How to Go about Things You Do Not Feel Like Doing

You have left your project unfinished – the one with a tight deadline. You have also a client whose phone call you must answer – the one who puts forward complaints and takes your precious time. To cap it all, have not you promised to go to the gym more often this year? Try to imagine how less guilty, frustrated, and stressful would you be if you could make yourself do the things you do not feel like doing but which you actually have to do? Let alone how much happier and efficient you would be.

Still, do not give way to despair! You can learn how not to procrastinate tasks if you just adopt an effective strategy. Choosing the right strategy is dependent on why you actually put things off.

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Reason #1   You are putting a particular task off because you are afraid of messing it up.

Solution: Adopt a “prevention focus.”

You can look at any task from two perspectives. You can do something because you believe that it will help you to get a better position in society— as an achievement or accomplishment. For instance, if my project turns out to be a success, my boss will be impressed, or if I go to the gym regularly, I will look dazzling. Psychologists refer to this as a promotion focus – and research indicates that when you have one, the thought of making gains incentivizes you to work. Besides, it is easier when you are willing to do something and are optimistic about it. Not bad, isn’t it? As long as you are afraid of messing the task up, this is not the focus for you. Fear and doubt hamper your promotion of motivation which in turn minimizes your chances to take any action at all.

All you need is to look at what you need to do that is not shadowed by a doubt but which indeed thrives on it. When you have a prevention focus, you do not concentrate on how to avail yourself of something, but instead, consider a task as a way to preserve what you already have without losing anything. For the prevention, the successful completion of a project is a way to avoid your boss’s disappointment with you. Going regularly to the gym is a way to keep in shape. According to the book Focus, prevention motivation is stimulated by anxiety about what may not work out. When your focus is to avoid a loss, it is evident that the only way to prevent danger is to start acting.

It may not sound very exciting, particularly if you strive for a promotion but the best way to remove your anxiety over messing up is to reflect on all the adverse consequences of doing nothing whatsoever. Thus, do yourself a favor and become scared out of your wits. It sounds appalling but it works.

Reason #2     You procrastinate something because you are in no mood for doing it.

Solution: Make like Spock and forget about your feelings.

In his compelling book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman explains that most of the time when we say something like “I simply cannot wake up early in the morning“ or “I just cannot make myself do sport,” we actually mean that we cannot make ourselves feel like doing this stuff. Besides, nobody is tying you to your bed in the morning. Nobody is blocking the entrance to your gym. In fact, nothing prevents you,  you are just not in the mood for doing it. However, Burkeman asks, “Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it?”

Just reflect on it for a while because it matters. We are all led to believe that to be productive and effective, we need to be motivated to take action. I have no idea why we believe this because it is just absurd. Definitely, to some degree you need to be dedicated to what you are doing – you need to want to see the project completed, or boost your health, or start your day earlier. Nonetheless,  it is not necessary to feel like doing it.

Burkeman claims that the great majority of prolific artists, authors, and scientists have achieved so much due to their reliance on work routines that impelled them to work a particular number of hours daily, irrespective of how demotivated they might have been.

So if you think of putting something off again just because you are not in the mood for doing it, keep in mind that you do not need to feel like doing it.

Reason #3   You are putting something off because it is difficult, dreary, or just unpleasant.

Solution: Use an if-then planner.

We always find ourselves trying to work out this problem with our will: Tomorrow I will make myself deal with it sooner. However, if we possessed enough strong will to do it, we would never actually put it off. We often blindly believe in our self-discipline and count on it to keep us out of mischief.
Reconciling yourself to the fact that your strong will is limited and it may not suffice to make yourself do the stuff you consider hard, dreary, or just dreadful. Why not you use an if-then planner to complete your work?

Creating an if-then plan is not simply defining what things you need to do to finish the project yet it also implies deciding where and when you will do them.
For example, if it is already 2 p.m., then I put aside what I’m doing and kick off dealing with the report John asked for.

If my boss forgets my request for a pay rise at our meeting, then I will mention it once again before the meeting ends.

By planning out in advance what you are going to do and where and when are going to do it there is no deliberating when the time comes. Am I actually obliged to do it now, or can I do it later, or maybe I should do something else instead? Here you mull over and your strong will is decisive in your hard choice. If-then plans significantly reduce the demands put on your strong will by making sure that you have made the correct decision before the critical moment. In point of fact, if-then planning effectiveness has been proved in over 200 studies and according to them, it improved rates of goal attainment and efficiency by 200-300 percent on average.

I do understand that these three strategies which I presented here – imagining the consequences of a failure, stifling your feelings, and detailed planning – do not sound as compelling and funny as such pieces of advice like “Follow your heart!” or “Keep positive!” But a good point of them is that they do work and if you adopt them, you will surely boost your efficiency and self-motivation.