What Are You Putting Off? How to Get On With It in 3 Steps

By Ali Luke

November 28, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Most of us put things off. Sometimes, we put off getting started or making progress on big projects… and other times, we put off small tasks that sound simple on paper but seem like a big effort to do.

The problem is, the more we put something off, the harder it is to get going on it. Our resistance to doing it gets greater and greater … and often, the task becomes more difficult or more unpleasant the longer we put it off.

Maybe we’re putting off a trip to the dentist because we’d rather not have to pay for any treatment (but the longer we leave it, the more it’s likely to cost). Maybe we’re putting off phoning that disgruntled customer (but the longer we leave it, the more likely they are to get even more annoyed … and get in touch with our boss).

Whatever you’re putting off today, here’s a three-step process to getting on with it.

  1. Figure Out Why
    Firstly, there’s always a reason why you’re putting something off. Don’t dismiss your reluctance or resistance to something as being “stupid” or inexplicable. It might not seem logical, but there’s often a good reason behind it.

Get honest here. What’s the benefit of not getting that task done?

    • If you don’t start your diet, you can keep on eating whatever you want, whenever you want
  • If you don’t read that book for school, you’ll have more time to play computer games 
  • If you don’t make that phone call, you won’t have to face possible rejection 
  • If you don’t start writing your novel, you’ll never have to face up to the fact that you might not be as good a writer as you want to be (yet)
  • If you don’t quit smoking, you won’t have to go through withdrawal symptoms and you’ll still have your stress-relief

Just figuring out the reason why can help you break down your resistance to the task. If you admit that you’re putting off that phone call because it’s scary (not because it’s going to take five hours or cost you a fortune in call charges or something), it’s easier to rise above your fear.

  • Break It Down
    The next step is to break your task down. A lot of the tasks we put off are difficult because we’re not clear about what we actually need to do to complete them. We’re not just putting off acting – we’re putting off the hard thinking work that needs to go in. 

By breaking a task into bite-sized chunks, it’s much easier to cut down the resistance. If you have “write my resume” on your task list for today, you’ll almost instantly start feeling reluctant to do it. You’ve got no idea how much work needs to go in, and you don’t know where to begin.

Instead, break that task into chunks, perhaps like this:

    • List all my qualifications
    • Find the dates and details for my work history
  • Email two potential referees to ensure they’re happy to provide a reference
  • Brainstorm about the skills I’ve gained from volunteering 

… and so on.

It doesn’t look so daunting now, does it?

  • Take the First Action
    The third step is to simply do the first task on that broken-down list. Don’t think too hard about it: the more you think about how much work it’ll be or how much you dislike it, the more difficult it will be to get started. 

Just take the plunge! Jump right in and get going – and you’ll find that your resistance to the task vanishes almost straight away.

Bonus Step: Get Over Yourself
If you still feel stuck, this might be why: In a lot of cases, your reason for resisting a task might simply be that it seems, well, boring or hard or not much fun at all.

Sometimes, you just have to get over yourself and accept that you do have to do some hard things in order to reach your goals. In fact, most goals worth achieving will not be easy 100% of the time.

Naomi Dunford (from the must-read small business marketing blog IttyBiz) puts this way better than I could:

Every time you don’t want to do something, think you shouldn’t have too, or find yourself using words like “uncomfortable” or “nervous”, run your excuses through the Fourth Grade BS Detector.

Would an entrepreneurial 10-year-old agree with your logic or would they hear, “But I don’t waaaaaaaaaaaaaaanna”?

Choose your next actions accordingly.

(Naomi Dunford, Introducing the Incredible Business-Building Bullshit Detector, IttyBiz)

What are you putting off today? Why? How does it break down? What’s the first step? Tell us about it in the comments!

Written on 11/28/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali is a professional writer and blogger, and a part-time postgraduate student of creative writing. If you need a hand with any sort of written project, drop her a line ([email protected]) or check out her website at Aliventures. Photo Credit: SuperFantastic
Ali Luke

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