I often talk about how much I love social media.
At least I love all the opportunities that it provides.
And I also love how you can stay in touch with the world’s greatest minds from the comfort of your couch.
My social media news feeds are full of people whom I admire, so every time I open Instagram, I see inspirational, uplifting posts.
One of these persons is Gretchen Rubin.
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You might know her as the author of The Four Tendencies, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.
Recently, I’ve seen an Instagram posting of her that was quite thought-provoking for me.
It was a simple graphic saying “7 tips for finishing undesirable tasks”, but somehow it triggered me.
I love my work, and I appreciate working hard, but I still struggle to complete my tasks quite often.
I truly admire anyone who brings projects to an end.
Coming up with new ideas is always fun, but the rest is hard work.
With the ever-increasing amount of interruptions that we face every day, being focused and finishing tasks is one of the most valuable abilities.
Starting new projects is easy
Coming up with new ideas is fun.
And it’s easy because we get bombarded with tons of information and attractions all the time.
Just ask any developer sitting on hundreds of domain names purchased for project ideas that were never launched. Or look at any writer’s notebook (including mine) that’s full of book and article ideas scribbled down in a mad rush and never revisited.
Additionally, starting new things is fun.
Brainstorming new ideas and how they could change the world is nice because it’s creative work.
Plus, the beginning is when we see the greatest progress.
On day one, you have a simple idea; on day two, you already have a colossal mind-map covering everything in detail — that seems like a big deal and is satisfying.
However, after the first, fun part, finishing projects becomes hard.
Michael Lopphas created a diagram that describes the four phases of a new project and how it feels for him:
source: Rands in Response
According to Lopp, the first part of a new project is the most enjoyable. That’s the time we explore the idea, come up with imaginations on how it could turn out and what the rewards might be.
However, as you move further and make progress on a project, the amount of joy and excitement drops.
And the final stage is always long, exhausting, and not fun at all.
However, while Lopp states that the final phase is debilitating, he also mentions that it’s the most critical part.
If you care about the outcome, you should care about the final phase and not drop your performance once you arrive there.
Why we procrastinate
According to research conducted by Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done, nearly a quarter of adults around the world are chronic procrastinators.
I personally don’t believe that every project is meant to be finished.
Sometimes, we realize that an idea is a crap when we are already halfway through something. That’s the moment when we should let go, even if we’ve already put in some work.
However, chronic procrastination is a real struggle. And these are the most common reasons for it:
- You are afraid to fail: Every time you finish something, you put yourself out there, and people can judge you for your work. Prolonging the conclusion of a task is one way of avoiding feedback.
- You’ve set the bar too high: If you’ve done a great job once, you might fear to finish a new project because you’ve set a high standard. Setting lofty goals can be fun, but not finishing tasks because of your own standards is not enjoyable at all.
- You don’t want the fun to end: If you love what you’re doing, you might procrastinate because you’re afraid of what’s next. Finishing a lovely project might mean that you have to work on something new, which is not as exciting anymore.
Let’s get back to why I initially started thinking about the topic of finishing tasks: it was an Instagram post of Gretchen Rubin on how to beat procrastination.
I loved her list and decided to dive a little bit deeper and explain how you can use each of these to beat daily procrastination and finally finish essential tasks.
1. Put yourself in jail
..of course not literally.
Instead, create your own jail.
If you are working on a demanding, long-term project, pretend you are in jail.
Because, as Gretchen Rubin puts it, in jail, you have all the time in the world.
You can slow down, concentrate, and take time to get your thing done.
I am no fan of imprisoning oneself at home or in an office for days, but I am a massive supporter of focused work.
What you can achieve in a few hours of focused work can’t be compared to days of unfocused hustle.
Putting yourself in jail mode for a few hours per day can be an incredible gamechanger for your productivity.
Especially when working on hard, unenjoyable tasks, we tend to distract ourselves every few minutes.
And every distraction makes it harder to produce great work for the rest of the day.
That’s why putting yourself in an environment of focused work is one of the best ways to boost your productivity and finish projects.
2. Ask for help
Well, believe it or not: asking for help helps.
Sometimes, when we are stuck with a task or project, we overcomplicate it.
We spend way too much time and energy on finding a solution, but we don’t change our perspective.
No matter what your task or project is, there are undoubtedly thousands of people who could support you.
And sometimes, it’s even more effective to ask people who are not into the topic at all.
Asking for advice is no shame.
On the contrary, it is greatness.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.
– Barack Obama
You are not on your own on this beautiful journey of life.
Whatever you are struggling with, there are great minds who can support you.
Instead of being egoistic, make use of that power.
Achieving great things is more fun when you’re supported by great people anyway.
3. Don’t over-research
This one reminded me of a quote by Jeff Bezos:
Make Decisions With 70% Of The Info You Wish You Had.
According to Bezos, if you wait for 90% of the information, you’re too slow.
Instead, you should make a best-effort analysis, decide quickly, and continue learning on the path.
If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think. — Jeff Bezos
I am the greatest overthinker I personally know.
I am a master in overanalyzing and dramatizing.
Or at least I was because I am trying to improve every day.
Sometimes, you need to stop yourself from researching and start applying all the knowledge that you already have.
I remember times when I had +20 open tabs while writing new blog posts because I was afraid of missing out on any crucial information.
Now, I open a maximum of five tabs and handle those properly.
Limiting your own resources and thinking-time can be a great productivity booster and help you in finishing your open tasks.
4. Take a baby step
This is so powerful!
Whenever I feel lost, I step back and break my project down into little tasks.
I figure out what the tiniest steps to accomplish are.
When I am done, I start by completing the first step and congratulate myself for doing so.
Sometimes, you need to be your own cheerleader.
And many times, you need to cheer on yourself for small accomplishments.
Because these are the moments when nobody else will applaud for you.
5. Do it first
Well, eat the damn frog.
Of course, we procrastinate on exhausting tasks.
Once you start thinking about what to do next, you will quickly come up with ten new tasks instead of completing the dreading one.
That’s just how our brain works: it tries to avoid inconvenience.
However, these are the moments you need to beat your brain.
Don’t let it win.
Invest your energy on the things that really matter.
Vow to yourself to start with your most challenging task and get it done.
The feeling you’ll have afterward is fantastic, and you will be proud of yourself.
Figure out what your most challenging task is and make a plan to tackle it first thing in the morning.
“Throughout my career, I have discovered and rediscovered a simple truth. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well, and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.”
— Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog
6. Eliminate distractions
This one is my #1 rule for productive workdays.
According to a study led by Harvard, on average, we spend almost 50 % of our days in a state of distraction.
And as mentioned above, we are most productive and effective when we are wholly focused on a single task to complete (remember putting yourself in jail mode?).
Eliminating most daily distractions is genuinely easy, yet incredibly effective.
The first thing to start with is your phone.
Just put it away during your productive hours.
Or at least, eliminate any notifications that might not be super-duper-important.
Even if you don’t actively put a look on it, seeing that a new notification popped up distracts you and drains your focus.
Also, eliminate push notifications on your laptop.
I did that a few months ago, and it literally skyrocketed my productivity.
Now I check my email twice a day, instead of seeing new messages pop up all the time.
And guess what? It works perfectly, and I am not missing out on anything.
There are hardly any notifications that you need to answer or react to immediately.
Get rid of them, sharpen your focus and see how your productivity will increase and finishing tasks will become easier.
7. Ask yourself if you need to make a more significant change
This one is more of a life-improvement tip.
If you find yourself applying all the tips above and trying to increase your productivity and still failing, the problem might be something else.
We all have tasks that are hard to complete.
However, if you find yourself struggling all the time and hating every item on your to-do list, maybe it’s time for a more significant change.
Maybe, your feeling of “ugh, that sucks.” is not temporary and not due to a particular task but because you desire a bigger change in your life.
That might be hard to admit, yet, if you find yourself procrastinating too often, you should consider taking some time for deeper reflection.
Would you really struggle that much if you’d like what you are doing?
Sometimes, switching jobs or at least eliminating a particular project might be the best way to beat procrastination and finish your tasks with ease.
I guess this is one of the articles I should personally refer back to from time to time as well.
In a world full of distractions, being productive and getting things done is not easy.
However, it is still the only way to go.
There are probably a few jobs where people get paid to generate ideas.
Yet, the majority of us need to get work done to receive a paycheck at the end of the month.
Applying the strategies above is a sure way to focus on the important and finally get rid of all the tasks you’ve been thinking of for a while.
- Put yourself into jail-mode and work in a focused way
- Ask for help and win the game together
- Don’t overcomplicate and make quick decisions
- Take baby steps every day
- Eat the frog
- Avoid distractions
- Question if you need a bigger change
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