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Building momentum for tackling tedious tasks (evidence-based strategies)

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

We've all been there – those moments when our to-do lists seem insurmountable, and getting started on tasks feels like an impossible feat.


It's a universal challenge, one that I found myself discussing with friends during a backpacking trip in the serene Sierra Nevada Mountains last summer.


As working professionals, we often share the struggle of initiating tasks, whether it's avoiding emails until our inboxes overflow or procrastinating on essential tasks like revamping our resumes.


In our conversations, we pinpointed four primary culprits for our procrastination tendencies: feeling unmotivated, not knowing where to start, perfectionism, and an irrational fear of failure.


What prevents you from starting tasks?

  • Feeling unmotivated

  • Now knowing where to start

  • Perfectionism

  • Fear of failure


In this article, I'll delve into the root causes of our procrastination battles and introduce evidence-based tools and techniques that can be seamlessly integrated into our daily lives.


By understanding the reasons behind our inability to initiate tasks and implementing these strategies, we can unlock our full productivity potential.


"I am just not motivated"

Sometimes, motivation feels elusive, akin to trying to catch a fleeting butterfly. The truth is, that motivation can be fickle and unreliable. Mel Robbins says that motivation is garbage, and I agree.


“Motivation is garbage. Stop waiting to feel like it. Whatever it is that you want - wake up and go get it.”

We cannot sit around and rely on motivation. The truth is, we are never going to be motivated to do the things we do not want to do. If you are feeling unmotivated, the key is to build momentum.


Start your day with a small win, like making your bed or avoiding your phone for the first 30 minutes. A small victory can set a positive tone for the day.


Next, create a pre-work routine. Establish a mini routine that you consistently perform before deep work. This signals to your brain that it's time to focus.

Now that you are ready to start, use the Pomodoro Technique! Work in focused intervals (e.g., 25 minutes) followed by a short break. This method can enhance productivity by creating a sense of urgency. I am using this Pomodoro timer as I write this article!


"I do not know where to start"

If you are faced with an ambiguous task and do not know where to begin, check out this article for specific techniques related to breaking down tasks and getting them done.


Firstly, create a visual outline, dissecting the project into smaller, more digestible components. If you still find yourself unsure of where to begin, zoom in on the smallest step within your outline and break it down even further.


Whether it's composing an email, crafting the opening sentence, making a phone call, or outlining a spreadsheet, the initial step should be straightforward and manageable.


One of my favorite techniques is body doubling. Try changing your environment: consider working in a location where others are engaged in focused work.


Libraries, coffee shops, co-working spaces, or virtual sessions with a friend can create a conducive work atmosphere.

Lastly, try using a midday reset. A study from 2018, shows:


Taking a break from work increases focus when employees return to work, thus improving their productivity. Additionally, taking breaks relieves some stress, which helps employees’ mental health and well-being.

These are my three favorite midday resets that I use on a regular basis:

  • Take a brief walk to refresh your mind.

  • Practice a short meditation to reduce stress and regain focus.

  • Allocate a few minutes to journal your thoughts; this self-reflection can clear your mind and refocus your energy.



I am worried it will not be good enough

Striving for perfection can be crippling. The fear of not meeting impossibly high standards can prevent us from even starting. Keep in mind that "done" is often better than "perfect." According to the Canadian Psychological Association:


Perfectionism is a chronic source of stress, often leaving people feeling like failures even when other people see them as successful.

Start off by deciding what "done" looks like. Sometimes, "done" does not mean you have created a final product. It might mean completing steps one, two, and three before showing your work to a colleague and getting feedback.


Begin to recognize when you need assistance and don't hesitate to ask for it. Seek guidance from others by presenting the steps you've already taken to problem-solve. Sharing your challenges can lead to valuable insights.



What if I fail?

While a healthy fear of failure can be motivating, excessive fear can hold us back.


Do you know there is actually a word for this fear? It's true!


Atychiphobia, the irrational fear of failure, can wreak havoc on our lives.


In order to gain confidence, lock in the three pillars: sleep, nutrition, and movement. These pillars will drastically improve mental health, giving you something to build upon, and boosting your confidence.

  • Aim for 6-8 hours of quality sleep each night.

  • Fuel your body with a balanced diet to maintain steady energy levels.

  • Incorporate daily movement, ideally outdoors, to boost mental clarity and focus.


Conclusion

Task initiation is a common foe for working professionals, but it's not insurmountable. By understanding the root causes of our procrastination and employing evidence-based techniques, we can build momentum throughout our day.


Whether it's building discipline, embracing small wins, or seeking assistance when needed, these strategies can help us tackle tasks with newfound determination and efficiency.


Remember, the journey to productivity is ongoing, and your self-worth is not measured by how much you get done on a daily basis. Consistency is key and momentum builds over time.


If you would like help developing strategies to build momentum in your life, book a free coaching session below to establish actionable strategies you can implement today!



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About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.




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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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