I was looking at my calendar today and it occurred to me that there are some tasks I assign myself that I really don’t want to do. You could call it simple procrastination, but I began to wonder why we all sometimes willingly take on projects that really don’t thrill us; consequently, we end up procrastinating or simply defaulting on the task. I’ve come up with five reasons I believe that I (and probably you) do this and some ways to overcome these obstacles to personal productivity and fulfillment.
- The problem: Feelings of inadequacy. This may be especially common if it’s a task that requires us to stretch our abilities. We worry that we’ll fail or look like fools. We’re not sure we have the skills or the smarts to successfully complete the task.
The solution: We can take several steps to overcome these unjustified feelings of inadequacy. First, review past successes and confirm your ability to perform at the required level. Second, acquire whatever tools or skills we need to complete the task. Third, break the task down into smaller steps and tackle them one by one.
- The problem: Lack of interest. We don’t want to do it and can’t figure out why we ever thought we wanted to do it.
The solution: Decide if the task is important enough that it should be completed. If it’s not, take if off the to-do list and never think about it again. If it does have some value consider these options: 1) delegate it to someone else; 2) hire a sub-contractor; 3) find a way to automate the task so you have to deal with it less often; 4) barter with someone—you take on one of her tasks and she takes on one of yours.
- The problem: Misplaced priorities. We know we need to do the task; we know the project is important; we want to complete it. However, we keep finding other things that siphon away our fixed hours in a day, and the task just sits there on our to-do list staring up at us waiting for us to get it done.
The solution: Setting milestones works wonders for keeping your priorities on track; give yourself deadlines and work toward them on a daily basis. I find that setting timers on my phone to remind me when it’s time to work on particular tasks is helpful, but you can use any method that keeps you focused on what’s important at that moment.
- The problem: Unrealistic expectations. Despite my love of the Alicia Keys song “Superwoman,” that fact is I can only do so many jobs in a day. It’s so tempting to look at our calendars and start scheduling ourselves from morning to night with all kinds of interesting activities. And then it’s too bad we end up procrastinating and making excuses when we can’t meet all those obligations.
The solution: Schedule the mundane first. Yep, I said it. Schedule the cooking, the cleaning, the bathing, the dog walking, the date night, the dinner hour, and every other common, but oh-so important activity first. Once we have a grip on how much “real” time we have for all those other interesting tasks we’ll be less likely to jam them into our calendars only to put them off when we’re overwhelmed.
- The problem: Saying yes when we should say no. This issue is last, but it could be first because I believe it is often the root cause of all four preceding problems: 1) We feel inadequate because we say yes when we know we aren’t really up to the task. 2) We lack interest because we say yes out of politeness instead of interest. 3) We get our priorities out of whack by by saying yes to Angry Birds instead of working on that project. 4) And we set unrealistic expectations when we say yes to every promising activity that crosses our paths.
The solution: It’s a simple solution that can be maddeningly difficult to implement; say NO. I’m learning to love those two letters strung together in such a simple, single-syllable utterance. NO. The thing with NO is that it need not be followed by an explanation of why we aren’t the right person or not interested, why it’s not a priority or doesn’t fit into our schedule. Of course, given the scarcity of NOs many people may look surprised and expect an explanation. My favorite reply is simply, “Not at this time.” Who knows? Things could change but right now the answer is NO.
Next time you look at your calendar or to-do list and cringe at some of those items you keep putting off, think about these five reasons why you might feel that way and then take steps to defeat the problems keeping you from excelling at the things your were designed to do.