In This Episode…
Many people have tasks they absolutely hate but have to do as part of their work. Today I share my experience of having one of those tasks and how I overcame my natural inertia to getting it done. I explain why I kept putting it off and share 7 specific things I did to get it done quickly once I made the decision to do it. These steps can be applied to just about any task you might be putting off because you HATE doing it.
Welcome to the first proper episode of the Profit Productivity Podcast. In the first episode, I introduced the podcast and explained my purpose for doing it and what it would cover. Hopefully I sold you on the benefits of maybe tuning in every so often to get some ideas about how you can improve your productivity.
Now, I originally planned to do this every day because I’m regularly researching the information to make me more productive and I’m applying it on a daily basis.
That was the plan.
Now the first episode was recorded 12 days ago, and so I’ve been putting off starting this podcast properly for 12 days. I’ve been guilty of procrastination – being guilty of putting this thing off.
That’s just me being honest about being guilty of procrastination. I’m going to talk about another task [i.e. not delaying this podcast] because it draws out nicely some of the things I’ve been doing to overcome procrastination.
The purpose of me doing this is to hold myself accountability. It’s for me to share the good stuff about getting more done that works rather than just talk about it in theory.
There’s a saying you may have heard:
“Those who can ,do and those who can’t, teach”.Unknown
I’m going to be one of the people who does these things. So I’ll be sharing from the benefit of experience about how these things work (or not as the case may be). I think it’s worth while for me to do this and being honest with the challenges I face.
Like you, I’m a human being. I have my frailties, I have my weaknesses, I also have my strengths. What I’ve discovered is many of the challenges we face as a human race when it comes to personal productivity, are because of our hard wiring and psychology. These set us up to want to do one thing, when really we need to do another thing to be more productive.
So in this episode I’ll be honest with the challenges I’ve had, but I’ll also talk about how I’ve overcome them.
And the task I’m going to talk about today?
There’s been a routine task I have to do – one I absolutely hate doing. I’m going to talk a little bit about that, how I’ve avoided it, how I eventually completed the task and then look at some of the strategies I used to do that.
This might help you if you have a task you really hate doing, but you have to do it no matter what, and it’s something you would regularly put off because you don’t like doing it. If you have something like that, then this episode will give you some ideas based on my experience, of things you can try yourself to move that forward.
So what’s the task that’s I’ve majored in on procrastination? Well, it’s about gathering all the paper receipts and the email receipts associated with my business.
Every quarter my bookkeeper has to submit a VAT return and in order to do that effectively, she needs all my receipts. These are paper receipts and email receipts required for my VAT return. I need to send them to her electronically because she lives at some distance from me and I can’t just hand them to her physically. Also, many of the receipts I have are in electronic format.
What’s the process I have to go through?
Well, the first thing I’ve got to do is take the paper receipts, scan them into Evernote and file them in a shared notebook in Evernote.
I have to tag them up with a brief description about what they and allocate the relevant code to them. I have to do something similar with my email receipts. I go through them, apply the relevant code, forward them into Evernote and make sure they’re in the right note book.
I also have to send copies of my relevant bank statements and I have to update our online accounts package with the latest bank information for when the bookkeeper goes in to process the receipts and reconcile the transactions.
When I describe it like that, it sounds very easy but I hate doing it with a passion. I really hate doing it. And the reason why I hate doing it is because I let it build up.
I let it build up because as someone who spends a lot of time researching and working with people [speaking and training, consulting, facilitating], the last thing, I really want to do something as trivial as doing the receipts. It’s important stuff. I know it’s important, but I just don’t want to do it.
What usually happens at the end of the quarter, is a flurry of activity. This is normally carried out with me racked with guilt because my bookkeeper has sent a gentle reminder suggesting I get started on them.
I’ll say I’ll do it. But then I get sidetracked on something else. Or should I say I let myself get side tracked. So what happens is two or three days before it’s due to be done, I then have to go through and gather together everything that needs processing.
I have to find the paper receipts and sort them out. I have to unfold them because they’d been crushed and stuffed in my wallet. I have to retrieve them from the various little plastic pocket envelopes I might have put them to ease the pressure on my bulging wallet.
I have to scan them in and deal with the ones that get jammed in the scanner because they have been scrunched up in my wallet. All that builds up and of course all of the angst is preventable.
As with many things we do that causes us problems it is preventable.
If I just did things at the right time, then my life would be so much easier. But like I said, I’m human. That’s my excuse.
I let these things happen because I haven’t yet developed the discipline to do this task little and often on a weekly basis. If I did that then maybe everything would be ready by the end of the quarter so it’s all there ready for the bookkeeper. I haven’t got to that stage yet. But that’s what I’m going to aim to do.
So what are the reasons I let things build up as I do?
Well I’ve already explained I don’t like it. I don’t like the task. It Is not my main role in life.
I know it’s important but I have other things to do. So I let it build up. I hate doing it because I let it build up and that’s my fault. I take full responsibility for that.
But whenever I do it, there is this huge sense of relief at having done it.
Because I put it off, I’ve found I create this mental monster. One of the reasons why I let it build up is because I don’t like doing it. And because I don’t like doing it and I let it build up, it seems to get bigger in my mind. Because it becomes bigger in my mind it appears even harder to do.
So that’s another reason why there’s this massive inertia to get going.
Now you might be thinking I should just go and get someone else to do it. That is an option for me. But it’s not one I’ve taken yet.
I work remotely and I don’t have anyone around me to physically hand some of this stuff off too that requires a physical presence here to do it.
I could just send the stuff to someone – stick it in an envelope and post it off. That’s one way I could delegate it. But so far I haven’t taken the time to think about it in enough depth to come up with a plan to do just that.
I call that going upstream.
The problem I’ve got isn’t a problem. The problem I’ve got is symptomatic of a deeper problem. The deeper problem is I haven’t really thought about this. I haven’t designed a proper system and I’m just winging it. So I could delegate it.
The other thing I could do is eliminate any friction in the existing process to make it easier. I could make the process smoother. I’d just need to identify the sticking points? An example of a sticking points is having to sort out out all of the receipts that get scrunched up in my wallet.
So maybe there is some friction I could eliminate it. As soon as I get a receipt, I could put it somewhere safe, keep it in order, it stays pristine so it goes through the scanner more effectively.
Is there something else I could do?
What about getting the relevant accounting code more efficiently? At the moment, I’ve got a, a big list of all the possible codes and I have to scan through them all and pick the ones that I need.
Perhaps I could take the codes I use regularly and put them in a separate document so I could easily cut and paste them. That’s another way I could eliminate friction. Now that might only take away two or three seconds per receipt. But it means that each transaction will feel smoother and requires less effort. That means it is more palatable for me to do. And so I’m more likely to do it.
The other thing I could do is just simplify the whole process. I could just put everything in an envelope and let someone else do it. That’s just delegating it and it becomes a very simple system for me. So there are things I could do by going upstream and making the task more effective.
What about any difficult tasks you do, that you hate doing. Or are there any difficult tasks the people who work for you hate doing? Could you make them easier to do by delegating them?
Is there some friction in the process as it stands?
Is there a way of simplifying the process and still getting the same job done?
But back to the processing of my receipts. I finished the task about 45 minutes ago. I’ll admit, there was a loud whoop of joy. “Yes, I’ve done it!”
Now want talk about the strategies I’ve used to get me through the task this last week. There are a few little tricks I’ve used on this task as it stands at the moment. They are simple and you can apply them to just about any task, even the ones you enjoy doing. You’ll be able to get them done quicker, maybe more effectively, maybe in a way that adds a greater level of engagement for you making it more satisfying to do.
I’ve been trying to do this particular task for about 10 days now and have put it on my daily plan of things to do quite a few times. Sometimes I’ve started and then got dragged onto something else or I’ve found a reason to avoid it completely.
It was especially easy to postpone knowing I still had 10 days left before the deadline. But in the end I knew I had to do it. So here are some of the things I did to get me working on the task to its completion.
The first thing I did was based on this old school boy joke:
“How do you eat an elephant?” – “One bite at a time”.
A way that you can take a big task or make even one that is distasteful to you more palatable, is to break it down into chunks. That could be into half or into thirds or quarters or whatever is a reasonable sized chunk for you. Then simply apply yourself to that chunk. When it is done, move on to the next chunk and so on – but spread the chunks out over a period of time.
Because I hate the task so much, I don’t want to waste an entire day on the one task. The thought of doing that task for a whole day (which is probably how much concentrated effort it needs) would drive me insane. So I would spread it out over several days.
I’m a great fan of the Brian Tracy book, Eat The Frog. The title comes from the one of his recommended strategies, which is about doing your worst thing first each day.
Mark Twain famously once said:
“If the first thing you did every day was eat a live frog, the day, could only get better”.Mark Twain
So that’s what I did. The first thing in the morning is my prime time. Working on difficult tasks then means I am at my best. I am at my mentally strongest one. I am at my most confident. I am at my most energised.
If I try and do this type of task later in the afternoon when I’m a little bit tired because all my mental energy has been used up in my other intellectual tasks, I am more likely to put it off. Similarly, if I leave it too late at night when I’m tired and my bed is calling me I won’t do it.
So I need to do it first thing in the morning because when it’s my prime time.
The next thing that I did is where there was inertia, I realised I couldn’t keep putting it off. Here’s what I would do:
I would go and find just one paper receipt, scan that in and that was it. Just one receipt. Or I might just go into the email system and find just one of the email invoices, label and tag it and then send that to Evernote. Just one. That’s all I would do.
That’s straight forward, tiny two minute task that I knew I could do however I was feeling. What that did was burst the bubble a little bit on the magnitude of the whole task. Just committing to a smaller version of the whole task made it more manageable in my mind. Which meant after I did one, because it was so easy to do, I did another one, and then another one.
Even though I might have started with just one or two I’d often end up doing 10 or 15 and it really helped me get into the flow.
Another trick I did to help me get focused and keep on track was to use a timer. I started with small amounts of time – 10 minutes in the beginning and gradually worked up to 20 minutes. I discovered I could focus my efforts on the task if I knew I only had to do it for just 10 minutes. I found that I could do multiple chunks of 10 minutes each, especially if I had a short break in between each (no more than 5 minutes). Eventually those 10 minute chunks became 20 minutes.
Now I rarely set the timer for more than 20 minutes when I am doing tasks I really don’t like doing.
The next thing I did is called gamification, which is a way of introducing the principles video games use to keep people engaged. Video games give players little rewards as they go through the game and complete certain stages. That’s why computer games are so absorbing because of the rewards players get.
So if you can find a way of doing that with the task you hate doing, it will really help you. For me I started to see how many receipts I could process in a 20 minute session. In the next 20 minute session, I would try and beat that number.
All of a sudden I started getting competitive about the task and that worked really well to get and keep me engaged in the task.
Another thing which helped too, was starting to become mindful of what I was doing when I was doing it. Mindfulness is a very powerful form of meditation. There are tremendous health benefits particularly in terms of stress management and putting ourselves into a relaxed state.
You don’t need to sit and hold your fingers in odd positions and say “Ommm” in a loud resonant voice to meditate. Just being mindful of what you’re doing is itself a meditation.
So I started being mindful, noticing what my body was doing. I have a standing desk so I’d notice the weight distribution between my feet and the tension levels in different parts of my body. Being present helped me enjoy the moment more which made me enjoy the task more.
Then finally, I adopted the attitude of “Right. I’m going to do this now. I’m going to focus'”
I started being professional and treating it like it was the most important thing I had to do. I was reminded of the quote I heard And T Harv Eker say for the first time, which was:
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”.T Harv Ecker
I realised I was letting myself and my professional standards down by putting things off. But I thought, “No, let me apply myself to this in the professional manner I would apply myself to anything else”.
And that’s when I started doing it and as a result of that it got done.
So that’s an explanation of how I’ve approached a task I really hate.
Just to summarise again, there are two sides to this.
The first side is there’s probably some work I need to do on looking at this task about whether I should be doing it in the first place. If I am going to do it, are there any elements where any friction could be eliminated to make things smoother and easier? Is there any way I could just simplify the whole task.
And secondly, there are a series of things I can do to help me complete the task even if it could be made easier. These things include:
- Chunking it down,
- Utilising my prime time,
- Setting a timer,
- Spreading it out over several days,
- Starting with just one tiny piece of the task,
- Being mindful
- And ultimately just having an attitude of getting on and doing it.
So that’s today’s episode. Hopefully that’s been a value to you.
I look forward to sharing more ideas and experiences tomorrow.
Have a productive day.