Do you know that feeling you get when you're watching a show and, just as it gets to the good part, the episode ends on a cliffhanger? By the time the credits roll, you sit there frustrated and anxious, wondering what's going to happen next.
I always hated that. At the same time, I understood why the screenwriters did it. I was kept on the edge of my seat. The events of the story would stay fresh in my mind as I waited eagerly for the next episode, thinking of how everything would unfold.
I recently realized that this strategy can be applied to work and productivity. We can use the concept of cliffhangers to our advantage when we're trying to resume a task after a break. Let me explain how it works.
Here's the page-turner technique.
Look: If you’re like me, you probably find it easy to keep working once you’ve started on a task.
But when it’s early in the morning, and you haven’t touched your work in awhile, it's easy to put things off until later, since you don't feel like doing anything.
In fact, here are three things that are more tempting to do than putting your head down and working:
- Check your email - that’s quasi-work -- so it counts right?
- Watch a viral video that's trending - a short, highly entertaining video is just the thing to watch until you feel more motivated.
- Chat with your coworker - since it does fall under networking, what better way is there to start the day than to socialize?
This is where my page-turner technique to productivity comes in.
So imagine reading a book and putting it down until you can read the rest later. You're excited for the next time you get to read. You wonder what will happen on the next page.
You can use this page-turner technique to productivity, when you’re performing a task. So if you’re working on a project, just leave it partially done, or jot down your next steps in mind for the next time you sit down to work.
For instance, if I’m in the middle of writing something, such as this article, I’ll just leave it partially done and have a few bullet points in mind for the next time I sit down to finish it.
Or, if I finish a task, I’ll plan out the next task for myself the following day. Either way, I put down something I need to do in the future. Doing this gives me an idea of what I should be working on the next day, so that I don't have to sit at my desk and waste time trying to think of what to do.
The other benefit to this technique is that my upcoming task brews in the back of my mind. While it sits there, a new idea might pop up, or I might think of a better way to approach the task the next time I sit down.
Related: The 3 P's of Productivity
How to apply this technique.
First, think of a goal you’d like to make progress toward.
For example, let’s say you’re planning to draft a few cold emails to send out for a request to meet or for job opportunities. Your aim is send out five to 10 emails a day. So you send out a few emails on Monday, and then what?
You could have any one of the following to-do’s:
- Create a list of people you want to reach out to the following day.
- Jot down a few companies to grab contact names from.
- Have a few rough emails saved in your “Drafts” folder ready to go.
The most important thing is that you keep the momentum going each day. At the end of the day, plan out a couple things you need to do for the next day while it’s still fresh.
Even if you’re not successful or face setbacks in your work, keep things going in the pipeline. Don’t stall and passively wait for something to happen. Keep moving.
You want to continue having a page-turner at the end of every day. So instead of hoping for inspiration to strike, or staring at your screen while thinking of what you to do, you’ll be able to sit down, and get started on a task right away.
What if a task can’t be left partially done?
But what if something you’re working on has to be finished in segments?
Let’s take fitness for example. If you’re walking or jogging outside, you can’t just go halfway and decide you want to stop.
So how do you create an incentive for yourself to keep exercising the next day?
By making yourself feel obligated to continue where you left off. For instance, if you’re jogging and reach a certain landmark, you can pinpoint another landmark, and make it a point to reach the further landmark the next day you go jogging again. Or, you can change your jogging route to make things interesting.
Another way to create a page-turner is by leaving your running shoes and a pair of socks out in a space where it’s impossible for you to ignore. Instead of putting away your shoes, put them near the door, and place your exercise clothes near your bed so that you can pick up where you left off.
Setting incremental goals and creating environmental cues can make it easier to stay motivated on improving an area of your life.
Now, it’s your turn.
You’ve just learned how the page-turner technique to productivity can be used in writing, connecting with others and exercising. Now, it’s time for you to put this technique to practice.
What is the biggest goal on your mind that you’re looking to achieve? What can you do to make yourself want to continue right where you left off the day before?
Remember, it's not about being the smartest. It's about being able to commit.