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How to do a task you don’t want to do

Last updated on 
January 3, 2020

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No matter how driven you are, there will always be tasks you dread doing. Whether they’re boring, repetitive, time-consuming or stressful, the result is the same: you put them off and find reasons not to start them. But usually, you can’t ignore them forever. So how can you motivate yourself to do a task you simply don’t want to do? It essentially comes down to two things: understanding why you want to ditch it in the first place, and knowing how to overcome your reluctance. Here’s what you need to know.

Why we put off tasks

So, you’ve identified a task you really don’t want to do. Recognizing what it is about a job that repels us is important, because depending on the reason for your unwillingness, you may figure out a way to avoid the problem in future. For example, if you dread low-value, repetitive tasks, you might want to outsource them to intelligent software – think automatic time tracking, AI email prioritization and automated minute taking.

Figuring out why you try to avoid a job is always the first step. There are many reasons why we put off certain chores, but most of them are emotional: we just don’t feel like doing something. If there’s nothing physically stopping us from getting a job done, it’s a psychological issue – and because it’s psychological, it’s up to us to decide whether we want to be ruled by our negative emotions, or whether we want to conquer this pessimism.

How to start difficult tasks

So what strategies are there for motivating yourself to take on unappealing tasks?

1. Reward yourself

Sometimes the simple things are most effective. It’s not “self-bribery”; we all like being rewarded. Balancing obligation with pleasure is a notoriously tricky thing to do, yet research suggests that treating yourself after being productive can act as a powerful motivator. So when you aren’t getting intrinsic pleasure from the task at hand, it’s ok to look for it extrinsically to help get the job done. So what are some ways you can reward yourself?

  • Treat yourself: If a task is especially arduous, consider rewarding yourself with a bigger prize. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but treating yourself to something you’ve coveted for a while keeps your eyes on the prize, and helps you keep going when your motivation is dwindling.
  • Time out: Rewards don’t have to be monetary or physical. Having an indulgent break or enjoying a hot bath after finishing a task can be a great way to reward yourself, as well as relax and recharge.
  • Enjoyment: If you can find a way to have fun while doing a task, you’re winning. Boring, fiddling tasks like expenses are much more fun when you’re blaring your favorite music.

For more information on how our different types of motivation work, have a read of this.

2. Think prevention, not promotion

When it comes to motivation – or lack of it – there are two different ways of thinking: promotion vs prevention. ‘Promotion’ focuses on the rewards of whatever we’re working towards, e.g. “If I finish writing this book, I might get a book deal!”. While this can be an effective motivator, it can also result in stalling, because when you think of success, inevitably you also start to think of failure, e.g. “What if my book is terrible?”. When these doubts creep in, many of us utilize delaying tactics in an effort to evade those outcomes.

Prevention’ is quite different. Rather than focusing on the positive elements that may come from finishing a task, this method moves your thoughts to keeping hold of what you’ve already achieved. Embracing this more realistic view helps eradicate uncertainty; you’re no longer entertaining ideas of what might happen if you finish a task, but on what you will avoid by completing it: e.g. “If I don’t fill out my hours, I won’t get paid and I won’t make rent.” Consequences make for excellent motivators and help put your task in perspective!

3. Schedule it, time it

No matter how much we employ the strategies above, it doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to leap into action and get to it. Big, unexciting tasks require proper scheduling, and here there are many ways you can make things easier for yourself.

Ideally, you should get the task you’re looking forward to least out the way first. This is the “eat a frog” mentality: if you get the most crucial job done first, not only will everything else seem easier, but you’ll also achieve something important or meaningful every day. However, we’re all individuals, and if you find your motivation is strongest in the afternoon or evening, that’s fine. (Use this method to work out your peak productive time)!

Setting a time constraint is also a good idea. Promising yourself that you’ll spend at least 30 minutes on that dreaded task makes it seem more manageable (the suffering has a clearly defined finish!), but if you get into the flow and spend any longer on the job, you’ll feel much more positive about it, too.

Need an extra push to start your tasks? Take a look at how time blocking can help.

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