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When You Don’t Feel Like Doing It

Eight tools for getting yourself to do something you'd rather avoid.

Key points

  • Rather than use an anti-procrastination tactic, it may be more motivating to invoke one of your core values.
  • It can help to break a task into commitments of just a few minutes or some small chunk of the task.
  • A personally selected reward or punishment can also help, perhaps enlisting a friend for support.
 Fazelrodrigues1/Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0
Source: Fazelrodrigues1/Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0

As we enter tax season, we may avoid hairy but necessary activities. Of course, that’s not limited to taxes. It's anything you'd find unpleasant, or the technical term, yucky.

Whatever you’re tempted to procrastinate about, one or more of these may help:

A toolkit

Invoke a value. Sometimes, it helps to remind yourself that doing the thing you want to avoid is consistent with your valuing responsibility to yourself, your partner, family, employer, or even society. Or perhaps you'd be more motivated by invoking a negative value such as fear of getting in trouble with your boss, spouse, or the IRS.

A time bit. Sometimes, all you need to get moving is to say, "OK, what’s my first one-second task?" Or if you’re more ambitious, “OK, I’ll work on the darn thing for five minutes.” Or if you’re really ambitious, there's the Pomodoro Technique: 20 minutes on, five minutes off, 20 minutes on, five minutes off, 20 minutes on, and so on. That's called a Pomodoro.

 Marco Verch/Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Marco Verch/Flickr, CC 2.0

Set a timer. Rather than the one on your phone or watch, you might try one of those tomato-shaped timers after which the Pomodoro (tomato in Italian) technique is named. Why? It ticks, which can be motivating. Indeed that’s what filmmakers do to keep you on edge: the ticking clock or time-bomb.

A task bit. For some people, that’s more motivating than a time bit. For example, you might say, “I’m just going to enter my income into TurboTax and then I’ve done enough taxes for now.”

A tangible reward. What will motivate you? For example, “After this stint, I’ll text a friend.” Or play on the internet, or get lunch.

A punishment. For example, “If I don’t complete my stint, I’ll flush a dollar down the toilet.”

Support. Sometimes, you can be motivated by fear of embarrassment or letting someone down. So might it help to make an arrangement with a friend? For example, each time you complete a stint or fail to do so on time, you’ll text that to him or her.

Chart. It often helps to see your task broken down into baby steps, charted visually. My clients have found it useful to draw a thermometer with the task’s milestones on the side. Every time you complete one, color it in. Keep your “thermometer” on your desk or wherever it will be most motivating.

Other (specify): Can you think of some other motivator?

The takeaway

Now review those tools. Are there any that might help you get through that yucky task?

I read this aloud on YouTube.