Also appeared on Huffington Post Canada
Starting something you don’t want to do can be daunting. You aren’t unusual if you procrastinate when faced with a complex or disagreeable undertaking, such as that needed household project, looming end-of-year term paper or doctor’s prescribed weight loss program. But, when something needs doing, no matter how strong your aversion to it, procrastinating will only send you on a downward spiral of guilt and regret.
Procrastination can have many causes. From everyday postponements to time management issues to fear or even perfectionism, the reasons for delay undermine our energy for what needs to get done. The important thing is to get past this self-defeating behaviour that keeps you from diving into the task at hand.
Try these seven proven approaches to getting over the initial procrastination hump.
1. Assess the timeframe. Make sure you actually have to do the difficult or despised job right now. Often, we think we need to do something immediately when, in fact, it would fit in much better at another time. Pick a time when you are most able to focus and can devote enough time to make significant progress. Then, schedule it on your calendar and add an alert so you won’t forget it.
2. Weigh the pros and cons of completing the chore. Write down the benefits of finishing. How will you feel about yourself? How will other people treat you? What are the financial or health outcomes? Also, consider the negative consequences of not attending to the task. The conscious awareness of both the gains and losses can give you the necessary push to get started.
3. Break down the objective into small steps. Plan out the task in increments of 15 minutes or less. Both larger projects, as well as small unpleasant tasks, profit from chunking them down into smaller pieces. Who can’t spend 15 minutes on something complicated or dreaded? In addition, make each step as concrete and detailed as possible. Something that is clear in your mind can be much more manageable than a fuzzy notion of needing to do something.
4. Start with the easiest part of the chore. Even hated tasks can have some appealing aspects. Start with something agreeable as a way to build momentum for tackling the task. For example, if you need information from a colleague you enjoy before completing the project, start with contacting him or her. Or, if you like to shop, check what supplies you need for the task and take a trip to the store first. Then hunker down to get it done.
5. Challenge yourself to get past the tedious piece. Sometimes it’s not the difficulty of a chore, but its boredom factor that holds you back. In this case, create a challenge for yourself to help you get into flow. Record your speed; commit to just a little while longer; or create a reward system for completing different pieces of the task.
6. Use the 5-minute rule. Commit to working at the project for just 5 minutes (or 15, or 30, if it makes more sense). Once the time is up, you can stop without feeling guilty. In most cases, this little trick gets you over the initial hurdle, and finishing the task makes more sense than picking it up again at later.
7. Set boundaries around distractions. Once you start in on the project, keep your mind on your work. Don’t allow yourself to give into the many distractions that can derail your focus. Tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to do anything else besides the project at hand. Turn off your phone; close your door; ignore emails; and if your mind wanders to something else you need to do, make a quick note to yourself and return to your task.