One of the most useful productivity concepts I’ve come across this year is the idea of desirable difficulty.
Desirable difficulty is the idea that tasks need to have a level of difficulty to be enjoyable. A task is considered to be at a level of desirable difficulty when it is difficult enough that it poses a challenge, but not so difficult that it is overwhelming.
So Emil, why is this so useful?
First, issues with procrastination and motivation are often issues with desirable difficulty.
When we are procrastinating, we can often blame ourselves for being ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated’, when in reality the task is too difficult.
For example, essays and assignments are easy to procrastinate on because the difficulty of writing 2500 words is too great, causing our brains to shut down. When we realise that this is an issue with desirable difficulty, we can find a solution by making the task less difficult. Instead of writing 2500 words, we can focus on reading one research article, or writing an essay plan.
This perspective on procrastination has helped me almost eliminate it from my life, especially as I realise that virtually any task can be split into smaller and more manageable chunks.
Second, desirable difficulty can increase with training.
Our brains are like muscles that we can exercise and grow. As a result, our ability to tolerate desirable difficulty is something that can increase.
Building on the example of essay writing from before, one person may find that optimal difficulty is writing 1 sentence. However with training, this same person could eventually find that their optimal difficulty would be writing 500 words.
Over time, our ability to tolerate discomfort and push ourselves to do more difficult things can increase, allowing us to achieve more and grow our mental muscles.
Realising this encourages me to push myself to train my ability to tolerate the discomfort associated with working at desirable difficulty. I can push myself to complete more as my ‘minimum’ standard and build my tolerance to procrastination.
Overall, understanding desirable difficulty helps me to plan more effective days and to set more realistic expectations of myself. Keep it in mind and see if it helps you too!
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