Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

The Transition Effect – the reason why we accumulate work and the cycle to solve the problem

In a previous article, I reflected on what to do when work accumulates and suggested we be patient, value our efforts and keep our eyes on the goal. And recently, I read this article in Harvard Business Review explaining the accumulation of work as the result of a “transition effect.”

Transition

In practice, our work accumulates because we keep avoiding a certain number of tasks. Drawing on a personal experience, Peter Bregman argues for a necessary adjustment whenever we need to pick up a task, and the “transition” to another new normal is the hard part. We don’t have problems with doing something. The difficulty lies in starting what you need to do.

Thus, what can we do to overcome the transition effect and the difficulty of starting? How can we develop, according to Bregman, the skill of transitioning?

Bergman proposes three steps, but I’d like to add two more and suggest 5-steps.

Break. Schedule. Start. Repeat. Adapt.

 

BREAK into small parts

The first step in Bregman’s proposal is to start with willpower. However, building the necessary willpower to start is not easy when we realize the size of the task ahead of us. It can be as simple as writing an email. But you need to build your willpower. Thus, if you break your task into simpler gestures, it becomes easier to gain momentum and accomplish the task at hand.

Take the e-mail example. You need to send a difficult email to someone, and you keep postponing. Break into simpler (and almost ridiculous) gestures, like: open the computer; open your Mail App; write one sentence; and so on…

 

SCHEDULE what you need to do

Michael Hyatt says “what gets scheduled, gets done” and this is my experience. Once I had to finish correcting a considerable amount of exams, and it was hard to start. I scheduled a Monday afternoon to do it, and whenever some asked me if I was available at that time, I told I had a compromise. This helped me finish what I needed to do and contributed to building the willpower to start.

 

START with gained momentum

With simpler and scheduled tasks, it is easier to “start with willpower” as Peter Bregman suggests. The willpower he speaks about belongs to a moment, not stretched in time. However, I experienced, like cooking, that preparing the way you start allows you to gain momentum, an helps overcoming the systematic postponing of a task you need to do.

 

REPEAT to master your start

When you repeat the previous steps in different tasks, you acquire the habit of plunging into tasks to avoid their accumulation. The procrastination monkey in your brain will always try to act on your willpower, but the purpose of gaining momentum, start and keep starting in a different task is to keep you moving through what you need to do. And once this leads you to reach your goals, you feel energized and gain the necessary intrinsic motivation to continue experiencing the power of accomplishment.

 

ADAPT to evolve

Once you begin experiencing this “getting things done,” and realize you’re more productive, it means you probably changed your habits and what seemed insurmountable becomes more natural to overcome over time. You evolve because your habits are better adapted to the challenging psychological environment that led you to accumulate work.

And once you adapt, new challenges appear. Thus, more significant and more demanding tasks may lead to new accumulations of work and new difficulties in starting them. It is when you know you have to break, schedule, start, repeat and adapt to keep evolving.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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