We all do it. The mere thought of a looming project can make us curl up into a ball (or lose ourselves online, or hover too long by the water cooler). That 17-page form you haven’t started filling out, even though it could stand between you and a much-needed loan. The speech you must give at your best friend’s wedding as her loved ones stare up expectantly at you. Performance reviews, expense reports, uncomfortable conversations… the list of things we’d rather avoid is endless. But they’re not going away, so here are some ideas to help you stop stopping and start getting started.
Identify and acknowledge the avoidance
The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that it exists. Awareness of what we’re doing (without shame and blame!) helps us take stock and start planning with intention. Ask yourself “What am I doing right now? Is it helping or hurting me?” If the answer is avoiding doing something you need to do, well at least now you know. Don’t beat yourself up over it; give yourself a gold star instead, because you’re ready to move to the next step.
See the forest for the trees (a.k.a. put things in perspective)
When we avoid starting a task, it takes on a monstrous and overwhelming scale, seemingly doomed to failure. This is called “catastrophizing”: when we exaggerate the risks of a situation by blowing them out of proportion. When this happens, it’s time to fact check your thoughts and emotions. Imagine yourself listening to a friend who was talking in the same fashion. Would you agree, or try to persuade him his thoughts were not accurate? Would you add to his drama and panic, or talk him down from the ledge with rational arguments?
Turn procrastination into project management
The calming effects of objective assessment enable you to take what feels like a mammoth undertaking and break it down into manageable pieces. After all, every monument is built one stone at a time. Every project needs a manager to evaluate needs, set objectives, assemble resources, and assign deadlines. Rather than biting off more than you can chew, organize a project into sections that, individually, motivate you with a sense of accomplishment. What works for you? Maybe you need a list, a timeline, or an action calendar (but only use them to get ahead – not to stall!) And then get to work on Phase One. Completing a part of your project will give you the motivation you need to move on to the next part, and the next.
Use best business practices as weapons against your demons
Avoidance is a result of irrational thinking, and it’s usually based on fear: of failure, of social embarrassment, of whatever your unique psyche dreads the most. Fear fosters guilt and anxiety – those two highly unproductive emotions that get in the way of problem solving. But you have mighty tools to combat them. Use your business skills to drown out the negative in favor of a constructive approach. Analyze the pros and cons of having the confrontation you’d rather avoid: what will you gain by facing the conflict? Brainstorm ways of attacking a problem, opening your mind to unexpected solutions, and stimulating your creative vision. Offer yourself incentives to reward a job well done instead of indulging in the short-term gratification (usually followed by guilt) of blowing something off. These techniques ensure effectiveness in the workplace, and they work at a micro-level as well to turn procrastination into productivity.
Don’t avoid taking care of yourself
Sometimes, avoidance – of a potential conflict, a challenging situation – feels like a good survival strategy. But defense mechanisms don’t protect us as much as they hold us back. It’s human nature to feel stress and worry, but those feelings only sabotage our progress. What does help is planned, beneficial self-care, as opposed to pointless distractions. Scrolling endlessly through social media isn’t therapeutic, so opt instead for a restorative night’s sleep. Busy work may pass the time when you’re not up to a task, but doing something you love, whether it’s a DIY project or a yoga class, is better. The key is to plan these moments of self-care into your schedule, to keep your sense of control, knowing that they are part of a larger scheme that you design. This isn’t avoidance. It’s the essential maintenance of you: your most valuable resource!