How I've Beat Procrastination (...Mostly)
Tuesday, September 6, 2011Tweet
I've recently figured out a way to get myself to do tasks I'd rather put off.
Following my happiness commandment "One step at a time," I've found that the oft-given advice for large, overwhelming projects works for small, unappealing tasks as well: Break it into steps.
This also ties in strongly with the notion of "identify the problem." For example, the other day I knew I needed to clean out our rats' cage, which, as you can imagine, is not the most thrilling or enjoyable task. However, when I thought about why I was avoiding it, I realized that actually sitting there, cleaning out the cage, didn't bother me very much. What I hated was that the whole process was so involved: Gather up the cleaning supplies (dustpan, cloth, cage cleaner spray, clean bedding, bucket for dirty bedding); set up the rats' play area; put all their toys in the play area; move the rats into the play area; then sit down and start cleaning out the cage.
So I hit upon this solution: Make each step a completely separate task. I told myself, "All you have to do right now is gather up the cleaning supplies. You don't necessarily have to clean the cage right now." That didn't seem like too daunting of a task, so I did it before I made my breakfast. Then I decided to set up the play area for the rats and put them in it so they could play while I ate breakfast. When I was done with breakfast, the cleaning supplies were all sitting there, the rats were happily playing, and all I had to do was sit down and clean. No big deal.
This has worked at my job, too. I kept putting off a particular project, and I realized that it was because the whole thing seemed amorphous -- I didn't know where to start or how long it would take. So I decided to make a completely separate to-do item that was simply listing the steps I was going to have to take. Because it didn't feel like I was doing any actual work, just making a list (which I generally enjoy), I got it done that day. Then the next day I tackled the project itself, which was a piece of cake because I had step-by-step directions and didn't have to do too much thinking to complete it.
Since realizing this, I've started using this technique even for very small tasks. "Ugh, I don't want to get this package ready." "OK, then just go get a box, a marker, and packing tape now, and you can do it later." (Yes, I talk to myself, as we've established previously.) Then a few minutes later I walk by and the supplies are all sitting there, ready to go, so it seems like no big deal to stop and package it up.
Have you ever tried this technique? What other strategies have you used to keep yourself from putting things off?