Procrastination. Lack of motivation. Feeling blocked. There are a lot of ways to describe the problem of not getting stuff done. People are incredibly creative about coming up with excuses for explaining their inability to execute. But, if you want to accomplish anything with your life you are going to have to push through those excuses. You are going to have to knuckle up and get things done.
The best strategy for solving this problem is simple. But, it involves lying to yourself, or at least tricking yourself.
This is Your Brain on Fear
The real reason you procrastinate or feel overwhelmed when faced with a tough task isn’t that you are weak, stupid, or simply not cut out for success. The reason you struggle is that your brain is genetically hardwired to avoid change. For our ancestors change was bad. Change meant going hungry. Change meant death. We fear change.
Completing a big project triggers the fear response in our brains. Even if you have done similar things before, this project, this assignment, is new to you. You brain goes on red alert, trying to keep you from making a change.
How to Trick Yourself
You have to trick your brain into thinking you are not making a change. You have to lie to yourself. The first lie you have to tell is that you don’t have to do the entire project. You need to break up the project into tiny chunks. Then you have to only focus on one of those tiny chunks at a time. Your brain will think you are just doing something small. It won’t trigger a fear response. You will make slow and steady progress. Before your brain even knows what happened, you will have completed something new.
Strategy in Action
Here is an example of how this works with writing a blog post. A standard 500-word blog post may or may not seem like a lot to you. But, it can be a lot of writing for your brain to process at one time. Instead of just staring at the blank screen for hours, or telling yourself you will get to it when you are inspired, or deciding you suddenly need to create a new Spotify playlist, you need to break writing the blog post down into ridiculously small components.
First come up with a working title. Coming up with a final title is too much pressure. Decide you are first going to come up with something that is good enough for now. Next decide on two or three subheadings for the post. Decide these are not final either, just guides. Next you will need to write an introduction. The next steps will be to write the words to fill out the subheadings. At any given time you are writing no more than 100 words at a time. Write the conclusion. Lastly, go back and edit your work. Change the title and sub headings if you need. You are finished. You don’t even need to do it all in one sitting.
Instead of working on one big, poorly defined task, writing a blog post, you worked on several discrete, easy to define tasks. Your brain likes small and defined. That is not scary. That is not something different.
Billionaires Do It
This process works for anything. You should break up any task into its smallest executable components. Work on one executable component at a time. This is the same process billionaires like Richard Branson and Bill Gates used to build corporate empires. It is also how most successful people run their personal lives.
If you want to get more done, focus on the small things. Your brain can’t handle doing big things. That’s too much change. It creates a fear response. Be more like a billionaire. Lie to yourself. Only let your brain see the small executable tasks.