Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!
How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me – several. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started, so I’ve come up with some tricks to use on myself, to prod myself to get started:
1. Put yourself in jail. If I feel pressure to jump in and finish something in a rush, and therefore can’t bear to start, sometimes I put myself in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate. You can take the time to get every single detail right.
2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood. Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But, whenever I have trouble getting started because I don’t know exactly what to do, and I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it helps.
3. Remember: Most decisions don’t require extensive research. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can get started. Also, I try to identify a knowledgeable person, and just follow whatever that person does.
4. Take a baby step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion. In the same vein…
5. Suffer for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, and 15 minutes, day after day, adds up surprisingly fast. That’s how I finally dug myself out of my crushing (if virtual) load of digital photos. 15 minutes at a time.
6. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. Get everything ready — any phone numbers of information you need, files assembled, everything ready to go. And the next day, at the first possible moment – as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever – just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you think you’ll be tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.
7. Protect yourself from interruption. How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task much harder. Carve out some time to work.
8. Remember, work can be one of the most pernicious forms of procrastination. Don’t kid yourself.
Note: Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. No one enjoys getting invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, you might be better off figuring out a way to avoid some of those tasks altogether.
I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, but ask – what’s making this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.
On the other hand, novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, do bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. Keep that in mind, too.
What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?