This is Part 4 of the Flake-Friendly Productivity series
You tried out that new productivity technique. You set your priorities for the week. You used the cool new app or planner.
You had all the motivation and the best intentions, and then …
It didn’t happen.
It’s easy to jump to the judgment that your brain is broken and you are permanently doomed to failure.
But in the real world (as opposed to Instagram and TikTok), not getting annoying tasks done is just something we all need to work with.
The key is to work with it, instead of using it as another way to feel like crap.
The next time a task is spending way too much time on your to-do list, run through this troubleshooting checklist:
✅ Are you sure it’s a real priority?
Before you put in the work to get a tricky task accomplished, make sure it’s really a priority.
It may be easy or difficult, personal or professional. But it’s either a genuine priority for you or it isn’t.
Before you troubleshoot your approach, make sure it’s worth the time and energy you’ll put into it — or whether that time and energy might be better spent getting this task onto someone else’s plate.
✅ Do you know what you’ll get out of it?
It’s easy to put off projects when you don’t really have a good grasp of why you’re doing them.
Take a minute to write down the benefits to making progress on this task.
This is an excellent time to get selfish for a few minutes. Focus on benefits to you, rather than to other people.
Those benefits might be external (more money, more time off, better client pipeline) or internal (more confidence, less stress, better sense that “I’ve got this”).
This is also a good time to look at any consequences that might happen if the task doesn’t get done. These could be late fees, cranky colleagues, or just the crappy feeling that you aren’t showing up for yourself.
✅ Did it have a date and time?
I know, I know, calendars are boring.
But if you’ve had a task on your list for awhile and it’s not on your calendar, you’re making this harder than it needs to be.
Putting a task on the calendar usually won’t get the task done all by itself. But if you don’t clear the time for it, you’re not likely to magically find a few minutes between everything else you have going on.
✅ Were the date and time realistic?
Did you tell yourself you were going to wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get this done, when you know you’re a confirmed night owl?
Do you have this on your calendar for after lunch, even though you’re always in a food coma for a good two hours after lunch?
If you didn’t schedule it for a day and time that were realistic for your energy rhythms and your habits, then it’s equivalent to not scheduling it at all.
What’s the next realistic time and day you could set aside time for this?
✅ Did you know the prep?
Sometimes we put things off because we just know that as soon as we get started, the project is going to splinter into a zillion irritating little sub-tasks.
I call these Clown Car Projects. They look small on the outside, but inside they’re full of a surprising number of clowns.
If you think something might be a Clown Car Project, you’ll find yourself avoiding it.
The antidote is to take a few minutes to sketch out the prep. If it’s a blog post, the prep might be writing some subheads and brainstorming a few headlines.
If it’s an annoying phone call, the prep might be making sure you have the information that will make the call go more smoothly.
Then, schedule the prep before you schedule the task.
(If you can, schedule some buffer time as well, just in case momentum carries you through to finishing the whole thing.)
✅ Did you get other things done instead?
One really common reason our thorny tasks don’t get done is that we got other things done, instead.
They might be tasks that were more in our comfort zone, or just tasks that were more urgent.
All of the work you’re doing — professional and personal, hard and easy — uses up time and mental energy. That bank is not unlimited.
It’s useful to figure out what you are getting done, so you can start giving yourself credit for it … as well as making more conscious decisions about whether this new task takes priority over where your time is already going.
✅ What got in the way?
Looking over the past week, what got in the way when it was time to get this done?
If it was on your calendar, did you get interrupted? Did you need to switch gears to take on an urgent client project, or deal with a melty toddler?
Or maybe you just hit the single most common obstacle: You didn’t feel like it.
If you’re getting your projects onto your calendar, but when you get there you either aren’t feeling it or something else is intruding, you have an important piece of information:
You know your obstacle
Sometimes they’re internal, sometimes they’re external, but the response is the same:
✅ Make a back-of-the-envelope plan
Once you know what’s getting in the way of getting the task done (with “I seriously didn’t want to” being one option), you can make a quick plan for what you’re going to do when that obstacle comes up.
The basic formula is:
✅ Get yourself some structure, support, and encouragement
Finally, if you’re trying to get big things done all by yourself, it might be that you could use a better structure or some supportive company.
Way back in October 2020, I noticed how hard it was even for my ultra-organized friends to get anything done.
The anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty just tanked our ability to focus.
That’s why I created the Creative Fierce membership community. It was a place we could gather for focus, support, structure, and gentle accountability.
Two years later, things are somewhat better than they were then, but the environment for focused work is still tough.
And that group is still going strong. (We still have quite a few of our original members.)
We’ve been getting together 3-4 times a week to make steady, consistent progress on tough projects.
Because “slow and steady” doesn’t make for a sexy headline, but it actually is a fabulous way to get a whole bunch of work done.
Enrollment is open for Creative Fierce this week. Even better, you’ll save $100 on the membership fee when you sign up before the end of the business day, Monday, September 26th.
Creative Fierce is a virtual implementation community, designed to support your focus. It’s the perfect place to work on:
- Blog posts, newsletters, and other business-building content
- Getting your website into great shape
- Side hustles and independent businesses
- Launches and promotions
- Books and other big creative projects
- Digital courses that are sitting unwatched on your hard drive
- Prospecting and professional outreach
- Financial tasks like invoicing and keeping your taxes organized
- Anything you find you consistently put off
If you’d like to know exactly when and where you’re going to get your focused projects done, join us! We’d love to see you there.
You can learn all about it here: Creative Fierce implementation membership