Original Post on: https://www.fastcompany.com
By: Alice Boyes
We’ve all experienced the nagging dread and anxiety that accompanies procrastination. Procrastination (avoiding specific tasks) and avoidance (a more general pattern) can also cause problems in relationships, especially if you make a habit of avoiding things or you routinely ask others to do things for you.
For anyone who feels like they’re getting in their own way, there’s a very high chance that avoidance is a big part of the problem. Avoidance creates stress, increases anxiety about whatever you’re avoiding, and sucks away at your self-confidence. Like perfectionism, avoidance creates a Catch-22. Having an avoidant coping style is self-sabotagingand can prevent you from overcoming self-sabotage. For example, a family member recently told me she avoids making to-do lists because she knows they work extremely well for getting her started on avoided tasks, and it feels easier to stay stuck.
We all have things we feel overwhelmed by. Therefore, everyone needs a personal toolkit of strategies for breaking through procrastination and avoidance. Here are some things you might want to try if you have the tendency to put off doing things that you really need to tackle.
1. WRITE A TO-DO LIST FOR EACH CURRENT PROJECT, RATHER THAN PUTTING ALL YOUR TASKS ON A DAILY TO-DO LIST
When you use a daily to-do list and circumstances hijack your day, it’s demoralizing to keep moving items over to your next day’s list. By writing all the actions you need to take for a particular project on a list just for that project, you can work through your tasks as you have time.
Project specific to-do lists also help you use scraps of time effectively. For example, if you have a spare five to 10 minutes, and there is a five-to-10-minute job on your list, you can quickly see that option. Save your daily to-do list for things that truly need to be done that day. For example, if tomorrow is trash pick-up day, then make sure that your list includes “take out the trash.”
2. IDENTIFY IF A SELF-INFLICTED RULE IS CAUSING YOUR AVOIDANCE
When you find yourself thinking, I have to do X to get this done, take a moment to check if that’s really true–or if it’s just a rule you’ve created for yourself. For example, say that you have the tendency to put off your Christmas baking until the very last minute. You have in your mind that you need to bake three types of cookies for Christmas. But who says Christmas requires three varieties and not one, two, or four? Can you simplify your expectations? Perhaps one type of cookie is fine.
3. DECIDE NOT TO DO AN ITEM THAT HAS BEEN HANGING AROUND ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
The strategy of removing undone items from your to-do list gets back to the issue of prioritizing. For example, one of my hobbies is accumulating (and spending) miles and points for travel. There are a huge number of deals for earning extra miles that come along. It’s overwhelming to try and participate in all of them. It also has a big opportunity cost–because chasing small deals gets in the way of doing much more productive activities.
Yes, it can be difficult to decide not to do something that has some value–but isn’t a priority. However, it’s empowering and can give you the confidence boost you need to get unstuck with what is a priority. Decide to permanently not do something that’s on your to-do list. Identify a task that doesn’t have a great Return On Investment (ROI) and banish it from your to-do list forever.