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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Do the Work You Really Don't Want to Do

It’s safe to say that, at any given time, there are five to 10 items on my to-do list that I really, really don’t want to do.

Whether they’re recurring annoyances (read: any form of exercise) or one-time sources of angst (hello, rolling over my retirement plan), these don’t-want-to-dos typically pushed back and back, taking up space on my to-do list until I (hopefully) feel like getting to them.

But, as Heidi Grant Halvorson reminded me (and anyone else suffering from the but-I-don’t-want-tos) in her recent Harvard Business Review article: If we wait until we “feel like” doing something, well, it’s never going to get done. She writes:

Somewhere along the way, we’ve all bought into the idea—without consciously realizing it—that to be motivated and effective we need to feel like we want to take action. We need to be eager to do so… Yes, on some level you need to be committed to what you are doing—you need to want to see the project finished, or get healthier, or get an earlier start to your day. But you don’t need to feel like doing it.

In fact…many of the most prolific artists, writers, and innovators have become so in part because of their reliance on work routines that forced them to put in a certain number of hours a day, no matter how uninspired (or, in many instances, hungover) they might have felt.

In other words, it’s time to stop waiting for inspiration, motivation, or that uber-focused state of productivity that magically strikes now and then, and start putting in place plans that will help you get stuff done when you don’t feel like it.

To do so, Halvorson recommends adopting “if…then” lines of thinking for each painful task on your plate—think “If it is 2 PM, then I will stop what I’m doing and start work on the report Bob asked for” or “If my boss doesn’t mention my request for a raise at our meeting, then I will bring it up again before the meeting ends.” (Or, in my case, “If it is Tuesday, then I will go to the gym.”)

When you turn a to-do into a plan that’s set in stone, not something you’ll maybe get to when you feel like it, it’s much, much more likely to become to-done.

Photo courtesy of Florian Klauer.