Do Your Unpleasant Tasks First

There are two ways you can handle unpleasant tasks, one more popular than the other, one more effective.

The popular way to handle unpleasant tasks is to procrastinate. There is a certain category of tasks that you’d rather not do, even if they must be done, and even if you are fully aware that not doing them will cause you problems over time.

Pushing the task off to some future time doesn’t change the nature of the task, unpleasant as it may be. Nor does its postponement lessen the need to complete the task. Eventually, you are going to have to do the work, deal with the issue, have the difficult conversation, make your calls, or complete the paperwork.

You can push off the work to some future date, but in doing so, you leave the task to create a small amount of mental anguish, knowing that it still looms over you.

The less popular and more effective way to deal with unpleasant tasks is to dispatch with them quickly and directly, removing them from your task list. If the task must be done, you do it first, before you open your inbox, before you start on the more interesting work you do, and before anyone or anything else gets your attention.

By doing this work first, you have tackled the worst thing on your task list, depriving it of its power to cause negative feelings or resistance. More still, and much more importantly, you train yourself not to procrastinate when it comes to doing what is necessary to produce the results you want. When you do what you perceive to be the worst things first, the rest of your day is like running downhill.

Now, a word on what counts as an unpleasant task. The thing that needs to be done now requires your full focus and attention. It can’t easily be completed in one sitting, has no real due date, but can change your overall results, yet it ends up being put off. It’s easy to trade meaningful—but difficult—work for a clean desk, an empty inbox, or the tasks that show up as work without producing any real results (things that feel like work but aren’t, like many meetings, research for research’s sake, and much of what shows up in your inbox).

Being busy is not the same thing as being productive.

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