When you’re staring blankly at your computer or painfully aware that you’re not doing what you need to get done, it’s easy to fall into some time-investment traps, such as:
Thinking you’ll just stay up as late as you need to in order to get the work done, which leads to wasting time and being sleep-deprived.
Trying to get yourself motivated, which isn’t always necessary and can lead to more procrastination.
Sticking with the task but having it take way longer than it should take.
If so, you’re not alone, and the key is often to step back, not just to clear your mind of anxiety but to actually address what’s making you nervous: a lack of clarity. You can do this by breaking down what you need to get done into the smallest of baby steps. This is particularly helpful when you need to move a messy project ahead but can also work with more routine tasks where you notice a resistance to getting started.
For example, a packet that I needed to review came in the mail from my accountant. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. I noticed myself not wanting to open it and address what was inside and telling myself, “I’ll just squeeze that in somewhere.” But as a time coach, I could only deceive myself for a few days until I realized, “Nope. I need to break down this task into microsteps and set aside an hour or so to get this done.”
I stepped away from my computer and wrote down this list:
Look at papers.
Make sure everything is there and correct.
Send questions to accountant.
Sign and date forms.
Mail items that can be sent from home.
Go to the post office for larger items.
Look at the invoice from last year to make sure it’s comparable.
Write check and mail with copy of invoice.
Make note of check number and payment date on the invoice.
File the invoice in my expense folder.
Put payment amount in budget.
From this place of radical clarity, I could then come back to my desk, open the envelope, and get the mini project done.
Here’s why this worked: Although on a “logical” level it seemed ridiculous to not just immediately address this “easy” task, on a subconscious level I was uncertain of what I needed to get done once I opened the Pandora’s box, so I hesitated to address it. By writing out each step, I had a clear roadmap of what I needed to do. Also, as I completed each task, I could cross it off and easily know where to start again if I needed to stop mid-way.
If you find yourself resisting something, whether it’s answering a difficult email, finishing a project, or addressing an issue, I would like you to take a deep breath, walk away from your desk, and write down the steps to move forward. Then try again and see if your resistance is lower.