There are a thousand reasons why we procrastinate.
We don’t know where to begin. We don’t know what to do next. We’re scared of failure. We’re afraid of success. We don’t really want to do this. We really want to do something else more. We’re too tired. We’re too wired.
Whatever the cause, we’re putting something off. One of our tasks has built itself up in our minds so much that we can’t move on it. We’re paralyzed. If we put as much effort into tackling it as we put into getting out of it, we would have been done long ago.
Somehow, we have to break the logjam. On the other side of that task is everything we want to do—fun stuff, more enjoyable tasks, and resting from our labors.
There are just as many ways to stop procrastinating as there are causes. We can count down from five and act before we talk ourselves out of it. We can increase the discomfort of not acting. We can even lock ourselves in the house without clothes until we’re finished—this is how Victor Hugo finished The Hunchback of Notre Dame two weeks early after getting off to a very slow start.
One of the simplest ways to overcome procrastination is to remove the other options. We can follow Victor Hugo’s example on a smaller scale and not give ourselves other options until we’ve finished the One Big Task facing us. This is the secret sauce behind Joseph Michael’s one-step daily plan for conquering procrastination.
Start by writing down your One Big Task—your biggest, most important task for the day. You know the one. That’s it. Just the one.
Leave the rest of the page blank. You can’t write down another task until you’ve completed the first task.
No, it’s not what Ivy Lee recommended to Charles Schwab. Lee was helping Schwab’s executives prioritize their most important tasks, not overcome procrastination.
Why just one task? Focus. How many times have you glanced down your list to find a task simpler than the one you were working on? Those tasks need done, too, right? They do, but not as much as the task you’re avoiding.
Start with the One Big Task. You can’t run from it. It can’t hide from you.
Get it done.
Once the One Big Task is complete, you can open up the flood gates. Write down every task that’s on your mind. While you’ve been working on the One Big Task, your subconscious mind has been analyzing the other tasks waiting behind it.
Should you work like this every day? You could, if there’s something specific you want to focus on. Daily effort adds up: if you wrote 500 words a day, every day, you could write Hunchback in 241 days—and that’s a long book.
Or you could just put that task as the first task on your list and work your list. The one-step daily plan is a tool in your toolbox to help you overcome procrastination when that’s what you’re facing. It’s not for every situation, but today, it might be exactly what you need.