Perhaps the most common cause of procrastination is the putting off of major tasks.
Why do we put off the big tasks or projects?
Lots of possible reasons:
- We’re busy and don’t feel we have time for something that will take an hour or three.
- The task is difficult and uncomfortable, and doing smaller, more familiar tasks is easier and more comfortable.
- We worry we’re not going to do well at this task, because it’s unfamiliar or too hard.
- It’s boring and we’d rather do something less boring.
- We fear failure or embarrassment.
- We don’t have enough information, though it’s possible we don’t realize that consciously and are just avoiding it for a seemingly unknown reason.
- We don’t have the ability to fully do the task — we need a tool we don’t have, or someone else needs to help. Often we don’t consciously realize this either.
But mostly the reason is that we fear a big, difficult, unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable task.
The solution is fairly simple: do a small chunk of it. And reconnect with the Why.
Reconnect with the Why
When you notice yourself avoiding a difficult task, take a moment to pause, and ask yourself why you’re avoiding it. What do you fear? What do you lack? What’s getting in your way?
Then ask yourself why you even have this on your to-do list in the first place. Why is this important enough to be on your horizon? You’re incredibly busy as it is — couldn’t you just take this off your list?
Often there’s a very good reason you have it on your list — a strong motivation. But you need to remind yourself of that. And sometimes that requires going a little deeper.
For example, my task is to write this article — but that requires that I put everything else aside for an hour and really give this topic my full concentration. Why should I bother doing that? Well, because it’s on my list. But why is it there? Because I think it should go in the Unprocrastinate module. Why? Because it’s a problem related to procrastinating that I want to help solve. Why? Because I want to help Sea Change members who struggle with this. Why? Because I genuinely care about helping people who struggle.
And this is my motivation: to help people who struggle, however I can.
Connecting with this motivation gives me the motivation to put everything aside and focus.
Do the Smallest Chunk
When you’re avoiding something difficult, the best solution is to make it easy. Simplify it.
So if I have a book I need to write, I need to stop thinking, “Need to write book.” I can’t write the entire book right now. I can’t even write an entire chapter in this particular moment.
What can I do? Well, I can open up a text editor and close everything else. That’s the smallest step. If I just focus on that, it’s not that hard. This is a small, easy task that’s doable. I have time to do that.
Then what? Well, instead of trying to write an entire chapter, how about if I just jot down a few bullet points? That’s super doable, and just takes a minute.
Then what? I can write a paragraph. That’s doable.
The problem comes when we try to envision the entire project — that’s difficult and less doable.
When we envision a big task, we think about the hard parts, and we imagine that it’s going to be uncomfortable and time-consuming. We imagine the worst.
Instead, focus on the small, easy step right in front of you. Don’t try to anticipate how hard the other steps are — this one is easy. And so is the next, once you’re done with that.
Each step is doable, and that one step is all you can do anyway.