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What to Do About That Thing You’ve Been Putting Off

Image: Brett

You know how there’s something you’ve been putting off? Maybe you’ve been putting it off for a long time. Maybe you’ve had it on your to-do list every day for the past fifteen days. Every morning, you think, “I’ll finally do that thing today” … but you don’t. The next day, you dutifully carry it over again … and you still don’t complete the task.

Never underestimate the strength of psychic resistance. Dread is a powerful emotion.

I speak from experience, of course. And after I noticed I was spending a ton of energy worrying about something I had to do but not actually doing it—I made a plan. The plan is two-fold, and I offer it here for your adoption.

Part One: Consider if you really need to do the thing—and if not, let go of it.

Part Two: If you must do it, put it on its own list—not your usual to-do list.

Image: Nik

Part One: Let Go if You Can

Before you put something on the to-dread list, first make certain that the task really needs to happen. You can sometimes obtain just as much relief by simply deciding, hey, I’m not going to do that thing or worry about it anymore.

Therefore, ask: Must I do this thing? What are the consequences of not doing it?

If the consequences of not doing it are less than whatever suffering you’re currently experiencing—by thinking about it and doing nothing about it—maybe you just need to let it go.

Note, however, that if you decide to let go of it, you need to really let go. If you keep worrying about it, maybe even thinking, “Oh, I might still get to it … I really should,” you’ll be miserable. Instead, accept that the thing just isn’t going to happen! Move on and be happy.

For all of the things in life that we can’t simply opt-out of, move to Part Two.

Part Two: Make a To-Dread List

A To-Dread list is exactly like it sounds. It contains everything you probably should do but really don’t want to. That overdue email reply, that loving-but-corrective feedback you need to give to a co-worker, dealing with a bill you’ve been avoiding—all of those things are typical To-Dread list items.

Of course, your list may vary. So take some time and write down whatever you can think of on this new list. Maybe you normally group items by categories like “Phone Calls” or “Errands” or something else. Well, guess what the items on your to-dread list have in common? You don’t want to do them! They deserve their own list.

Once you have the list, you devote a chunk of time (like an hour or two, maybe longer depending on the tasks) to actively tackle only those items on the list and nothing else. You might need to schedule this into your calendar to make sure you prioritize it.

I know, it will be painful. But just remember: it’s going to feel so, so good to get those difficult things done. Putting them off has a cost, so take them off your to-do list. Make a to-dread list, spend half an hour on it, and feel better.