It’s not like you are procrastinating on purpose. I mean, binge watching Brooklyn 99 is such a better alternative to working on the extra project (and relax, no one is blaming you. It is such an amazing show!) but you just don’t want to start working on anything yet. It’s not really due anytime soon. It’s nothing urgent. It can wait (and so it does).
It’s a busy day, that turned into a busy week, and then a busy month and now you just tell yourself you are too busy to learn Spanish. The Duolingo app on your phone has stopped sending you reminders. It isn’t that important, this too can wait.
The above two scenarios are real-life instances that have probably happened to the best of us. We are all indeed very busy. But sometimes, we use it as an excuse to avoid doing actual work. In particular, we use denial and procrastination to put off tasks that aren’t “due” in the immediate future. We are afraid to start. We lack the motivation. We just cannot find the perfect moment to begin.
As students and professionals, we have to push ourselves. Finishing and submitting assignments to the best of our capabilities in time is important, but success often depends on the extra effort that we put in. And that takes discipline and motivation. We need to be able to overcome the mental blocks that we think we have and just get started. But the simple task of starting something can seem daunting if you don’t approach it with the right mindset. Whether it is starting to go to the gym or join a course on Coursera, we just need to do.
And when you absolutely cannot start, here is a list of 10 things you can do to get going:
1. Divide and Conquer
Make a short and simple timeline of your task. Divide it into subtasks or steps that need to be followed to accomplish it. Pick the first one (or the simplest, if order is not important) and only focus on doing that. Sometimes trying to accomplish a big task as a whole seems really difficult to do and subconsciously discourages you from doing anything at all.
2. Don’t think.
No, seriously. Don’t think so much. Don’t look at the bigger picture. That can get scary. Focus on the smaller tasks and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Most of the times the obstacles that we create for ourselves are just in our minds and worrying about the consequences- whether you fail or pass- can hinder you from beginning something new. You can’t spend more time thinking about the task than the time it takes to do the task itself!
3. Keep the goal realistic and achievable.
Can you go to the gym every morning at 6 am starting next Monday when you have never woken up before 9 am even for a class? Probably not. But you can aim to go to the gym 3 days a week sometime in the evening. You don’t have to absolutely commit to a time and day. You just have to show up. Initially. Once you become accustomed to your new commitment and realize how happy it makes you to accomplish that task every day, week or month, you will automatically be motivated to make time for it.
4. Just 5 more minutes.
So, try this- sit down to start on your new task with the intention of just working on it for 5 minutes. Set a timer and tell yourself you will only do it for 5 minutes. I know you are thinking that you can’t get anything done in 5 minutes, but you don’t have to stop when the first 5 minutes end. Start your timer again and continue for another 5 minutes. The trick is to remove the pressure of expecting yourself to sit for hours at a time and finish it. You will definitely get more done when you sit for 10 to 20 five minute chunks than by not starting at all because you don’t have the 5-6 hrs (or more) you think it takes to accomplish it.
5. Are you afraid of reaching out?
Is your task or goal dependent on someone else? Is there a professor, mentor or friend you need help from, but you aren’t reaching out to them? Again, even if you are not sure where to start, just send them an email and see where it takes you. Chances are, you will make more progress by reaching out to them, even if it is out of confusion, than you will by just sitting and pondering over it.
6. Find someone with the same goals as yours.
Continuing from the point above, it helps a lot when you have someone who can keep a check on you. Find a friend or some peer who is interested in accomplishing the same goal you want to and begin together. Hold each other accountable, discuss the problems that arise and motivate each other to meet self-imposed deadlines.
7. It takes 21 days to make a habit.
There are several theories and researches that suggest that the human mind only needs 21 days to make a habit. Discipline yourself to do something related to the goal you have always wanted to achieve for 21 days straight every day. Pick and do whatever you can, however small. Consistency is key.
8. Identify the purpose. Visualize it.
Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves why the task needs to be accomplished. Why it is important to finish it. Why did we think that it needed to be done in the first place. Write down the self-reflection on a piece of paper and hang it up somewhere you can see it every day. Pin it to your study desk or tape it to your bathroom mirror. Don’t just look at it, but focus your mind to see that vision too.
9. What are you afraid of? What’s distracting you?
Identify the source of your fear, or distraction. Are you afraid of rejection? Of failure? Is social media distracting you? Sometimes the stakes are high and denying the consequences of you failing at it can seriously stop you from even getting started on it. Other times it is often “FOMO” (fear of missing out) that is stopping you from actually finding the time to do anything. Acknowledge your fear and/or distraction and work on eliminating those. Use self-assurance techniques, talk to a mentor or guide, use apps on your phone to block Instagram notifications, but just don’t let it stop you.
10. JUST. START.
You know that task (or tasks) that you have been thinking of all the while you were reading this article. Do it. Start on it RIGHT NOW. Get a paper and a pencil. Write it down. Apply some of the points above and just begin. Divide the task into steps, maybe draw a diagram to visualize the purpose, jot down names of people you think can join you and send them a text, etc. Just start on it somewhere, somehow. Sometimes you just need a push to overcome the initial friction, and the rest takes care of itself.
We all experience the slump. We all get overwhelmed. What makes real winners in the end is the self-discipline and motivation to focus and continue to work despite the fears, doubts and obstacles. I hope the above steps help you to push yourself further when you absolutely don’t want to!