How to get started when you don’t want to

Photo of 80's era Lego knights fighting on the wall of a yellow castle.
No Lego knights were injured during the writing of this article. It’s not like they wouldn’t have deserved it, though, especially the guy on the left – he’s a total douchebag.

Procrastination – we’ve all been there. There’s that one (or many!) intimidating task you really should do, but you really don’t want to. So here are some techniques that have helped me overcome this problem in the past.

  • Plan how to solve it
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Work on it for five minutes

I will go into detail about each of them below.

1. Plan how to solve it

I find that in my case, sometimes when I have an important task ahead that I keep putting off, it helps to just think about how to solve it before I start actually working on it. If I make a mental plan of how to solve it, then the task seems less daunting.

For example, let’s say I have an idea for an article about productivity that I need to write, but I have a hard time getting around to it. Instead of just endlessly putting it off, I sit down and – not actually start writing yet – but start to plan how to write it. I would ask myself, “what do I want to convey with this article?” and “how do I most efficiently convey that message?”. Then, when I’ve answered those questions, I can start planning the individual section headlines for the article – and here’s where the magic happens; when I get to this part, I will typically want to write the damn thing, because now I have a structured idea in my head of how to do it, so it doesn’t seem quite as daunting as it did before I started planning it.

LegoKnightWaltzing
Just look at Mr Asshat here, waltzing around like he owned the place. I told you that guy was a douchebag.

2. Divide and Conquer

Sometimes, a loosely put-together plan in your head isn’t enough to get you going. Not to worry, this is when it’s time to start dividing the problem into small enough pieces that you can bring yourself do to the first one. Let’s continue with our article-writing example task, and divide that into subtasks that each seem like less of a pain to complete than the whole thing, and we might end up with something like this:

  1. Write the ingress
  2. Write the main body
  3. Write the conclusion

Okay. Hopefully, “write the ingress” sounds like less of a hassle than writing the whole thing. But if even that sounds like too much work and you frankly just can’t be arsed, then go ahead and divide that subtask further, like so:

  1. Write the ingress
    1. Write the title
    2. Write the actual ingress
    3. Add the “read more” tag that separates the ingress from the main body
  2. Write the main body
  3. Write the conclusion

Now, just “write the title” is a really small task, and you should be able to do that. But sometimes it just doesn’t work that way, and even “write the title” is a lot more work than just turning on Netflix, or whatever your procrastination method of choice is. Not to be deterred, we simply divide even further, and end up with:

  1. Write the ingress
    1. Write the title
      1. Go to the computer and turn it on
      2. Open the article-writing software
      3. Press the “new article” button
      4. Write the actual title
    2. Write the actual ingress
    3. Add the “read more” tag that separates the ingress from the main body
  2. Write the main body
  3. Write the conclusion

We’ve now divided the task down to “go to the computer and turn it on”. Think you can manage that? Good! Do it! Then just pick the next item off the list – “open the article-writing software”, and do that too. And once you’ve done that, don’t be surprised if you just continue on working without really thinking about it.

Ewok
Oh FFS, who let this furry little Chewbacca-wannabe in here? Get your ass out of there, I’m trying to write a serious article! This isn’t even your setting!

3. Work on it for five minutes

In some cases, it doesn’t matter how much you divide a task into smaller subtasks – it still sounds too boring for you to be able to bring yourself to do it. In those cases, I would recommend that you tell yourself “I’ll just work on it for five minutes, then I’ll do something else”. The idea is to trick yourself into starting, because that’s often the hardest part. And once you have worked on it for five minutes, allow yourself to do something else for a while; chances are, you’ll continue working on the initial task past the five minute limit simply because you forgot about it.

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