Ever find that you hit a wall productivity-wise when facing or dealing with a challenging task? It's almost as though a signal in your brain goes off that alerts it to work as slowly and inefficiently as possible when, in fact, you really need the opposite to happen.
Like it or not, we all have our share of those pesky tasks we need to knock out. Here's how some of my colleagues and I get through them.
Dangle a carrot
Selena Maranjian: I find that when I have challenging tasks to work on -- or tasks that I'm reluctant to get to -- I will procrastinate. Sometimes that will hurt my productivity, but other times it just means that I'm productive in other ways, getting a lot of other tasks done instead of the challenging one.
One way that I deal with this is to sometimes dangle a carrot in front of myself. I set a reward out for myself for when I accomplish the task. That can be motivating. For example, if I've been wanting to visit a particular store, I might tell myself that as soon as I get my tax records organized and ready for my tax preparer, I will go there. Rewards can be large or small -- a bowl of ice cream or maybe an hour of jigsaw puzzling or a day trip out of town to see a museum or visit a friend. (Ideally, the size of the reward will be tied to the size of the challenging task.)
One way to find a reward to tempt yourself with is to simply notice what pleasant thing you're currently looking forward to or are even about to do -- play a video game, listen to music, watch a movie -- and to tell yourself that you cannot do it until you get your task done. If it's a big task, you might set up a series of rewards to be earned as you make progress on the task.
Do them first
Daniel B. Kline: As a student, I was the type who did his homework in homeroom and studied for tests on the way to class. Call it procrastination or call it not caring -- I was generally unwilling to put much effort into anything I found unpleasant.
As an adult, I have managed to build a life where the vast majority of my work interests me. I'm up early in the morning writing and generally write seven days a week. There are times, however, when an unpleasant task appears. Maybe I have to write something that involves a lot of math or making a chart or graphic. Whatever task I find most odious, I move to the front of the line and finish it first.
Even if it means having a day where my overall production is bad, I make an effort to be the opposite of a procrastinator. By getting the work I least want to do finished, I avoid having to tackle an unpleasant project later in the week when I'm more tired or less mentally engaged.
By doing the worst things first, everything else becomes even more fun because there's no unpleasantness looming over me. Basically, I'm finishing my vegetables before getting to eat dessert. It's simple, but it works.
Set mini milestones along the way
Maurie Backman: Usually, I don't have too much trouble tacking minor tasks that are challenging or unpleasant; it's the larger, time-consuming ones that tend to throw me for a loop. My solution? Set small milestones along the way so I feel like I'm accomplishing goals rather than struggling to meet them.
For example, Selena alluded to filing taxes -- a loathsome task if I ever saw one. With the deadline not so far away, I know I need to get moving on running numbers and getting my paperwork in order. But because it's such a daunting task, I'm divvying it up into smaller parts.
My first goal is to have my various forms gathered up. Next, I'll tackle the task of totaling up my business expenses. Once that's done, I'll start calculating various deductions to see what they give me. All told, I'm going to sink hours into this year's tax return, but by setting these smaller milestones, I'll get less frustrated along the way. And that'll help me not only stay productive but keep my sanity intact.