Most of us have been there at some point in our academic or professional life. A mountain of unfinished, unstarted, procrastinated work growing endlessly on your desk, in your workbook, on your computer, in your mind. The mountain stares at you menacingly, doubting whether you possess the fortitude or ability to overcome it at all. There seems to be no end to the tasks at hand, and therefore there doesn’t seem to be a starting point. The mountain has created a terrifying avalanche of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread. It is not a fun place to be, and certainly one to avoid at all costs if you can stay on top of things. We aren’t perfect though, and if you find yourself in this position from time to time don’t be too hard on yourself. Overcoming the mountain may seem impossible at times, but like all journeys, this one begins with a single step.
Commit to a Task.
This is a key psychological element to taking on the mountain. Committing to a task is the true root of the problem in general, and it is here that you cannot falter. Commit to ONE task. Just one. It doesn’t matter where this task is on the to-do list or how difficult or important it is, it just needs to be a task on your list. For myself I try to pick something small and easily achievable for my task. The idea is to gain access to that reward center of the brain, and feeling a sense of accomplishment is a fantastic way of getting there, no matter how small the accomplishment may be. Maybe you like to get a dreaded task out of the way first, or the one you have put off for the longest time. There isn’t a wrong way to go about accomplishing your task, the important thing is simply to check that box. The entire mountain might seem overwhelming, but committing to a single task seems achievable and helps reach the desired mindset.
You have committed to a task, and maybe even decided which task that is. Now remove yourself from distractions and temptations. Go to your office, desk, or designated workspace. Close that YouTube tab, put your phone on “Focus” or “Do Not Disturb,” put on some headphones and your favorite study/work/focus music. Last time I checked, watching 79 straight Facebook food review Reels was not on the to-do list. You might need to firmly remind yourself that your Playstation is not an option, at least not until your one task is complete.
Dip a Toe.
By committing to a single task and placing yourself in a distraction-free environment you are setting yourself up for success. You’re simply dipping a toe into the water, just to see how it feels. Once you have accomplished that first task, submitted that report, sent that email, took that quiz, or whatever it was, you just might find that the water was rather agreeable. In many cases, I have found myself realizing it wasn’t water at all, but rather a hot tub filled with KFC gravy and it is glorious. That reward center in your brain starts firing and a wave of endorphins washes over you and fills you with a newfound sense of motivation. Once you get started, you accomplish something, you will probably realize that you are far more capable than that mountain gave you credit for.
Enjoy the Ride.
Your task is complete, the box is checked, you’re feeling good about yourself for the first time in a minute. That persistent anxiety is dissipating, and that mountain is starting to look like little more than a speed bump. It is at this point where those distractions and temptations don’t seem all that enticing. Task #2 seems like a simple progression, and it won’t be long before your to-do list is in the rearview mirror. There is a psychological element to all of this, but the most important thing is to find what works for you. If you struggle getting started, try these methods out and see if it helps shift you out of neutral and into gear. Accomplishing that first task is incredibly powerful, and the gravy is worth it. There might even be some french fries to dip in the gravy… I’m beginning to think I’m just hungry. I want some poutine.
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