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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

4 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Getting Your Work Done Before the Day's Over

Everyone has that one thing on his or her to-do list. That nagging task that’s just too hard, too time-consuming, or too intimidating to start. The thing that mysteriously gets pushed to the next day—every day.

It can be a huge mental battle to get through that work that you don’t want to do. But the reality is, it has to get done. So how do you push through?

Simple: You trick yourself into thinking it’s not that bad—with one of these four mind games.

Mind Game #1: It Could Be Worse

Finally tackling that dreaded item on your to-do list may seem terrible, but remember: It could be worse.

Just think of the possibilities. For instance, maybe you have to call a customer to inform her of some changes to her contract—something she’s not going to be happy about. What could make that worse? Well, you could have to tell her face-to-face, without notes in front of you to help boost your confidence.

Maybe it’s something as simple as that you have to hustle to get three blog posts written and uploaded by the end of the day. Well, you could have seven blog posts due. And your deadline could be in an hour, rather than in six hours. And you could be sitting in an office building in Florida without air conditioning. Now that would be bad.

Thinking about worst-case scenarios brings perspective to the thing you’re struggling with. Yes, the assignment may be hard or uncomfortable or time-consuming, but it could be a lot worse.

Mind Game #2: How Do You Eat an Elephant?

The answer—as you probably already know—is one bite at a time. Taken literally, it’s a pretty unappetizing saying, but the meaning holds true. If you set out to accomplish one gigantic, all-important goal, you can easily become completely overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. But when you focus on just one small piece of that goal at a time, it becomes a much more realistic objective.

You can apply this to almost any task lingering on your to-do list. Instead of setting out to write a six-page report, for example, look at it as two three-page reports—and focus on only one portion at a time.

Or, maybe you’re tasked with managing an entire client account—something you’ve never done before. As a whole, that can be an intimidating task. But take it one step at a time. First, for instance, say you have to make an introductory phone call. Well, you’ve made hundreds of customer phone calls in your career. Piece of cake! Then, you have to address a billing issue for the account. You’ve done that before, too.

When you shift your mindset, suddenly, the overall assignment doesn’t seem so large or intimidating.

Mind Game #3: Time’s Running Out

One of the hardest parts of tackling an intimidating task on your to-do list is simply getting started—especially if you have no set deadline or the existing deadline isn’t immediately looming.

So, force yourself. Set a timer for a specified amount of time—I usually go with 30 minutes to an hour—and dive in. Commit to working on only that task for that amount of time. Then, you can stop.

Creating that imaginary deadline and knowing that you have only a set amount of time to work on it can drive you to move faster and get as much done as possible before the timer goes off.

At the end of that time period, you may not have flawless, ready-to-show-your-boss work, but you’ll have something—and that can be the push you need to push forward and complete the task.

Mind Game #4: Look at How Far You’ve Come

Think back to your first day in your current role. Remember how unsure you were? How you didn’t know where to start on your entire to-do list? How you asked your co-workers endless iterations of “Did I do this right?” and “Can you help me with this?”

And now, those things are a breeze. You fly through those tasks without a second thought. You’re confident in your abilities.

This difficult task on your to-do list? It’s may seem like an insurmountable hurdle right now, but in just a matter of time, you’ll likely be looking at it with an entirely different perspective.

Maybe you’re putting together a presentation that you’ll be giving in front of your entire company. Right now, you’re not great at public speaking, your body language is timid, and you are having some major PowerPoint issues. But once you get past it and start giving more presentations, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come—and in the rearview mirror, it won’t seem like a big deal at all.

Looking back at your progress can give you the boost you need to remember that you’ve faced trials like this before, and you’ve made it through to the other end even stronger. And you can do it again.

It’s easy to get in your own head and convince yourself that you just can’t do that nagging task on your to-do list. But you can also get in your own head to convince yourself that you can—and sometimes, that’s all you need to get the job done.

Photo of light bulb pencil courtesy of Shutterstock.