What’s your excuse?

Why get it done today when you can do it tomorrow? At some point in time, we have all probably felt the urge to defer a task that should be done today till tomorrow. It seems such a small thing. Until you defer that task into next week. My Literature teacher in Secondary School was fond of telling us “Procrastination is a lazy man’s excuse.” Wise words I haven’t forgotten to this day even though they are not very helpful if you’re trying to kick the habit. To help you get started on that pesky task that has been on your mind since last year, here’s a simple framework:

Set clearly defined goals

The main reason why people procrastinate is a lack of clarity. It’s hard to find the zeal to start a task if you are not sure what the end result will look like. Set a goal with a clearly defined output, one you can easily measure. Also set a deadline for your goal so it can get done on time. If you’re gonna do it on Monday, write that clearly on your To-do list. If it’s not written down it’s a wish. A clearly written goal gives your task purpose and a well-defined output. It’s easy to keep postponing getting started on a task as long as the output is still just a vague idea in your head.

the word "goal" with a bullseye in place of the letter O
Where’s your bullseye?

Break the task into simpler subtasks

A goal to write a 60,000 word novel by the end of 2019 is a very audacious goal. 60,000 is a large number of words. If you focus on that number, the task seems so huge and fear is likely to set in so you never start. However, if you create a subtask of writing 500 words a day, it suddenly seems easier. 500 words can be written in one hour of focused writing. If you commit to this smaller task consistently every day, you’d have the first draft of your novel written in just four months.

A tree diagram showing a project being broken into smaller subtasks
Even the most complex tasks can be broken down into smaller subtasks

When I first came up with the idea of starting this blog, I set myself a goal of publishing one article a week. That still wasn’t specific enough to get me started so I created the subtask of writing the first draft of the article I need next week. It doesn’t have to be a perfect article because I know once I have the first draft written, I can go back and make edits till I’m satisfied. Just by focusing on getting those first drafts written, I am able to make progress towards my goal of publishing one article a week.

Start with a small task to help you build momentum

If you are having difficulty getting started on your important task, try adding a few simple tasks on your to-do list. It can be something like making your bed or putting your clothes in the laundry basket. Each counts as a small victory and won’t take more than 5 minutes. As you cross those tasks off your to-do list, it creates a positive feeling that makes you want to get more done. That’s the power of momentum. If you have ever had to push a car, you know it’s easier to keep moving once you have already started than it is to start pushing from a stationary position. Bonus hint: Don’t set watching a movie as the small task to help you gain momentum.

Just get started

Did you just get an awesome idea on what you should do? Get started immediately. Sometimes, if you give yourself time to think about it, your brain is likely to come up with all the reasons why the task is too difficult for you. Given enough time, you can probably think of all the awesome skills that would make the task easier which you currently lack. Don’t let your brain win this battle. Start work on what you can do, get help for the parts where you get stuck and pick up the necessary skills as you go along. If your goal is audacious enough (and it should be), there will definitely be learning opportunities along the road.

A power button icon
You know where your power button is. Now push it.

To recap, if you are procrastinating, write down your goal, break the project down into smaller bite-sized tasks and just get started. Don’t forget to set milestones and reward yourself along the way. A reward can be as simple as your cup of favourite tea or treating yourself to a great meal.

Is procrastination something you struggle with? Do you have a funny story about a task you have been putting off for half a year? Or do you have a technique you use that helps you get started on a dreaded task? Feel free to share in the comments section so we can learn from each other.

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