Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Best Possible Way to Finally Finish That Terrible To-Do

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Over the years, we at The Muse have come up with quite a few hacks to make sure the less-fun items on our to-dos lists get done. Blocking out time on our calendars for taxes, the gym, and expense reports. Motivating ourselves with treats upon successful completion of a task. Delegating our least-favorite job duties to someone who might enjoy them, or swapping particularly hairy to-dos with a similarly stressed co-worker.

And for the most part, one of those approaches typically works.

But then, there are those tasks. You know what I mean. The ones you’ve been putting off for, oh, longer than you’d like your boss to know about. Or the ones that do have a hard deadline, but that you’re dreading so much you just can’t bring yourself to start. The ones that are almost enough to make you fake a terrible accident and “have to stay in the hospital for a while.”

For those, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Well, not exactly the big guns. More like a helpful (albeit sometimes annoying) friend.

Here’s what you do: Choose a close friend or co-worker, ideally one who’s not known for letting you off the hook easily. Open up an email, and copy and paste this message:

Hey there,

So, I have to do [terrible task you don’t want to do].

I’m really dreading it, because [the main reason you’ve been putting it off].

But it’s important that I do it, because [key reason it needs to be done].

I’m going to start on it [time that you’ll start working on it—ideally within one business day of when you’re sending the email].

And I’m going to finish it by [insert a reasonable deadline for yourself].

If you don’t hear from me by then, will you start harassing me in an unreasonable manner until I get it done?

I’m not joking. Flogging. Screaming. Whatever you have to do.

Happy to return the favor,

[Your name]

This sounds a little silly, but it’s worked for me every single time. Why? It combines many of the common approaches above: You set a deadline for yourself, you schedule time in your calendar to get it done, and you set up a reward system (or, rather, a punishment system) for yourself. But instead of keeping all of this in your own head (which, if you’re like me, is prone to justifying “putting off until tomorrow”), you’re holding yourself accountable to someone else.

The good news? I’ve never had to resort to a friend actually screaming at or flogging me. In fact, somehow I always get the task done long before I think I will. It’s just a matter of lighting that fire under my you-know-what to get things started.

Photo of person working courtesy of Shutterstock.