Do you know what the easiest way to destroy any remaining shreds of motivation at the very beginning of the day is? Take your to-do list (if you have one), choose the most urgent, unpleasant and time-consuming task and start imagining yourself doing it. You will see that even if you have not started actually working on it, you already feel tired, and your determination disappears with the speed of light.

I am sure that you know the feeling…

You can plan and schedule. You can leave yourself reminders and put it on your priority list. You can make promises and resolutions. You can organize and reorganize. You can guilt trip yourself and try to artificially boost your motivation. But the bottom line is – it does not work!

Procrastination still remains a flaw most of us put off curing.
And it is not that we are irresponsible or slothful people. On the contrary, we rarely sit around and do nothing. We do plenty of marginally useful but very urgent tasks during the day (like sharpening our pencils, checking our mail box, organizing a messy desk, or getting ourselves a cup of coffee).

Any one of us can be easily motivated to do timely and challenging tasks, as long as those tasks provide us with an excuse not to do something more important. And if we have set our mind on sharpening those pencils, no force on the earth can stop us from doing it!

The more time passes, the closer the deadline looms, the more we are plagued by guilt, the more we become motivated to do other useful, but superficially less important things.

On the other hand, there is a small group of people that seems to complete everything on time and demonstrate the miracle of effectiveness.

How do they do it?

The latest research showed that the way we mentally approach a certain task will largely determine how quickly we will complete it.

When approaching any task, we can use either abstract or concrete thinking. Abstract thinking perceives a task as whole. It puts a mental distance between a person and the goal, making it seem hard to reach. This is why the more we think about doing something that we deem difficult, the less the chances are that we will actually get to it.

Concrete thinking is breaking down a challenging task into smaller, more manageable parts making our goal seem much easier to accomplish.

I call it “lumping” vs. “chunking”. You can either perceive the task as a ‘lump’ that cannot be subdivided and digested or you can break it down into smaller “chunks” that seem more realistic and can be dealt with systematically.

The teenager who wants to go out with his friends, will most likely view writing a paper on the economic factors involved in World War II as an ugly massive single-lump task and do everything in his power to postpone it for later.

Another great way to prevent ourselves from using abstract thinking is to focus on a small percentage of the task that needs to get done. Before getting to any task that seems difficult and timely, promise yourself that you will only complete 30% of it (or spend 45 minutes doing it). Give yourself permission to stop when you said you would, if you do not feel like working on it any longer.

What this technique does, is give you the right to procrastinate, without any feelings of remorse and regret, while still getting some of the work done.

You may feel that overcoming procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception. And you are absolutely right! It does! Only this time your self-deceptive skills will work to your advantage. Don’t you just love it when you can use one of your flaws to actually improve your character and become a more productive person?

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