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Divination is the art of foretelling the future through the interpretation of seemingly random signs. For instance, hieromancy is the art of divination using animal entrails. (I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what kind of entrails are involved in anthropomancy.)

Clearly, ancient peoples had even more anxiety about how they were going to spend their day. Without a clear roadmap, they were apt to turn to the nearest crystal ball, a pre-Gutenberg version of a Filofax.

Personally, there are days I’d rather be elbow-deep in cow guts than take another scan through my to-do list. At least a good hieromancer would give you a clear answer, from “the crops will be good this year” to “you will crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women!

This got me thinking: perhaps the lessons of divination can be applied to productivity…

Assemble Your Deck

It’s your typical Tuesday afternoon. The week’s almost halfway over and you haven’t accomplished a single thing you’d intended to. You’d planned to catch up last weekend, but instead you spent it running around town on wild-goose-chase errands. You’ve got four deadlines this week, two more overdue, and that’s just off the top of your head.

You realize it’s time to take a deep breath and dive through your task list, figure out what really really really needs doing.

  1. Take out a fresh stack of index cards and a marker.
  2. Go through your task list and copy each task to an individual index card, excluding @waiting tasks, tasks that involve other people, and short (5 minute or less), brainless tasks. (If there are more than twenty left, you need to trim your task list. Does all that really need doing?)
  3. Shuffle.
  4. Lay out your cards face-up.

Like a Good Mistress, Let Pain Be Your Guide

Normally, you look through your task list at moments like this as quickly as possible because it’s painful (like pulling off a Band-Aid). You may not realize it, but you’re looking for (often in vain) a really important task that will be also be pleasant to do.

Yeah, keep looking.

Usually, you give up and, as a compromise, pick an unimportant task that will be pleasant to do. And thus, an entry on your personal blog about great television shows of the 1980s is written.

What I’m suggesting is an approach similar to the one suggested in Eat That Frog. But in that (very good) book, Brian Tracy advises you to prioritize your tasks, and once you have the most important few singled out, to kill the most unpleasant one first.

I’m taking it a step further. Once you’ve laid out your Task Tarot, divine your next action by picking the ugliest one first, regardless of priority or due date.

As soon as you let those factors weigh in, you’ll start rationalizing your way out of your ugliest tasks. “Well, this one’s due tomorrow, so I’d better do it now before doing this other, uglier, task that doesn’t have a set due date.” Or, “I’d call this one a bigger priority than that one, even though this one can wait until next month and the ugly one’s due tomorrow.”

To Make Progress, Fight the Current

Imagine the fear of doing a particular task as a water current, a gentle and constant pressure on you not to do that task. The task tarot is a way to put rationalization aside and use your fear as a compass. To fight the current, you’ve got to push right into it, and not get diverted by other pressures like priority and due date.

Glance at the ten or twenty cards spread out in front of you and I guarantee that one or two will pop out at you. (Actually, more of a slap than a pop.) Oh yes, you’ll think. That task. The one you’ve been shirking for weeks. It’s probably one of those tasks that doesn’t have a clear and immediate deadline, or perhaps it had a soft deadline that’s passed and you’re already afraid of the possible ramifications of doing it late.

Once the card’s popped, the divination is over. Whether it’s the most pressing concern or not, you’re going to do it, right now.

The Payoff

Once you do That Task, you’ll feel pretty good. What’s more, the rush of satisfaction and joy from killing an ugly task that’s been hanging over your head for however long (and they’re never as ugly as you’re afraid they’ll be) will carry you into an hour or more of focus and abundant. Every task thereafter will feel like a breeze in comparison to the beast, and you’ll probably tear through five tasks in the time it would have taken you to do one if you’d still been fretting.

But if you want to feel really, really good when you leave work, shuffle the deck and do the task tarot again and again as you complete each killer task. You might find a month’s worth of anxiety cleared out in an afternoon.

Photo by jef.


  • Dizzy

    gravatarMar 24, 2008
    6:45 pm

    This is an incredibly powerful method for breaking through the procrastination aquarium wall. Many thanks.

  • Dueces

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    4:55 pm

    May be I would be able to kick-off my fears about certain things one day too!

  • C. Laeuse

    gravatarAug 5, 2008
    9:40 am

    I don’t believe in such future telling stuff

  • Ryan

    gravatarAug 17, 2008
    1:20 am

    Its a nice post and story telling like:)

  • cem cemilay

    gravatarAug 17, 2008
    3:25 am

    i dont belive these things but anyway i want to try these ;)

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    gravatarSep 12, 2008
    12:30 pm

    Are you sure that believing is not the thing that changes your destiny? Note that someone can get ill only because someone told him he will get ill. So be careful with those things if you have weak nerves.

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    gravatarSep 24, 2008
    5:58 pm

    I always wanted to go to a tarot card reader. Now I think I just might.


    gravatarNov 6, 2008
    4:58 am

    ah tarrots – i enjoy them but it would just spoil my entire mood when i get some bad readings though so i don’t do it so often already

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    7:53 pm

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    gravatarFeb 20, 2009
    1:21 pm

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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    gravatarJun 27, 2009
    10:04 am

    I do not much know about tarot card reading but I ould really like to know whether they are really effective or not.

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    gravatarJul 8, 2009
    4:23 pm

    I love tarot reading! My guide told me that we should keep the cards in a black silk cloth when they’re not in use.

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    I have always been interested in tarot card reading and knowin my future but I was never successful in that. Can anyone suggest me where to learn this art?

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    gravatarSep 12, 2009
    6:02 am

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    8:53 am

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    gravatarNov 4, 2009
    11:26 pm

    I always wanted to go to a tarot card reader. Now I think I just might.

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    12:05 am

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    gravatarApr 27, 2010
    2:30 am

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