How to Start Tasks You’ve Avoided Like the Plague
Mark Twain said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well.” It’s easy to agree (because you’ve totally been there!). However, when it comes to business projects, you won’t get anything done if you keep avoiding tasks and putting them off until the “day after tomorrow.”
In the business world, procrastination is your enemy. Whether you’re procrastinating on a difficult project, avoiding sending that email you know you have to send, or are just too stubborn to delegate—getting enough done each day is a problem most of us face. A recent LinkedIn survey reported that a mere 11% of professionals report accomplishing the tasks they set out to do in a given day. (That means 89% don’t!)
So, how can you boost your own productivity, get started on stuff you’ve been putting off, and head to happy hour or home to be with your family earlier?
Develop your transitioning skills
The hardest struggle in completing a task isn’t doing the task itself. It’s getting moving ahead with starting the thing.
Harvard Business Review calls that first step the “transition” to working on it—from being comfortable doing nothing to doing something that could be uncomfortable. The real thing we need to get tasks started is moving through the minutes before we start to work, the skilled of transitioning. To develop the skills of transitioning:
- Start with sheer willpower to force yourself through the transition. This takes emotional courage to face the discomfort of starting something.
- Commit to repetition. This takes the hesitation out of it and make starting easier.
- Benefit from adaptability and the mental and physical challenges will diminish.
It’s all about breaking a task into small, manageable pieces
Once you’ve overcome the transition, you need to break the monumental task you’ve been avoiding into small, manageable chunks that seem less intimidating, as recommended by The Ladders.
First, look at the big picture; make sure you understand what the end product (or your task goal) is supposed to look like. Next, examine the parts of the task in order to figure out step-by-step what you need to do and prioritize what needs to be done in what order. Then, create a timeline so you can stay focused on deadlines for each part of the task. Be sure to allow time to review your completed task.
In other words, focus on small actions rather than big, formidable projects.
Move past the distractions and procrastination
As a freelance writer, I have developed a slew of avoidance techniques. When I have a blog post or article to write, like many people, I go through all sorts of my personal distraction techniques. I play Solitaire. I check my social media accounts and email. I stream a new series or a movie on Netflix.
Procrastination is my emotional crutch. It’s irrational. I’m relieved of responsibilities and happy in the short run. But, it ends up making me feel guilty, stressed and frustrated as deadlines approach. So, what can all of us do to overcome procrastination?
To improve our behavior, Business Insider brings together ideas from three disparate fields of study.
- The first, which comes from Buddhist psychology, is the idea of the “monkey mind” that we all share. “The monkey mind never stops and you can’t make it stop. Instead, you’ve got to give the monkey something to do.”
- The second idea, which comes from more traditional psychology, is that our emotions can’t be pushed aside or ignored. So, when we have a strong aversion to getting our work done, we can’t ignore this feeling.
- The third part comes from David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done™ method, which is the idea that we don’t do projects when we work; we do actions. In other words, the mountain of work that we picture ourselves wading through is really just a set of smaller, discrete actions that have to be taken one at a time. We put our pants on one leg at a time and write our articles one word at a time.
These three ideas are tied together with one simple mantra: “What’s the next action?” Instead of fretting about the huge project you have to do and all the stress it will entail, simply ask yourself what the next action is and focus on that.
Stop underestimating yourself…instead, reward yourself
Negative thinking, low self-esteem and critical self-talk can also keep you from starting tasks. We have to unhook ourselves from these unhelpful, sometimes painful, thoughts to overcome what’s keeping us from our tasks.
Turn off your fear of failure and judgement. Amp up your self-compassion and curb your perfectionism. Reward yourself as you finish various parts of the tasks. Instead of watching Stranger Things before completing as aspect of a task, plan to watch it after finishing a designated part of the task. This approach raises your motivation to get something done so you can enjoy one of your favorite activities, in this case streaming a Netflix show.
Ready, set, go!
“Motivation grows through action, and nothing is more motivating than progress. The first step of that is defining what it means to complete your day. It builds critical momentum,” says Fast Company. “…long-lasting motivation comes from seeing progress.”
Start your engines! As author Jeff Haden writes in The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, motivation is “the fire that starts
burning after you manually, painfully, coax it into existence, and it feeds on the satisfaction of seeing yourself make progress.”
Remember, achievement begins when you do. So, power through and just get started on those tasks that you’ve been avoiding.