Procrastination is typically defined as the act of delaying or postponing something. This leaves us unproductive, due to something called the Zeigarnik Effect.
The Zeigarnik Effect
Technically, this is the:
“Tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete. The automatic system signals the conscious mind, which may be focused on new goals, that a previous activity was left incomplete. It seems to be human nature to finish what we start and, if it is not finished, we experience dissonance.” (Zeigarnik Effect Wiki)
When you start a task but you’re unable to finish it, you tend to remember it and keep thinking about it. This distracts you even when you try to move onto something else.
Constantly thinking about unfinished tasks tends to cause people stress, making them unable to fully focus on a new task. This hinders their ability to work efficiently.
However, there is a strategy to keep you moving forward!
So how can a procrastinator keep working without stopping and getting distracted in the middle?
The 139 Productivity System
The 139 system is an organization system focused on tackling the most important item on your to-do list each day.
Then, you organize your tasks into four levels, based on importance and priority level.
- 1 very important task
- 3 somewhat important tasks
- 9 less important tasks
- the rest of your tasks
After you’ve sorted your list, start with level 1. Do not move on until this task is finished – this ensures that no matter what, you finish at least the most important task on your to-do list for that day.
When you’ve finished and cleared out level 1, select the most important task from level 2, and get to work on it. Work your way through level 2 for before moving on to level 3.
Continue this process until all of your work is done, or, until you’re ready to call it a day.
Once you’ve finished your first task, you’ll find that it’s easier than you think to keep going and chug through all your work.
Why does this work?
You’re probably wondering :
“OK, how is this different from a regular to-do list? Is this really any more effective?”
The short answer to this question is yes.
By splitting up your workload into different levels based on priority and forcing yourself to finish each task before moving on, you’re not only using your time more efficiently, you’re maximizing your cognitive capacity.
What’s more, the positive feedback cycle that it initiated when you complete a task keeps you motivated to push forward and accomplish more. It’s the same psychology behind why people spend so much time completing objectives in video games.
Once they’ve started completing a quest or made progress in a level, they don’t want to stop until they’ve finished.
Is There An App for That?
There are many apps that allow you to make to-do lists.
However, the 139 system is especially fit for Priority Matrix, a prioritization tool that is already split into four quadrants for you. With its native apps and convenient organizational features, it will streamline your workflow as you move through completing your tasks and move around things into different levels.
Here’s an example of how you can set up a 139 system list within Priority Matrix.
For the sake of demonstration, let’s say I work for an advertising company and I need to research and make a presentation on local businesses that might be interested in my company’s services.
It sounds like a time-consuming, but I can work efficiently once I have all of my tasks sorted out.
Now I know what things need my attention the soonest.
I’m going to start working and finish the task in Level 1.
Priority Matrix will let me check the item so that it no longer appears in my unfinished tasks, but I can still go back and reference my completed items if I need to.
It doesn’t take me long at all, and now Level 1 is empty.
I’ll keep going by moving something in Level 2 to replace the task I just finished. You can do this with a simple drag and drop.
I’ll just keep going like this until finally Level 2 is empty, then I’ll move some of the tasks from Level 3 into, and so on and so forth.
My presentation will be finished by the end of the day.
Above is the link to an empty project that I’ve organized into the 139 system and saved as a template
If you’d like the 1-3-9 to-do list template and banish the Zeigarnik Effect for good, download it here!