You know that agonizing feeling when you know you have something to do, but you just can’t find the energy to get started? Perhaps it was that big project report? Getting out of the sofa to mow the lawn? Or going to the gym when you really didn’t feel like it?
I struggle a lot with this procrastination too. Just the other week I had a 7-page reflection paper to hand in for school, and I couldn’t find the motivation to get started. When I thought about sitting down to write 7 pages, the task felt way too big. How could I ever find the energy to start?
But then I found a hack: shrink the task. I decided to only create a new document and copy-paste the assignment questions into it. Then I could quit and do something more fun.
Once I had sat down with my computer and created the document, I felt a bit more motivated. So I decided to write a few bullet points on the first question. Then, I could quit.
Once I had written down some bullets, I decided to write a paragraph on the first question. Which then became two paragraphs. Then three paragraphs. And finally, I decided that I would finish the whole first question.
Three hours later, and I had written the first 2 pages of the report, and had also begun writing bullet points on the other two questions.
When I had previously thought of the task as one big 7-page report, it felt like trying to climb up a 100-feet wall. The task was way too much for what little motivation I had. So I kept postponing it.
But when I instead broke down the wall into many small tiny steps, those steps formed a staircase! I just had to find the motivation to take the next tiny step. And for each step I took, my motivation increased in altitude. Every step allowed me to climb another, even bigger, step.
This lesson can be used for any big task you can’t find the motivation to do. When you think about the task as one big wall to climb, it’s only rational to procrastinate and hope you’ll have more energy tomorrow. When you instead break down the big task, you create a staircase where your only job is to take the next step. And if the next step seems to daunting, you can break that step down into an even smaller staircase with easier steps.
This experience taught me that:
Motivation – Task size = Action
If you can’t get yourself to start, you can either:
- Try to increase your motivation (and let’s face it, when did that ever work?!), or
- Break down the size of the task in front of you
Knowing how lazy I am, I now mostly go with the latter. But until now, I didn’t even realize that option existed.
Lesson: If you want to do something but don’t feel like it, shrink the task. Don’t climb the big wall in one go – turn the wall into a staircase instead and climb it one baby step at a time.