Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination on Mundane Tasks
We all encounter mundane tasks that bore us but still need to be done, such as formatting documents, filling in spreadsheets, or answering emails. While it’s natural to procrastinate on these tasks for a while, eventually we must find ways to complete them and redirect our energy towards more purposeful and enjoyable activities. Here are five strategies I use to tackle boring, unchallenging, and repetitive tasks:
Pre-Reward: Before starting a task, I reward myself by engaging in enjoyable activities like watching YouTube videos, having a snack, making another cup of coffee, or taking a nootropic. This self-bargaining technique helps me push through the initial reluctance. The thought process is, “Although this task is tedious, I’ll indulge in something pleasant first. Then I’ll have another cup of coffee and get it over with.” Trusting this system based on personal experience has proven effective and reliable.
Set Implementation Intentions: After allowing myself some pre-rewards, I commit to beginning the task within a specific time frame, often using an exact time for reference. For example, “I will start answering emails at 5 pm.” This approach ensures that when the designated time arrives, I initiate the task without hesitation. I might even begin earlier because deep down, I know there’s no escape. Additionally, I establish implementation intentions to ignore thoughts of giving up or abandoning the task, reinforcing my commitment to see it through.
Restrict Time and Add a Reward: When facing tasks with seemingly limitless time requirements, I find it challenging to start. To overcome this, I set a deadline for completion and schedule a rewarding activity afterward. Visualizing the upcoming enjoyment of spending time with my partner, playing tennis, or grabbing a beer in two hours motivates me to begin promptly and work diligently until the set time arrives. This strategy aligns with Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands to fill the available time for completion.
Think Concretely: Adopting a concrete thinking approach aids in taking action instead of getting caught up in overthinking and abstractions. By focusing on the specific steps and details needed to accomplish a task, I create a mental roadmap:
- To vacuum the floor: Retrieve the vacuum cleaner from the closet, plug it in, press the ‘on’ button, and start vacuuming.
- To meditate: Sit down, play the guided meditation, and follow the instructions.
- To begin writing: Go to my room, open the laptop, press the start button, open a word document, and start typing. Shifting between concrete and abstract modes of thinking takes practice but becomes habitual over time, enhancing productivity and willpower.
Temporary Dysfunctional Methods: As a last resort, I employ dysfunctional methods when all else fails. This entails using substances like smart caffeine (coffee + l-theanine), modafinil, ephedrine, kratom, or other focus-boosting compounds. These substances artificially increase energy, focus, and motivation while dampening thoughts and emotions that hinder starting the task. Although this strategy is not sustainable or healthy in the long run, it provides a temporary solution to “just get it over with.” It’s worth noting that even highly successful individuals have relied on dysfunctional strategies throughout history, as highlighted in Mason Curry’s book, “Daily Rituals.”
Remember, these strategies serve as tools to combat procrastination on mundane tasks. Experiment with different approaches and find what works best for you. Embrace the challenge, maintain discipline, and take pride in completing each task efficiently, allowing you to devote more time to meaningful endeavors.