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How to Stop Procrastinating the Work You Don’t Want to Do

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Inc. here.

Everyone has a list of things that we know we should do or have to do that drain energy.

You have to schedule an appointment with your doctor. You have read a long (boring) report. You have to file your expense reports (from last fall) and also do some hard strategic thinking. You have to think harder about what will move your career forward and then do that.

But these are exactly the things which are easy to put off because they often don’t seem urgent and, candidly, it’s hard to get up the motivation to approach them.

Any day is a great day to take a look at your habits and fine tune, but the beginning of the year gives us a little extra push. Use the first few months of the year to push yourself to do the things you know you should do but that you don’t feel like doing. That momentum will carry forward into the rest of the year.

Here are some strategies to get yourself to do things you don’t feel like doing.

Prime yourself.

Priming is simply a psychological term for preparing yourself. It’s a way to activate certain associations or frames before you do certain tasks. Often priming is accidental: when you walk into a bakery and smell the cookies suddenly you want cookies when a moment ago you weren’t thinking about them at all. That’s priming.

You can use this to help yourself. There are ways you can prime yourself proactively, and when you do you orient yourself to move towards the thing you want to do.

A few ways to prime yourself are to write down your “why,” the reason that you’d like to take the action that’s hard for you. That will help you frame this action as one small step to the bigger picture and it might give you more motivation to do it.

You can tell someone else what you’d like to do and ask for their encouragement. You can read inspirational quotes to get yourself in a more open state of mind. Or you can read a story of someone overcoming a difficult obstacle.

These are ways to change the channel in your brain from “I can’t” to “I will.”

“Put your hand on the weight.”

I work out with my strength coach, Tom, four days a week. Tom knows I sometimes dawdle and procrastinate before some of the exercises. When he sees me doing that he says six powerful words: “put your hand on the weight.”

It turns out that I also dawdle and procrastinate in other aspects of my life, certainly doing the hard emotional labor I need to do to build my career or sharpen my skills to be the best coach for my clients.

When I find myself dawdling, I tell myself “put your hand on the weight.” And then I do the thing I’m procrastinating. It’s always more complicated to think about it rather than just do it, so getting to “just do it” is helpful and always moves me forward.

You can develop your own mantra or a little expression that works for you. “Just do it” has certainly been popularized, or you could go all Yoda and use “There is no try, there is just do or not do.” Another phrase that works for me is “successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t feel like doing.”

When you have a go-to phrase and then you repeat it enough to catalyze and then reinforce activities that are hard to get started on it will be like a secret weapon to help you move forward.

Use your calendar.

Most busy professionals are driven by their calendars. Make that a strength and transfer the tough things you really don’t want to do, the activities you dread the most, onto your calendar. When you plan time for something it makes it more real that you might actually use your time for that activity. That means you’ll be more motivated to do it when the time comes.

I work with a CEO who loves being out in the field with customers and developing new innovative projects. He hates updating his team and felt like regular communication was too mundane for him to stay on top of. And yet he realized his lack of communication was causing confusion and resentment in his team, not a winning strategy for a high growth company.

Sometimes you just have to do tasks you don’t feel like doing. We agreed he would just have to sit down and write out a daily set of emails and Slacks to update people. He blocked out every day from 4 to 4:30 for communication. Since it was on his calendar he used the time to send his update emails and slack.

Try these strategies to get yourself to knock some tough things off of your list. You’ll go through the rest of the year with more lightness and motivation.

Alisa Cohn
Alisa Cohn
Executive Coach

Alisa Cohn is the author of "From Start-up to Grown-up," and an executive coach who works with startup executives to help them develop the leadership skills they need to scale their companies successfully. She has worked with companies from very early stage to Fortune 50. Her clients include Venmo, Foursquare, Facebook, Google, Cisco and Dell. Click here to pre-order "From Start-up to Grown-up"
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