Do you have a huge project, paper, exam, or task looming over you? Are you feeling unsure how to begin? Overwhelmed? Scared of not completing the task? Often when we have large tasks, it is difficult to know how or where to begin. In an effort to avoid those uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty or overwhelm, we give in to procrastination. Thus, a cycle begins: we feel lost, we procrastinate, the task looms larger, we feel more uncertain, we procrastinate more… Before we know it, we are spiraling downward. But the story doesn’t have to continue like this, try these simple things to interrupt that cycle and begin to make small steady progress on your task.
Acknowledge your feelings
A great first step when you notice this cycle beginning is to ask yourself: “When I think about that task or assignment, what am I feeling?” or “Why am I putting this assignment off?” Bringing some awareness to what you are feeling can help inform the ways you will approach your task and/or fight the urge to procrastinate.
Ask yourself: “Do I fully understand the task?”
Check in with yourself to see if you have all the information you need to begin working on the task. Do you fully understand the assignment? Do you know what is expected of you? Have you read all the materials provided and available? Sometimes, just having more information about what you need to do can help make the task more manageable and provide ideas for how to begin.
Remind yourself, “I can be uncomfortable for 5 minutes”
Instinctively, we tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Instead, we will choose an activity that is more enjoyable, even if a lower priority. Try playing a “mind game” instead. Tell yourself, “I can handle five minutes of discomfort while I begin the activity (whether it’s writing, reading, or reviewing)” Usually, the discomfort only lasts for a minute or two. Which is often just enough time to break the barrier and begin.
Break it up
Instead of focusing on the final product, consider the small steps that will lead to completing the larger task. Ask yourself, “’what is the smallest possible step I can take?” And then double-check, is that really the smallest possible step, or is there another step before that one? Ensuring that the steps you plan are small and specific, sets you up to be successful, which then helps create momentum and positive motivation.
Ask yourself, “What am I doing instead?”
When you repeatedly find yourself doing something other than what you intend, take notice: “what am I doing instead?” Knowing this might give you some helpful information about your work environment, your time management, your distractions, or the project itself.
Use this template to walk yourself through defining success, setting a reward, identifying obstacles, and breaking the project into small steps.
Need more personalized strategies on managing a large task?
Email Christy Rotman, College Life Skills Coach, at firstname.lastname@example.org