Tasks I Just Can’t Face – Beating Procrastination

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” ~Olin Miller

I had a moment of self-revelation yesterday when I discovered that I have been using one of my key productivity tools – my to-do list as a form of procrastination.

Some people use lists to procrastinate by spending such a long time making and prioritising them that they have no time to do their actual tasks. I do still do that from time to time.

My method of procrastination has been to lower the priority of the tasks I just don’t want to face to the point where I never get around to doing them.

A number of months ago I scraped the front of my brand new car on the edge of our garage door. It was a horrible scrape – gouging out paint from 3 panels.

I was so ashamed that I did that to my new car (it was only 2 months old at the time) I just didn’t want to face it. Nevertheless, I added “arrange smash repair” to my to do list.

Each morning I would star the items that really needed to be done that day. I’d make sure I would get through all the starred tasks, and then, if I had time and inclination, would attack the other tasks. So long as I got through my starred list, I could go to bed with peace of mind that I was staying on top of everything.

Since “arrange smash repair” didn’t have to be completed by a certain date, it was never starred. I would just keep putting it off. Weeks turned into months.

On Friday, however, I dinged my lovely new car again. This time on the rear. I was backing into a space and caught the edge of a garden bed which had a brick border only 3 bricks high. I just couldn’t see it from my rear window. I now have a scrape on the rear left corner of my car to match my scrape on the front right corner.

I realised I couldn’t put the repairs off any longer even though I didn’t want to face them. That’s when I admitted to myself how I’d been procrastinating over the last few months.

Forcing myself to deal with the damage was difficult. I felt like such an idiot for damaging my car twice and I didn’t want to admit to anyone that that is what I’d done. I also didn’t want to have my car off the road for repairs, and I wasn’t looking forward to paying the excess (with 2 separate incidents, its become very expensive).

I couldn’t face the whole process, so I decided to just face the very first step – ring my insurance company. I’d deal with the rest of the process later.

Breaking it down like that made it easier. I booked the assessment. Now that that is out of the way, I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the process. I can’t wait to have my car restored to the beautiful condition it was in when I bought it last year.

So here is what I’ve learned:

My tip for avoiding procrastination

(Based on Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done)

  • Ask: What is the very next action I have to take on this task?
  • Just do the very next action.

This helps me, because I can ignore the enormity of a task, especially one that is overwhelming, and, as I start to chip away at it, it gains momentum and becomes less daunting.

Sometimes in life, the difficulties we face are only difficult because we make them that way.

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do sort of tasks to you procrastinate, and how do you beat procrastination?


11 thoughts on “Tasks I Just Can’t Face – Beating Procrastination

  1. You’re not alone. Have you read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”? Your tips are part of the method. Another big part is regular (weekly) review so things don’t get buried. Another tip is to have a defined “done” state for a task. Visualising and writing down the end state can be motivational in itself, e.g. car looking and feeling shiny and new again.

    • I started that book and always meant to finish it, but never got around to it – procrastination again! Breaking tasks down was a method we were taught at uni to help overwhelmed students, but yes, I think the terminology about “next action” must be his – I’ll ammend this post to credit him.

      I haven’t come across the idea of having a defined “done” state before. That’s a great idea, thanks!

  2. Hi Corisel, I’ve never really thought of making a list as procrastination, but it makes perfect sense… it gives the feeling that something is being done, when it isn’t! The thing with my lists is I never rearrange them into priority order, so I make the list and then do nothing else unless I really need to. You’ve got me thinking now! 🙂

    • I suppose that at least by making the list, it puts those things in your mind so you don’t forget about them and get them done when you need to.

      I think I might be an extreme case – I just can’t function well without a list. If I don’t have one, I start doing a little of one thing, then do a little of something else, and then something else again. Nothing gets finished and I end up in a big organised muddle both externally and mentally. I am a much calmer person when I write my lists.

  3. That is a good way to tackle things, I have found it useful. As long as I don’t break it down into too many tiny bits so it still can’t get finished in time… It can also be helpful in identifying if there is one step which is the block and figuring out a way to deal with that, then the rest of the task may not seem a problem.

    The worst thing I procrastinate is admin. I hate it so much I have become phobic as I have had some bad experiences, which makes it even harder! I procrastinate just about everything from time to time, I’d even put off procrastinating if it were possible…

  4. I suffered from procrastination for years and years. I tried everything to break myself free of it. Then one day I just decided, I was going to do it. If I knew it had to be done I would do it, right then, not later. Oh sure, there will always be things more important that have to be done that come up before I can get to a task, but it this be the case, I will tend to what is at hand and get right back to business. I found after years of struggles with procrastination that not only did I have more free time to do the things I loved, but I was able to do those enjoyable things without something hounding at me that needed to be done….Just do it and be done with it…If feels great!

  5. Its funny how something as simple as “just do it” seems so hard at times, and you are right of course, it feels great when things are done and you can just focus on things you love.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I never use lists, i find them a waste of time
    indeed even the shopping is much easier by
    using one’s own initiative, and the power of
    thought as it were 🙂 Well it works for me…

    Have a funtastic day now…

    Androgoth Xx

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