Therapy in Mind

Exploring ways to improve your life through practical behavioral therapy.

How to Get Things Done

Inertia is a buzzkill: blast through!

Sometimes, you just don't want to do something. But you have to, or perhaps you want to, but you don't really feel like it. Worse yet, you may feel that inertia just sucking the life out of you, making matters worse. And then you may cope with that unpleasant feeling by getting sidetracked with distracting procrastination activities. So what to do? You can't always rely on desire to magically kick in and propel you into productive effort. Further, you may have a habit of avoiding things that you are not otherwise forced to do (to one extent or another). Like most of us, if you don't have external pressure and potential penalties (i.e., getting fired) spurring you on, it can be tough to get yourself to do things that can wait but that you really want done.

With the right amount of refocusing, you can reduce the amount of time that you waste in putting things off. If you're having problems with motivation or simply feeling overwhelmed, the best way to break through the inertia and get going is to have a schedule. Yes, that thing also known as structure. Setting deadlines for yourself and keeping appointments with yourself are very effective ways to start the ball rolling and maintain momentum. In order to make the most of your schedule, you would do best to organize and prioritize. Organizing and prioritizing may not be everyone's forte, but there is one powerful tool that you have at your disposal: writing.

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Writing things down on paper (or in a Word document that can be modified — even better) nails down your thoughts and allows you to evaluate what's in your head more easily. When you have concrete ideas in black and white, you can effectively work with them. You will need (at least) two lists — a master list, and a list for today.

For large or multi-step projects (i.e., those that take more than one day), do your best to break down the tasks into more manageable increments. Grow the list to the point at which you have all your key tasks in front of you, and then develop a realistic (yes, that word "realistic" is important) plan by setting deadlines, also taking into account the priority of the items. Plug those items into your schedule by making appointments, and then set aside a time at the end of the week (say, 3pm on Friday) to check in and make the necessary adjustments for the week ahead.

Prioritizing can be a bit tricky. Each item can be evaluated, perhaps with a numeric value (on a scale of 1-10) with regard to several aspects:

1) Immediacy - how urgent is the matter?

2) Importance - how crucial is the matter?

3) Time - how much time will the matter consume?

4) Effort - how difficult is the matter, or how much labor will the matter consume?

To get the most out of each day, you can start with items that are highest in each of these categories. Those are your big, important and urgent matters. You may not get to those all in one day, so you can designate a bulk of your time to such items. As the day progresses, you may turn to items that score more moderately on these categories, and at the end of the day, you may have time to fit in one or more of low priority items.

By structuring and scheduling yourself, you will have a better chance of getting things done in less time. The payoff is that you will be more productive and less stressed out by managing your time more effectively. So when you feel the inertia dragging you down, don't succumb to it's pull — fight back by refocusing on structure in order to keep yourself on track.

By: Allison Conner, Psy.D.

Allison Conner, Psy.D., is the founder of Cognitive Therapy Associates.

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