If you've recently been avoiding completing a task—perhaps sending an email or picking up the phone for a difficult discussion—chances are it's not the task itself that's presenting the challenge. Rather, "it's getting started on doing the thing," Peter Bregman, CEO of the leadership coaching firm Bregman Partners writes for the Harvard Business Review.
According to Bregman, the toughest part about moving forward with a task is "the transition" into that new task. A new task, particularly one you are avoiding, "almost always represents a shift from doing something comfortable … to doing something uncomfortable," he writes.
Bregman notes that most people believe "getting traction on our most important work requires that we be skilled and proficient at that work." But, he writes, "the real thing we need to be skilled and proficient in is moving through the moment before the work."
How to develop your 'transition' skill
If you want to beat your habit of procrastinating on unappealing tasks, Bregman recommends repeating these five steps every day:
1. Identify the task: The first step, Bregman writes, is to identify exactly what you're having a hard time getting started on.
2. Identify the transition point: Once you've identified your task, Bregman writes that you next need to identify the immediate action step you must take to transition toward that task, whether that means picking up the phone, writing the first word, or asking a question.
3. Make the decision: Next, you need to set a specific time and place to get started on the task.
4. Prime your "emotional courage": Bregman writes that you'll likely feel uncomfortable starting something difficult—and you'll need to work up your "emotional courage." According to Bergman, one's willingness to accept that uncomfortable feeling is "a developable skill" that is critical to get traction on something.
5. Follow through without doubt: The final step is to follow through with your task and keep pushing forward without questioning your actions. "You can't control the noise your thinking makes," Bregman writes, "but you can keep moving through it to do what you need to do."
The good news, Bregman writes it, is the difficult part—the transition—is "short-lived." He concludes, "It is not the new normal— it's the movement to the new normal" (Bregman, Harvard Business Review, 5/30).