off the page.


#11

Adding to others’ ideas:

If you stop, set a timer for ten minutes, and make yourself think about doing the task, can you:

  • Get even one small part of the task done?
  • Clear up any of the ambiguities or worries around the task that make your brain go “ugh, no” when you think about it?

If you’d like help, maybe you could pay someone for assistance with the least appealing parts of the task?

I do this kind of work sometimes; recently, I’ve been helping a wealthy couple set up a trust, something they’d put off for many years because it had the same awkward Poisson deadline as your task.

If you’d like, I could try to help you get through the task and get it off your mind with some combination of direct help and systematic bothering: email aaronlgertler@gmail.com if you’re interested. (Daniel, let me know if this is violating any anti-advertising rules Beeminder has – I don’t want to commit a forum faux pas.)


#12

A few months ago I went through my physical inbox for the first time in over six months and found some long overdue receipts I hadn’t expensed. Oops.

I started Beeminding “physical inbox zero” twice a month to make sure that never happens again.

To extend that experience into a suggestion: you could have a “frog bucket” for things like this. Whenever a check comes in, throw it in your frog bucket. Need to make a phone call you don’t want to deal with? Write the task on a piece of paper and toss it into the bucket. Etc.

Then just beemind clearing the bucket / working on the bucket for n minutes / completely taking care of 1 item from the bucket / etc at a certain frequency. When you’re done, you can log the data point and tear up the paper for added effect. :slight_smile:

p.s. For what it’s worth, the “frog” term came from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. You could always follow his recommended method of starting your day with one of the frogs.


#13

For small tasks like depositing a check, I found this incredibly successful: https://blog.beeminder.com/mustdo/ (could use it for larger tasks, by splitting them done and scheduling x hours a day, etc. but this might not be the best fit for things of that size)

I used a 6/week slope to give myself a bit of slack.

One of the biggest reasons this works for me is that once you have picked the next mustdo task, you cannot change it. For tasks that I really didn’t want to do, this would sometimes result in me burning through my buffer for a few days, but eventually I’d be in the red, and the task would get done.

One task a day doesn’t sound much, but it really helped me get through those actually quite small tasks that my brain is disgusted with for some reason. It felt good to put one of those in my mustdo goal, because I could relax, safe in the knowledge that “It’s on the mustdo goal now, so it will get done.”

I’m doing something a little different now but based on the same ideas (have only been going for a month, so don’t want to pronounce it a success quite yet), but would recommend the mustdo goal if you haven’t tried it.


#14

Ping @shepheb , you haven’t replied to my question. Outing your example probably won’t help you get it done, but making a commitment with some public accountability might!


#15

Some folks on Metafilter are discussing this. I found the discussion useful. https://ask.metafilter.com/326524/Overcoming-Anxiety-for-Terrible-Tasks