Why do we “put-off” or delay the jobs we know we need to get done?
How can we overcome the overwhelm of a big list of things to do or a job we “know” will take a long time?
Here are two scenarios you probably face all the time, and how to get them done.
1) How to start a job you really hate or find boring.
This is a simple tip for getting stuff done, especially the things you always leave for another day –
You have a task or part of your day which you really hate, is boring or just something you would rather not do but you know it has to be done.
It might be filling, or doing the accounts, cleaning the house, folding the washing. It doesn’t matter what the job is but you hate it. So How do you get started?
You can fool yourself into getting started by setting your self a time limit. Say you are going to do 10 minutes (it can be any time but shorter is better) then you can have a break (a cup of tea, coffee or biscuit). The just start the job, reminding yourself you only have to do ten minutes.
This makes it much easier to start as you know you don’t have to do it all in one go.
Now, as long as you actually start the job and get going you will find that you lose track of time, or get to the ten-minute mark and want to just finish this last bit you started. If that is the case, don’t stop until you want to and suddenly, the job becomes much easier to do.
If you get to the ten minutes and want to stop, then stop. You promised yourself you would stop so do it. This will make it much easier to start again after your break.
Then do another ten minutes.
Over time, starting will be easier, continuing for longer than ten minutes will be easier and very quickly, the task will be done.
If you have a few jobs to do, another way to get started it to start with the easiest job first. That way you will get less resistance to get started.
2) How to tackle big jobs that you know will take a long time
If you have a large job you have been putting off like tidying the loft, emptying the garage, orpainting the house then if you are like me, you always have an excuse – “it’s too late to start today” or “I won’t get it all done this weekend” and even “I’ve got so many other things to do first”.
The best way to overcome these internal objections is to break the big job down into smaller tasks.
In the example of clearing the loft, you could break it down into the following –
- Start by sorting through the obvious rubbish
- Then make some space to get about the loft and move obvious items to their own areas – boxes to empty in one corner, clothes in another etc.
- Now tackle each area as it’s own task, breaking down the whole loft into smaller chunks
- and so on.
You might be thinking that this gives you an excuse to just do a bit every now and then and you are correct, but the important point is that at least you have started. And once you complete one part of the bigger job, the rest start to look easier and you might even find your self doing finishing the whole job as you mentally tick off each smaller task.
So why or how do these “tricks” work?
You may be thinking this advice is just mind games and my brain won’t fall for them.
In some cases, yes, if you over analyse the reasons for using these techniques you may convince yourself that they won’t work on you but in most cases, you will be surprised.
Your brain has inbuilt habits, preconceptions and a generally logical approach to life which can be manipulated with these simple methods.
By delaying completing a task you are building a habit in your mind which is being made stronger each time you think about, but don’t complete a given task.
Habits are by their nature, difficult to break, but not impossible. And just as you can unintentionally create a negative habit by not doing something, you can also create a positive habit by completing the task.
How do habits help?
Think back to the last time you finished a job or task which you really didn’t want to start. Remember the feeling of satisfaction and relief that you had finished. That is your brain giving you a reward, your mind recognising that you have finished the work and can now “delete” the need to think about it, essentially removing the negative habit and giving your brain some extra space (to fill with the next task)
The good news is that this reward from your brain is mildly addictive, so the next job becomes a little easier to get started (which is why breaking big jobs into small tasks works so well) and a habit starts to be formed so over time, you will find starting these tasks easier and easier. It’s a win, win situation, your brain removes these negative mental blocks (giving it more thinking space) and rewards itself for completing the job (making the next job easier).
So next time you catch yourself “putting-off” the boring or big jobs, try the tips above and see if they can help. The worst that could happen is you still don’t do the job so you have nothing to lose.
Where have I got these insights from?
My interest in Science, training from various marketing and business mentors, books and my own experience.
If you are looking for more information on habits, and productivity tips here are a some links to find out more:
Website – Phycology Today – The Science of Habits
Book – Atomic Habits by James Clear
Website – Productivity tips from ActiveGrowth.com