How often do you have a task that seems insurmountable or indigestible? Do you find that you just can’t get started on it? There is a phrase we use around our here, “have you eaten your frog yet?” Frogs are the things that you need to do, but don’t want to do, for whatever reason (for a bit of background see Watch out for the frogs and Frogs, Gnats, Butterflies and Gems).
These things get put off, because they are seen as impossibly hard to swallow. At the start of each day, pick the ugliest one and get working on it, so it doesn’t hang around.
Planning can be a form of procrastination
I used to approach things by carving out half hour slots in my diary, and scheduling various tasks across the day or week. The problem with that approach is that it creates a lot of pressure to perform, and it increases the likelihood of procrastination. Every little distraction and interuption becomes an excuse to put off doing the scheduled thing until later. By mid-afternoon, that hour’s commitment is starting to feel like a mountain to climb. We are aware when we get off-task like this, but it doesn’t help with getting back on track. So what is to be done?
Take a bite of the elephant
I hope that no-one would actually eat an elephant, but it is a common phrase and a strong image (see Chasing Mice and Eating Elephants for one discussion). The way to deal with a monster task is to take it one little piece at a time. Pick the task or project and say “Let me see what I can get done on this in the next hour.” Commit to starting on the task, and working only that task for the next hour. No more, and no less. You might even plan a reward for yourself at the end of the hour. It might be a drink, a walk or a bit of random procrastination of your choice, like a quick bit of web surfing.
Pick the task, and shut out any other distractions. Create focus for yourself. Look at the clock, note the time and set to work. Remember, you aren’t committing to an outcome or an achievement, you are just investing an hour into a task to move things forward.
At the end of the hour, let yourself loose, but first look back at what you have achieved. I guarantee that you will be amazed at the results. Celebrate the achievement. That success creates forward momentum and boosts your productivity, you’ll want to get going on more things.
Amaze yourself and let the pressure off
Note that it isn’t “I must work on this for an hour”. You are not beating yourself up or trying to put yourself under pressure. You are choosing to be creative – “let me see what I can do” – playing a game, having a little race. Say I will do what I can do, and all that will be enough. Set yourself up for success. Anything that you get done is bonus. Rather than “I must do x” which sets you up for failure and is going to trigger fear and stress responses.
Once the frog is gone, it is gone
The one hour approach makes those frogs easier to swallow. If you know the frog eating is only going to last an hour, and you are only going to eat what you can, it is that much less pressured.
The feeling of having that tasks out of the way is a wonderful boost to productivity for the rest of the day. If an hour seems like too much, try the beginners version and go for a very focussed 20 minutes. This technique has worked wonders for me, let me know how it works for you.
Related Articles: Too Much Choice – Too Little Happiness (how choice causes procrastination), Watch out for the frogs! (understanding different types of task) and The Now Habit – Dealing with Procrastination (overview of Neil Fiore’s excellent book).