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Updated: October 16, 2023 Advice

101: Task mastering

We have all been assigned projects where the scope of work and perhaps the goal itself is unclear. Poorly defined projects are the worst. We have a tough time visualizing how they will look overall, so therefore, a tough time getting started with that first step. But procrastination can creep into any task. Here are some ways to get started, get motivated, and get going with items unfinished for way too long.

Set accountability mechanisms. Harvard Business Review’s Dorie Clark calls this creating forcing functions. Willpower may not be enough to motivate, she says. But you can set up a system where there is built-in compliance. It’s just like signing up with a personal trainer, says Clark. It would be rude to simply not show up. Or you can choose to virtually co-work with others on a project, announce to them what you’ll be doing, and report back at the end of the day. “You can also create your own rules to keep you moving forward … When I’ve been on deadline, I would occasionally hole up at a café (so that being hungry or thirsty was no excuse) and wouldn’t permit myself to leave until I’d finished,” writes Clark.

Curb your perfectionism. Anxiety about doing tasks perfectly on the first try can cause us to set unrealistic expectations and procrastinate, says Bryan Robinson in Forbes. “Permitting yourself to perform a task imperfectly tricks the emotional brain and reduces any resistance to completing the task. When you permit yourself to make a mistake, the finished product usually turns out better than you had imagined,”Robinson says.

Create timelines. Then, follow them. It breaks the tasks down and attaches a timestamp to each project section, according to Indeed: “Meeting small deadlines as you complete steps can motivate you to keep working.”

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