Hello, everybody! You are listening to the 10th episode of Sensibly Happy podcast. This episode is about how to get the unpleasant things done.
You have probably asked yourself: “what makes one person more successful than another?” And this is a really valid question. Because if it’s something which we can control, we can use it in our daily life and be more successful as well. I’m convinced that there are some reusable ingredients of success. In this episode we are talking about how to start doing something uncomfortable that you have been putting off over and over again. Here you will discover a 5-minute brain hack to get the things done and will learn the universal ways to end that vicious circle of the postponed tasks.
The problem of postponing the tasks for too long
To continue the previous topic about self-discipline, today we also have a topic about productivity. And to start with, let’s analyze a little bit our current state. Do you feel comfortable right now? It looks like you have some time to listen at least to the beginning of this podcast, to think a little bit about your current life and how to improve it. But don’t you have that feeling that something hasn’t been completed yet? Like some tasks that need to be done, but you can’t start doing them. You know that they are important, and somehow, somewhen you should do them. And it makes some hidden, but notable, pressure on you. It seems like you can’t just relax because of those tasks in the background. And day by day you know that you should start doing them but you just can’t make the first step. How do you think, does such a list of tough tasks makes you happy? Definitely not! Do you want to do something with it? Do you want to do sth with that ugly list of postponed tasks? If your answer is yes, I’m here to help you with my experience.
A small notice, or disclaimer here: I’m talking about the case when you feel more or less productive and you are in good shape, but there are some tasks that you postpone all the time.
Blaming ourselves for not completing the tasks
The main issue with those not started tasks for most of people is that we start blaming ourselves for not having those tasks done. And we don’t just think that it is bad to postpone them, but we start searching reasons in ourselves and blaming our characters. And we can think about ourselves that we are not best performers, or we never can make our tasks done, or we are not tough enough to deal with such tasks and much more evidence why we are bad. And how can we feel comfortable with such thoughts about ourselves? In most cases we can’t and by that we are decreasing our daily happiness.
The reason of postponing the tasks
But you know what? In most cases, we do have some reason for such behavior, and the reason is that you have some blockers. By recognizing those blockers you would be able to start doing the task. And the sequence of thoughts will be like this: “I should do some task, but I postpone it. Why do I postpone it? I have some reason. Let me identify that reason. Okay, now I have the reason and I know some techniques on how to deal with that reason. And by implementing them I can start doing the task.”
The technique of the “4D's”
But before we switch to the list of reasons, I want to share with you some simple but very powerful technique that many highly productive people are using. And it is called “4D’s”: delete, delegate, defer, do. How can we apply those four words?
The first word is “delete”, it stands for your ability to remove some tasks from your to-do list. For instance, someone has asked you to do something, but you shouldn’t do that and you don’t want to do that. And you won’t get any benefits from that. You should definitely delete such task! Or the task itself is useless, but according to some predefined strategy, or tactics, you should do that. Probably, the best option would be to change the current workflow. And, as a result, you can delete that task from your list.
The second word in that approach is “delegate”. If you have some subordinates who can deal with it properly, or different department should do that, or any other case when you can delegate the task with no significant influence on the result, you should definitely delegate that task.
The third word is “defer”. That means that some tasks could be postponed, but having the final date in your mind. And you know that starting doing the task on the final date you won’t have extra pressure on you. So you shouldn’t be collecting the materials for the presentation the day before the presentation itself. And what is the benefit of deferring the task? The thing is that some tasks become obsolete. That means that if you postponed, let’s say, 10 tasks in one week, most likely 2 or 3 of them will be out of the scope.
And then the fourth word is “do”. In case if you weren’t able to delete, delegate, or defer the task, and you know that the task should be done, you definitely should start working on that task.
Reasons of not starting doing a task
What are the possible reasons that you can’t start doing some task? Please, pause this audio for a minute, recall such task from your list and then, while you continue listening to the podcast, try to identify what is the real reason why you cannot start doing the task. I will name the reasons one by one. And, only after having all the list, we will talk more about the approaches which we can use to fight those blockers.
Okay, let’s go through the list now:
A) You know the problem itself, but you haven’t converted that into the real task. And, of course, without having the task you don’t know how to complete it.
B) The task is really boring.
C) You know that it will take too long to complete the task.
D) You don’t know where to start.
E) You know that working with the task will bring you some unpleasant experience. For instance, speaking with someone you don’t like.
F) High risk of failure. Most likely you will fail and, of course, you don’t want to start something that you will fail.
G) No exact deadlines. Nothing forces you to implement something, and you think that in the future you will have more time to implement that.
H) Some hidden psychological barrier. You feel something stopping you, but you can’t recognize what exactly does that.
I should tell that there are much more reasons than on this list. But I took the most common cases and I hope that they will cover at least 70 % of your list of postponed tasks.
And now let’s dive deep into each of those reasons and understand how we can help ourselves to overcome those barriers. Let’s start!
A) Converting the problem into the real task
It is just a problem which is not converted into task yet. There is an interesting alternative definition for the word “problem” which says that the problem is a poorly described goal. The interesting thing here: while the problem is something negative in our mind, the task itself is something more positive. That’s why our brain doesn’t like to deal with problems but easily can start working on a task. And your first step would be to start an investigation. What people do when having the problem? What are possible solutions? What resources do you have to deal with the problem? What is the easiest and most applicable approach in your exact case? And, of course, you can speak with people, you can Google the answers, but you should do that research! And after having some answers you will be able to properly set the goal and achieve it.
B) The task is boring!
What to do when the task is boring? You have already done it before, you know that it takes some time to implement, and you know that it is a routine task with no creativity, with no additional pleasure in doing that, but you need to do this. The first idea that comes into my mind is the one I have borrowed from my good friend. And the idea is to change the environment. So if you have some business trip, or a vacation or any other kind of change of the environment, it puts your mind into the different state so that you can perform much better in those routine tasks.
The second idea is to use a timer. For instance, you make a commitment that you will do the task for 10 minutes with no interruption. And your goal is to do as much as possible in those 10 minutes. And after doing that you will realize that you can do the task quicker.
The third idea, which I like and use a lot, is to do something in parallel. Especially if that routine work doesn’t require your brain efforts. Because while doing those routine tasks you can perform much better with your brain: you can brainstorm, you can analyze, you can generate some new ideas… And it seems to me that those routine tasks help you. For instance, I’m using morning exercises to drive my thoughts into a single direction to generate some new ideas. And it really helps me!
C) It takes too much time to complete
What to do when the task takes too much time to complete? The main solution here is decomposition. You take one huge task, split it into parts, and then you go by checkpoints. For example, if you have one big task and you split it into 20 parts, you can describe every single part of it on a piece paper and then put checkboxes near each part. And after completing each of those parts, you can put completion marks in those checkboxes and you will start enjoying the process. Because by having those checkboxes, or checkpoints, you feel how much closer you are right now to the end than before. And the most important thing here is that you know that you have already started the task, you know your progress, and you know the plan of how you want to finish the task, and then you know what should be done today. After doing this part you shouldn’t worry about the task, at least today.
D) You don’t know where to start
Okay, you don’t know where to start. Most likely it means that you didn’t perform the investigation properly. And that means that we have returned to the first case when we didn’t convert a problem to a task. But there are also situations when you just can’t see the whole picture of how to complete the task. In that case, I like the approach which I’ve got from Brian Tracy’s book. And the idea is to take the journey with one oil barrel at a time. As you probably know it’s really hard to build a proper road in a desert. One of the approaches is to put one black oil barrel every two miles with no additional infrastructure. And when you drive with the car through the desert, you start from a single barrel and you will see the next one, only the next one. After driving to the next one, you will see the previous one and again the next one. As a result, you don’t see the whole track, but you know the direction by seeing the next small goal. And if to return to the blocker of not starting the task when you don’t know where to start but you know at least several subtasks, you can choose any of those subtasks and start doing them. And by doing that you will see a better picture of where to move next.
E) Unpleasant experience during the completion of the task
The next one is an unpleasant experience like communication with some people you don’t like. It’s a tough one. If you can’t delegate that, and you can’t defer that anymore, the best way is to do it as quickly as possible, like drinking some disgusting medicine. Commit yourself, take a deep breath and do it without overthinking what would be the result, how that person will react and so on. Just do it! This part is about self-discipline which we’ve discussed in the previous episode.
F) High risk of failure
The next one is the feeling that the task execution has a high risk of failure. That means that before starting working on the task you already know that it will be a failure. And, of course, you’re not motivated to start working on that task. Because you know that your efforts will be wasted. But this is an amazing opportunity for you! Because if you know that you will fail, but you still need to do this to report your work or for any other reason, you can experiment with the task. Because if you know that it will be successful you will not allow yourself to experiment, but if you know that you will fail, you can do anything! You can try different ideas, different approaches. You are becoming an artist by creating alternative ways of completing the task. And you don’t need to be afraid that you will fail because you already know you will fail. And all you need to do is to try new approaches.
G) You don’t have exact deadlines
Another blocker is when you don’t have exact deadlines. And you know that you can do a task today or in a month. Moreover, you don’t need to report about the task to anybody. In general, if you don’t have any external stimulus, the best way here is to create that stimulus for yourself. For instance, you can tell your friends or your coworkers that you will complete the task in a week or something like that. Also, you can make it worse using the conditions like: “If I don’t do that in a week I should make a gift to a person I don’t really like.” Or you can think about any other good idea that would definitely force you to finish the task.
H) Hidden psychological blockers
And the last barrier in my list was a hidden psychological blocker. The reason for that can be some subconscious resistance. In most cases, you have the same type of tasks which are connected somehow to each other and you just can’t start doing them. There are some approaches to overcome it by yourself, but it would be better if you could discuss that with a psychologist. They know a lot of different tools on how to detect reasons for such behavior.
How can you fool your brain?
There is one interesting lifehack which could help you to start working on most of the new tasks. And it’s related to the understanding of how our brain works and how we can fool it. The idea is really simple: when we have a new task in most cases our brain resists doing that because it takes a lot of energy to find a proper way to implement the task, then to overcome all the blockers. It’s much easier for our brain to start doing the task which we already know how to do. So, how can we play with our brain? We can commit ourselves for a small period of time, let’s say, for 5 minutes. You can say: “I will do this task for 5 minutes only.” That’s not too complicated and it doesn’t take too much time. Let’s just try it for 5 minutes. But after we have started doing something, our brain finds the way to continue doing that. Moreover, after we’ve started implementing the task our brain tries to finish it! And after those 5 innocent minutes, our consciousness falls into the trap.
Your task for the next week
This one is a really easy one. Remind yourself about three tasks that you can’t start doing. Doesn’t matter if it’s related to your job, your health or your relationship. Just select three different tasks which you postpone all the time and analyze why do you postpone them by using the list of blockers that I’ve just provided. This task is really easy to do and you might probably ask “Why should I do this? There is no sense of doing that task!” But there is a good reason for implementing such tasks because every time you listen to some information and do nothing with that, you forget about it in a week at most. But when you try doing something with the information you’ve just received, you remember that there is such a tool. And even if you don’t desperately need it right away, you will need it in 3 or 6 months. And you’ll recall that there is such an approach to help in your situation and you will know where to find it quickly.