The tasks we procrastinate on are rarely those that are simple, straightforward, easy, or interesting. What we tend to put off are the things that are complex, difficult, and less than exciting. In this week's article, the second in an occasional series (see Related Links for the first article), we'll take a look at ways of overcoming procrastination on projects that are hardly a thrill a minute but still need our time, attention, and effort.
Change your environment
When you've got bills to pay, a checkbook to balance, or forms to fill out, chances are the prospect of sitting down at your desk or kitchen table to deal with them is not an exciting one. When you find yourself avoiding tasks you need to do because you're bored by both the tasks themselves and the spot in which you do them, it's time to change your environment.
Try packing up the supplies you need and taking them somewhere--anywhere!--new and different: the back patio, the neighborhood coffee shop, the library, or any other place that's different enough from your regular spot to make the experience seem fresher than it would otherwise. The change of scenery may not make your tasks fun, but it can help you do them more efficiently.
I have several clients who bring me in to help them work on projects that are too dry or boring to tackle alone: sorting through paperwork, rearranging closets, updating files, and so on. Whether I'm providing hands-on help or am simply serving as a coach and motivator, the work tends to go more quickly, as we can bounce ideas off each other, chat about other topics as we sort, and get over the boredom hurdles that almost always crop up.
Try bringing in a fresh pair of eyes and hands the next time you're faced with an important task that's too unappealing to tackle alone. Depending on the work you need to do, you might enlist a friend or neighbor, a child, a partner, or an outside professional. Just make sure your helper is willing to keep you on track and lend assistance if you need it, and has the stamina to stick with you until you're done with the task at hand.
Set--and stick to--a time limit
Many tasks can be unappealing in general, but they tend to become even more so if they seem to spread out endlessly in front of you. Who wants to spend a huge, undefined chunk of time cleaning out the fridge or folding clothes?
If tasks without end are particularly unbearable, it logically follows that they can be made slightly less painful if you attach time limits to them. Hate exercise but know it's a key part of staying healthy? Promise yourself you only need to commit to a 30-minute walk a few times a week, and let yourself off the hook once the half-hour is up. Want to tidy up the house without spending all day on it? Set a kitchen timer for 10 or 20 minutes and challenge yourself to do as much as you can before the buzzer goes off. Whatever time limits you set, and however you choose to use them, make sure they're realistic; tiny chunks of time won't let you make much progress on anything, and huge chunks will wear you out. Find a balance and stick to it.
When all else fails, or if the prospect of a reward is simply a powerful motivator for you, try bribing yourself into doing the unexciting tasks you're faced with. You can either build your prize into the task itself--say, listening to a new book on tape only while you're cleaning the house--or use it as motivation to complete the task (for example, promising yourself an hour of completely free time once you've finished dealing with the stack of filing on your desk).
Unless you have unusually strong willpower, avoid rewarding yourself before you do the work you need to do. Chances are good you'll enjoy the reward but may well not get to the actual task (after all, what's the impetus?). Be good to yourself, but also respect the intentions behind setting up a reward system in the first place.
Use these techniques the next time you're faced with unexciting tasks you need to do and might be inclined to put off. You may not realize a newfound love of bill paying or dusting, but you'll be able to check them off your to do list and move on to things you actually want to be doing.