We all have items on our to-do list that never seem to get checked off. Instead, we just move them or add them to new lists, hoping that this will be the time we finally get them done.
If you’re anything like me, it’s not that you don’t want to get the thing done. It’s the opposite, right? That’s why we keep adding it to list after list. It’s important enough to make the list in the first place, but, when it comes time to actually doing the thing, we think, “Ugh. Not this thing again,” and we put it off once more.
What’s the deal with these pesky to-dos? Why are there some things that just seem impossible to get done? Well, (surprise, surprise) your brain has something to do with it.
Why Our Brains Keep Kicking That To-Do Task Off the List
Here’s the thing. Our brain knows what we want for ourselves, so it knows if a to-do item is something you don’t want to do, and if we don’t want to do something, our brains will work to ignore it.
You see, our brains are only motivated extrinsically if:
The threat is high (i.e., “I’m going to get fired if I don’t do that” or “I’m going to get sick or die if I don’t do that,” etc.
The reward is high (i.e., “If I do this, I’ll get money back” or “I’ll get to take a vacation once I get this done” or “I get a huge sense of joy when I do this thing.”)
So, if we don’t want to do something, it’s because it doesn’t have a big enough threat or reward. There are even more reasons behind our procrastination, though.
For one, when we make ourselves do things we don’t want to do, our brains have to consume more energy to do them. This is because the negative thoughts we feel drain our energy. Our brains don’t want us to use unnecessary energy, so they will actually make us resist completing the task.
Plus, the longer we’ve used information from the past, the more likely we’re going to continue to use that same information. If we’ve hated doing a task for a long time, it’s going to be much more challenging to change our feelings about it.
So, what’s the secret to overcoming procrastination? Well, you have to trick your brain.
3 Tips to Trick Your Brain to Get Those Dreaded Tasks Done.
Ready to trick your brain and finally knock those tasks off your to-do list? Here’s how.
1. Do something fun or energetic before the dreaded task.
When you do something fun and energetic, your brain secretes dopamine and endorphins, which make you feel pretty great. You can use this information to your advantage.
Be intentional and do something that energizes you immediately before the dreaded task. Then, don’t wait. Use the energy and feel-good endorphins you just gained from the activity to help you get through the task.
For example, if you love exercising, right after you jump off the treadmill, go straight to the task without hesitation. You’ll have more energy going into the dreaded task, making you more capable of getting it done without feeling completely depleted.
2. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
When we aren’t intentional about our thoughts, we can live a lot of our lives on autopilot. With these dreaded tasks, there are often dozens of internal thoughts running through our minds that keep us from doing the task. But you have the power to choose something different.
Take some time to think about how your thoughts or actions could be helping or hindering you. What might you be missing out on with this point of view?
In reality, you need to find a way to make the task more rewarding (or threatening) because right now, you’re choosing more rewarding or threatening tasks over this one time and time again.
For instance, maybe your dreaded task is organizing your office. Perhaps you realize that you have a limiting belief that organizing is always time-consuming and that organized people are boring. How could this thought be holding you back?
3. Relate the dreaded task to something that isn’t dreaded.
Let’s use an example: Say that self-appraisals are the thing I keep moving off my to-do list because I hate doing them. What I can do is relate this task to something I really want to be true for myself.
I can change my self-talk to something like, “By doing this self-appraisal, I’ll be better able to market myself and take my work and business to the next level or finally get that promotion I’ve been wanting.”
It comes down to figuring out how to relate the task to something with equal threat or equal reward to get us over the finish line. Some people are more motivated by reward, and others are more motivated by threat. Figure out which you are and relate the task accordingly.
If threat is more motivating, ask yourself some questions. Am I going to get fired if I put this off too long? Is my team going to be disappointed in me? If rewards work better, ask yourself what you could gain by completing the to-do.
4. Get an accountability partner
For those really awful tasks, find someone who will hold you accountable. Our brains don’t want us to fail or disappoint, so knowing that someone is going to check in could be the little push we need to get this task finished.
Now, don’t choose an accountability partner who will be mean to you. Instead, find someone who can gently remind you of your task and check in on your progress. Your child, spouse, or parent who you don’t want to disappoint are often great options.
Just be sure to pick someone whose opinion you value, so you can’t ignore their accountability help.
Check That Task Off the To-Do List For Good
There’s no one secret key to making unpleasant tasks fun, and there’s no way to make to-dos magically disappear. The best we can do is use what we know about our brains to fight our urge to keep putting off these dreaded tasks.
If you use these tips and commit to getting it done, this list can be the last one that ever has that dreaded task written on it.
If you want to learn more about how to motivate yourself to cross off your to-do list, coaching can help.