Time-Management Technique: How to Conquer Dreaded Tasks

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When facing a huge or intimidating load of work, taking the tasks apart may be the best way to make progress, stay on track, and put away that project in a timely fashion.

Starting with the tough job

One extremely successful technique to move beyond procrastination is to tackle the toughest job first. Or if you're working on a single, big task, take on the most difficult aspect of it before the rest.

Try coordinating this tough-stuff-first effort so that you start it first thing in the morning, a time when most people are at their peak in terms of energy, intensity, and focus. If you conquer the most difficult task first, your day will be a lot more productive.

To ratchet up your results further, start the prep work for the toughest tasks the night before. Setting the stage allows you to make quick work of even your most challenging projects. When you prepare well for your effort, you won't spend 30 minutes just getting ready to go.

Poking little holes in the task

When biting into a major or complicated task seems overwhelming, start with the easier pieces — the aspects that you know you can complete quickly and with little effort. In this way, you poke holes in the project, making lighter work of the steps that remain after you polish off the manageable aspects.

For example, suppose you're facing your kitchen after a dinner party: dishes piled to the tops of the cupboards, leftovers cooling in their serving dishes, the sink clogged with kitchen scraps, and the roaster pan caked with burned food and tenacious grease. The job is more than you can fathom at midnight. You're tempted to turn around, go to bed, and hope the kitchen fairies come in the night to transform your kitchen into its former spotless self.

Or you can tell yourself you'll do one simple thing before you turn out the lights: maybe put away all the food and scrape the scraps into the compost bin or garbage disposal. And then when you make short work of that, you tell yourself that filling up the dishwasher with at least one load won't take that long. When that's done, you decide you can at least rinse and stack the other dishes. By the time you poke these holes into the project, not too much is left. Even if you give up at this point, the task that awaits you in the morning isn't nearly so formidable.

Finishing it one piece at a time

This approach is a great tactic for those long-term projects in which the deadline seems so far away that you convince yourself you don't need to start yet. So you don't resort to cramming at the eleventh hour, take the time immediately to cut up the project into bite-sized pieces. These tasks should be small enough that you can schedule them day-by-day or at least week-by-week.

The number of ways you can slice and dice a large project are many, but here's one option for breaking it down:

  1. Set time aside to plan the project completely so you can begin working on it and cut it down to size.

  2. Create an action order of what needs to be done and when.

    Creating a timeline helps you segment the task into pieces.

  3. Figure out what materials you need for the task.

    Collect all the materials and make them ready and available.

    [Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Mark Evans]
    Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Mark Evans

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