Going to the gym. Practicing a new skill when you have no skill. Giving bad news. Dealing with tech support.
We all have to make ourselves do things that we just don’t want to do. Here are some tricks I’ve learned that help me power through the procrastination.
1. Do it first thing in the morning. If you’re dreading doing something, you’re going to be able to think of more creative excuses as the day goes along. One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is “Do it now.” Without delay is the easiest way.
2. If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, try doing it EVERY day, instead. When I was planning my blog, I envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then a blogger acquaintance convinced me that no, I needed to post every day. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I think it’s easier to do it every day (well, except Sundays) than fewer times each week. There’s no dithering, there’s no juggling. I know I have to post, so I do. If you’re finding it hard to go for a walk four times a week, try going every day.
3. Have someone keep you company. Studies show that we enjoy practically every activity more when we’re with other people. Having a friend along can be a distraction, a source of reassurance, or just moral support.
4. Make preparations, assemble the proper tools. I often find that when I’m dreading a task, it helps me to feel prepared. I’ll tell myself, “I don’t have to do X today, but I’ll get everything ready.” I gather up phone numbers, print-outs, read background information, etc. Dividing a tough task into preparation and execution makes it easier to tackle.
5. Commit. We’ve all heard the advice to write down your goals. This really works, so force yourself to do it. Usually this advice relates to long-term goals, but it works with short-term goals, too. On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By the end of today, I will have _____.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list. (See below.)
6. First things first. That is, make sure you don’t use little tasks to push off big tasks. I find myself answering email instead of writing, or reading Twitter instead of logging in my research notes. These smaller tasks are important and worthwhile, but I shouldn’t use them to delay more taxing work.
7. Reflect on the great feeling you’ll get when you’ve finished. Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure. If you’re feeling blue, although the last thing you feel like doing is something you don’t feel like doing, push yourself. You’ll get a big lift from it.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.