Heidi Souerwine’s tips on overcoming inertia, avoidance and procrastination

If you’re like most administrative, executive and personal assistants, you have comprehensive schedules and lengthy To-Do lists. There’s a point in adulthood where we all get really good at listing what needs to be done, so why is it that we sometimes have trouble getting motivated to act? Before we explore how to overcome inertia, avoidance, and procrastination, let’s address a few surprising misconceptions about getting motivated.

First, it is generally thought that the most productive people are those who get started on projects or tasks right away and finish early. However, some people are deadline driven, not task driven, and can be just as productive—sometimes with higher quality results. Could that be you?

Second, we often hear from experts that we should strive for a positive attitude. While it is true that optimism can help us get more done and stay motivated, it is also true that negative emotions can motivate us. Sometimes, we are motivated to avoid failure or looking bad in the eyes of others.

Our feelings have a strong impact on our ability to get things done. We think when we plan, but feelings motivate us to act. Mary Lamia, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, a professor at the Wright Institute at Berkeley, and the author of What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success explores both these ideas in her book. To summarize her thinking about these concepts:

Task versus Deadline Motivations

Task-driven people are motivated to complete things as soon as possible; deadline-driven people feel extra planning and exploration create better results and are motivated by deadlines. We are not talking here about procrastinators whose consistently miss deadlines, we are talking about those who nevertheless DO bring projects and tasks in on time. Lamia doesn’t see either approach as better than the other; the goal is to use your style to its best effect.

However, be aware that colleagues with different motivational styles can encounter challenges when working together, and even clash because of when something gets done. Task-driven people often don’t trust a deadline-driven coworker to complete something or to do a good job when the deadline is upon them. On the other hand, task-driven people can submit work that needs further revision. (They are motivated to get something off their plate as soon as possible.) Task-driven people may assume their deadline-driven partners will forget to do something and so they issue reminders or do it themselves, creating resentment. A deadline-driven partner is likely to be offended by constant reminders since he or she usually knows what must be done and how long it will take. In close working relationships, it is important to recognize the impact of each other’s style, and it will helpful to be upfront about differences.

Negative Emotions as a Motivator

There is no doubt that optimism can help us succeed because either we anticipate feeling proud or satisfied because we are excited by the task. But it is also true that many people are motivated to avoid or relieve emotions like worry, anxiety, shame, or stress. While the fear of failure may paralyze some, many successful people use negative emotions as fuel to get the job done.

It is common to consciously or subconsciously fear that we will not perform well—that we will be embarrassed. This worry and anxiety creates stress immediately for those who are task-driven and is in the back of the minds of deadline-driven people until they are motivated by a deadline. Productivity experts typically see worry and anxiety as emotions that cloud the thinking and get in the way. However, Lamia asserts that they can actually focus your attention and energize you. The key is to recognize your emotions and use them as fuel to perform.

So, how do we sidestep avoidance and procrastination? How do we harness our stress?

The #1 Tool Successful People Use to Make Things Happen

Some people can apply their skills to get things done without much difficulty, while others struggle. Those struggles may be rooted in their difficulty with setting priorities. Clear priorities are the foundation of success. The most productive people have a solid sense of which tasks and projects are the most important. A list of tasks isn’t effective if there isn’t an understanding of which are of greatest importance. Without that, how do you decide how to work through your list each day?

If you are leading a team or part of a team, communication also becomes essential. The ability to establish and communicate priorities is critical for teams to become highly productive and perform well. Confusion about what the goals and priority tasks are, or which actions come first, is the root of most team frustration when working on projects. All team members must share a common understanding of goals and priorities.

15 Tips to Kick into High Gear

 Most adult learners absorb things best visually in lists, so let’s look at 15 tips to help you tackle motivation, productivity, and performance.

1. Break it down

A big project will seem less overwhelming if you take it in steps—also try identifying pieces that can be done in 20-minute chunks.

2. Focus on starting, not finishing

Beginning something is half the battle, but once you act, momentum usually kicks in, and your motivation builds. Just focus on taking the first step or commit to a certain amount of time on a task.

3. Stay focused

Ditch the Facebook updates and cat videos. And, batch your email responses. We all know what time wasters social media and emails can be.

4. Accountability hacks

Ask for a deadline if you’ve been asked to take something on with no due date. Find out when the results are needed and how much of a priority the work is. Tell others what you intend to do and by when. That way you’ve incentivized yourself to act.

5. Use a weekly To-Do list

A daily To-Do list is great, but it can sometimes neglect to factor in tasks that will help you reach career objectives or performance goals or contribute to your broader professional development. Your weekly list can be the foundation of your daily list, and it will help you focus on your important tasks amidst the urgent ones.

6. Shake it off

Schedule frequent, brief breaks. Get up, stretch and walk around. Complete a different 5-minute task. Clear your mind—sometimes concentration can become counterproductive.

7. Celebrate progress

Give progress its due! Progress is a powerful motivator so celebrate your successes and things you check off along the way. Give as much thought to your progress as you would to delays or setbacks.

8. Challenge yourself to get something done to the stop clock

Create a time crunch by giving yourself a limited amount of time to do things—then build your speed by interjecting other tasks that you also want to get done within a certain time frame.

9. Surround yourself with motivated and successful colleagues

Your interactions and conversations impact you in your work and personal lives. Studies show that we do better when we are surrounded by those who do well, and we are happier when our nearest and dearest are happy.

10. Keep yourself sharp

You are your most important tool. Remember that sleep is a priority as well—don’t use “getting things done” as an excuse not to sleep enough, exercise enough, or nourish your body.

11. Don’t have a plan B

Push aside thoughts of trying to extend a deadline or withdraw from a project. If you find yourself feeling discouraged about your work situation, know that it’s likely driven by something broader; put those thoughts aside and promise yourself to think about it once the task is complete.

12. Done is better than perfect

Are you a perfectionist? Let it go. Perfectionism breeds procrastination. Focus on getting a draft done, then go back and edit/revise.

13. Monitor your self-talk

Switch thoughts about what you must/should/have to do. Replace those with thoughts about what you choose to/want to/will do.

14. Reward yourself

Consider what the rewards of a job well done will be. Those rewards can be up to 75% of our motivation. Go further and build in small rewards for completing steps along the way.

15. End the day in control

Practice leaving each day with a clean and organized workspace along with a to-do list for the next day.

Heidi Souerwine is the Conference and Content Manager for The American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP). Prior to moving to joining the ASAP team, she spent 15 years managing events for up to 10,000 attendees for international membership ... (Read More)

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