We’re all familiar with that feeling of dread you get when contemplating something you really don’t want to do.
Maybe it’s paperwork.
Maybe it’s calling your insurance company.
For me, it’s doing taxes. And paperwork. Or anything having to do with insurance. Or scheduling.
I don’t like administration, and my tendency to put it off used to cause me a lot of headaches.
The funny thing is, thinking about something you really don’t want to do is usually more unpleasant than ACTUALLY DOING THE THING.
And that’s not even counting the nasty consequences of putting it off.
Now, imagine you could reduce or eliminate procrastination and the bad feelings that cause it.
That would make you more efficient, but more importantly, it would make your life better.
I know, it sounds too good to be true, but bear with me. It’s actually pretty simple.
In the last post, we discussed external barriers – things like clutter in your workspace that make starting work more difficult. Possibly even more important, however, are internal barriers.
Internal barriers are things in your attitude and mental state that make it hard to get started.
This can include just not liking the work, feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of having to finish it, preemptive perfectionism, and so on.
One of the best ways of dealing with internal barriers is a timer.
Facing the prospect of hours and hours on something you don’t like is daunting – it can drive you to do anything but that thing, no matter how important finishing it is.
What’s even worse is when you don’t know how long it will take to finish.
If you are strongly inclined to procrastinate on something, or the thought of having to finish it terrifies you, don’t focus on finishing it.
Simply commit towards working on it for a set a small period of time
To make it even easier, give yourself permission to go do something else after that time period if it isn’t done and/or you really don’t like it.
It may be that actually finishing the task will take awhile – or you imagine that this is so because you have to drag yourself through it kicking and screaming.
However, once you take off the pressure to actually finish and instead just have to focus until the timer goes off, your sense of dread and foreboding should be reduced, if not disappear.
Then, once you get started, you’ll probably find it isn’t so bad, and the job will get done without further headache.
You can leverage this in systematic way, not just as a way to start things but as a way to keep working and finish them. One of the simplest and most popular systems is The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo.
The technique is very simple.
First you decide on the task to be done – the more specific the better. Then, set a timer, and work exclusively on that task, with no interruptions, for 25 minutes.
When this is over, take a 3-5 minute break.
Each work/break cycle is called a Pomodoro.
Do four Pomodoros, then rest for at least 15-20 minutes.
A single Pomodoro might not sound like much, but you will be amazed by how much you can get done in it, especially once you get the hang of the system.
I used Pomodoros to retrain my ability to focus several years ago. As simple as they are, they changed my life.
Since then, I’ve figured out ways to make them even more powerful – but you’ll have to wait for those.
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This post and the one that proceeded have mostly focused on how to get things done even when you don’t really feel like getting them done.
In the next post, we’ll discuss how to feel like getting things done more often – increasing your personal “temperature” in our reaction rate metaphor from part 1.