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
- 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:
If you have the list of tasks as a text file (e.g.
todo.txt), then you can get a random task with
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:
api = todoist.TodoistAPI(os.environ['TODOIST_TOKEN'])
item = random.choice([i for i in api.state['items'] if i['date_completed'] is None])
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.
Productivity with random numbers