Gretchen Rubin

Dreading a Task? 5 Tips for Getting Yourself To Tackle It.

Dreading a Task? 5 Tips for Getting Yourself To Tackle It.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Five tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me--several.

For example, right now I’m trying to figure out how to put podcasts on my site again. I did it for a long time, but after my blog re-design, my system stopped working. I have to figure out what the problem is. Here are some strategies that I’m planning to use:

1. Put myself in jail. If you’re working on something that’s going to take a long time, and you have the urge to try to rush, or to feel impatient, pretend you’re in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate.

2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood. Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it…helps.

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. This is another important Secret of Adulthood. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can move on.

4. Take a baby step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion. I was overwhelmed by the project of putting my digital photos into albums, so I "suffered for fifteen minutes," day after day, until I was finished.

5. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. And the next day, at the first possible moment--as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever--just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. (This works particularly well for exercise and phone calls.)  I work from 6:00-7:00 a.m. every day, and because this is the time when I have the most concentration, I often keep an assignment to undertake during that hour.

HOWEVER: Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike! No one enjoys preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, take note. Maybe you need to think about switching jobs, or delegating a particular chore, or paying someone to do a task that’s making you miserable.

I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag.

Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, and ask: Why is this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.

On the other hand, novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, do bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you.

A major happiness challenge is knowing the difference between an intimidating goal that's right for you, and an intimidating goal that's not suited to your nature. W.  H. Auden wrote: "Between the ages of 20 and 40 we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity."

What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?

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