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« More on the Procrastination Buster | Main | What It Takes to Be a Successful Coach »

Procrastination Buster

There are many ways to beat procrastination, and I have dealt with quite a few in my books and on this blog. Here’s one which I don’t think I have written about before.

One way to get yourself moving on a task you don’t want to do is to use it as an avoidance activity for a task you are trying to avoid even more!

So for instance let’s see what happens if we have a hard task to do and several easy tasks. Our task list will look like this:

Hard Task
Easy Task 1
Easy Task 2
Easy Task 3

If we only have time to complete three out of the four tasks, there’s no prizes for guessing which task will get left undone!

But what happens if our task list looks like this?

Incredibly Hard Task
Extremely Hard Task
Very Hard Task
Hard Task

Which task is going to get done first? Yes, suddenly the Hard Task seems relatively easy and becomes the most attractive. The difficulty of a task is relative to the difficulty of the other tasks one has to do.

We can take advantage of this to process our to do list. The simplest technique is to start at the top of the list and do either the first item or the next item. We are presenting ourselves with two items, and chosing one. One will appear to be easier relative to the other, so we will do that one. Once we’ve done that item, we move on to the next item and compare it in the same way with the following item. Again, we make a choice between the two items and do the one we prefer. We carry on in the same way to the end of the list.

Once we’ve reached the end of the list we go through it again. This time of course the items are the ones we rejected the first time so they are more difficult than on the first pass. However we continue to compare one item with the next item, and do the easier. We are constantly doing the easier or more attractive of two items.

The mental effect of doing it this way is that we fool ourselves into thinking that we are always doing the easy item. They may in absolute terms be getting more difficult, but relatively they are the easy ones.

This technique is designed for use with an open list to which you are adding new items as you go along. There is of course no need to use it with a closed list because you can simply do the easiest items first anyway.

Reader Comments (10)

I often use another approach that I've read somewhere - I do 1-3 simple tasks which only takes few minutes each to get a sense of moving ahead. This feeling of progress helps to "warm up" for hard tasks. Then immediately I'd start with my biggest frog...
August 1, 2007 at 19:51 | Unregistered CommenterWake up early
I try something similar when I have trouble getting moving. I have a list of five tasks, and I have to pick one of those tasks. When I complete one, I can add another to the list but I have to do those tasks. While some easy tasks get done, eventually you are left with harder tasks and some of them get done too.

I like your idea though, and would like to try it.
August 2, 2007 at 11:48 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
I like the idea you've put forward and for those of us who have a tendency to deliberate for far too long before taking action it could be handy. I also find that writing down what I want and what I will have as a result of getting a particular task done motivates me. It seems that the process of writing forces me to work out what has to happen and that in turn focuses my mind on action rather than deliberating and procrastinating! Many thanks,
August 3, 2007 at 15:33 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Mark...stop taunting me! LOL! It took me a long while to master at least one unit of Worst First alternated with a less onerous one. I keep doing this until it's either done or I've completed my predetermined work unit (half hour or an hour) Many times I get tired of repeating this so I'm inspired to hold my nose and get the damn thing off my list once and for all. Sometimes this actually feels like a test of my character....especially on my Donkey Attitude Days! LOL! Reading this post is like putting chocolates on a dieter's plate! LOL!
August 4, 2007 at 11:29 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi, learning as I go

If you want to do it the other way round so you always do the most difficult half of the pair rather than the easier, you're welcome to try. I'd be very interested in the results!
August 4, 2007 at 18:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
The most interesting result is an increased confidence in my ability to buck up and get stuff done. It might sound a bit bizarre, but doing the least desirable but important stuff first seems to rev up my enthusiasm and confidence up a notch. At worst, it gets it out of the way which prevents that ominous feeling of it nagging me when I try to circumvent it! LOL! It's my bastardized version of current initiative. LOL! Tackling the Worst First in either small bites or just digging in and finishing it first thing makes the day sweeter and freer. Sometimes I play a game on Monday and Tuesday to try to totally wipe out my entire week of Worst Firsts so that my remaining days of the week are just that more pleasant to look forward to! The attitude is similar to some folks sticking their toe in the water and gradually getting acclimated to the temperature. My dad taught me to just dive in and be done with it that much sooner! I guess I'm using that lesson as a template.
August 4, 2007 at 20:18 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi Mark
Me, again. Another thing I've noticed is that when I do in fact try to dance around the onerous chores, my actual energy levels seem to start flagging after the initial first false rush of thinking procrastination saved me....FALSE! It's like spitting into a glass of water. My day and my attitude feel tainted when I give into childish logic or as I call it "My donkey attitude" LOL!
August 4, 2007 at 20:28 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi, Learning As I Go

There's more than one way to skin a cat, as they say!
August 18, 2007 at 9:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
LOL! So true! Thank God for that, yeah? Otherwise I think we'd bore ourselves to tears!
August 21, 2007 at 6:16 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
More useful tips on procrastination:
July 4, 2015 at 13:10 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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