You know you have to do it. But every time you think about that task you’re dreading—slogging through a report, or clearing out your hopelessly overstuffed inbox, or writing a blog post—you find yourself with a dozen other things that suddenly seem far more important and urgent.
Productivity experts refer to extra-loathsome to-do items as “frogs,” and some are sadistic enough to suggest that you tackle them first thing in the morning. But regardless of whether you opt to swallow them whole before breakfast or dig into them later in the day, you may want to take steps to make them more appealing.
Susan Pons, a productivity specialist with Toronto-based Clear Concept Inc., recommends a strategy called pairing. The idea is to pair something you loathe with something else that you genuinely love—listening to Justin Bieber (but only now that he’s teamed up with Skrillex) while sorting through a groaning stack of receipts, for example. Or getting a pedicure while producing that pesky blog post, an approach that Pons tried recently to overcome her own struggles with blogging.
Pairing writing with a little pampering made the task Pons dreaded more palatable, and imposed a helpful deadline: She had to complete her assignment by the time the nail polish dried. “I am not suggesting you go for a pedicure every time you have a difficult task ahead of you,” Pons wrote in real time while a pedicurist worked away at her feet. “If you’re simply not looking forward to a task, set a deadline and reward yourself once the task is done. However, if your task is recurring and one of your top three hardest tasks, than a concurrent reward may help you to avoid procrastination and may even help you look forward to the task.”
The key to pairing is linking the positive activity exclusively to the unpleasant task, Pons says. “If you’re choosing music, and the idea is that you’re going to listen to music while weeding the garden, you should only listen to that music while you’re weeding.” Having ready access to the same tunes at other times could dilute the positive pairing effect. “If you’re going to want to be listening to them at other times in your life, you should probably choose something else for pairing.”
For Pons, a trip to the spa was the perfect choice. She got her blog post written in time—and walked away with sandal-worthy feet.
MORE TASK-MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES:
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Have you tried using pairing to make dreaded tasks desirable? What activities would you pair together? Let us know using the comments section below.