Productivity with random numbers
One little productivity trick I use is to select tasks or work with a random number. The simplest form is numbering a list of things you could do, then selecting one randomly.
This can be applied to various things you might want to work on:
- Items on a todo list.
- Chapters or pages in a textbook.
- Tickets in a work-tracking system.
- A list of projects, with sub-lists of work items.
- Options in a decision you’re stalling on.
The random number generator on random.org is quite nice for this.
It’s helpful for a few reasons:
- It lets you just start getting things done without stalling (this is the biggest benefit in my view).
- It avoids wasting time on meta-work (over-planning and managing the things to be done is a common form of procrastination).
- It reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed by a big list of tasks.
- It builds a sense of trust that items will get looked at if you add them to the list.
- It lets you use different chunks of time by quickly finding a useful task that fits the time.
- It can produce a greater sense of achievement to complete a random sample of e.g. a textbook than to feel you got stuck on the second chapter. In other words it can unblock tasks.
The idea is also summed up by this AJATT tweet:
Don't try your best. Try something. Make the best of it.— Official AJATT | Khatzumoto (@ajatt) June 15, 2020
If you have the list of tasks as a text file (e.g.
todo.txt), then you can get a random task with
shuf -n 1 todo.txt
I use Todoist (referral link) to stay sane with all the various tasks I accumulate. I apply the “random task” approach to it with this Python script:
import todoist import os import random api = todoist.TodoistAPI(os.environ['TODOIST_TOKEN']) api.sync() item = random.choice([i for i in api.state['items'] if i['date_completed'] is None]) print(item)
You can alias and run it as a one liner in bash:
alias randomtodo="python -c 'import todoist;import os;import random;api=todoist.TodoistAPI(os.environ[\"TODOIST_TOKEN\"]);api.sync();print(random.choice([i for i in api.state[\"items\"] if i[\"date_completed\"] is None]));'";
Then you can fill any bit of time with something useful by running
a few times until you get something doable in the time you have. You also keep
your list fresh by regularly reviewing a random sample.