post written by: Marc Chernoff

How To Make Difficult Tasks Easier


Make Difficult Tasks Easier

This guest post was written by Karl Staib, author of Work Happy Now.

“Why am I insisting on procrastinating right now?”  You all know what I’m talking about – that dreaded task that makes you ignore reality.  It’s just sitting on your ‘to do’ list, ready to be tackled, but for some reason you keep checking your email.  You just checked it five minutes ago, but maybe now there is an important email needing your attention.

Does this sound like somebody you know?

This is a common theme throughout many of our work days.  We keep avoiding a difficult task because we are afraid to face it.

The questions of…

  • What if I **** it up?
  • What if I can’t do it by myself?
  • What if I look stupid?

These debilitating questions can kill the motivation of even the strongest person, especially if these questions are left to fester.  Once the wound is open, it’s hard to ignore it.  Worry creeps in and it won’t let go.

Here are some of the concepts that I use to overcome my dread of a difficult task:

Start now

When you let your molehill turn into a mountain, the fear only builds and builds until you face it.  That means you just have to jump in and get started.  Once you start, you will begin to identify your strengths and weaknesses.  Breaking down the task in parts will make it seem possible and actually enjoyable to do.

Separate the hard parts from the easy parts

Every task has its hard and easy parts.  When you can separate the two, you can pick the type of work that fits your mood.  Let’s say you work best in the late morning.  You can then choose to pick the hardest tasks for this time period.  If your energy dips in the late afternoon, you can choose to do work that is easier and uses less brain power during this time.

Enjoy the emotional challenge

Difficult tasks are usually avoided because of the suffering that they may cause.  You worry about how you might become frustrated, angry or sad.  Acknowledging these feelings is a great first step in building your emotional strength.

A friend of mine told me that before she had kids, her patience was minimal.  After having two kids, she has the patience of a saint.  I’m always impressed with her calm demeanor when she is telling her kids to stop screaming while she is talking on the phone.  She has this calm quality of a Zen master.

You can use a difficult challenge to become more patient, more relaxed, or just quicker to release frustration when you engage your emotional development at work.

Figure out how this task will help the future you

When I was an assistant teacher, I dreaded the days when the head teacher was sick.  It meant that I had to be the disciplinarian, time keeper, leader and so many other roles.  It was easier to just follow the head teacher’s lead.  I kept thinking these thoughts until I realized that I could use the experience to my advantage, because I wanted to be a teacher some day (little did I know I would be a teacher of work happiness).

I embraced the work as a way to become stronger instead of trying to avoid it.

Chip away everyday

You may look back at the end of the busy day and realize you didn’t get half of what you wanted accomplished.  This usually happens because you did the light work instead of the heavy lifting.  The way to feel fulfilled at the end of the day is to tackle the difficult tasks early so you can ease up when your energy wanes.

You’ll be impressed at the end of the week at how much you really were able to accomplish.

Find someone that wants to help you

A difficult task is dreaded because of all the work that lies before you.  You feel like you can’t do it all by yourself.  And you shouldn’t.  That’s why finding someone to help you is very important to your emotional health.  This person can be a creative sounding board as well as someone you can complain to when things don’t go quite right.

Find someone who doesn’t have all the same strengths as you.  Try to match yourself with a person who can make up for your weaknesses and complement your strengths.

Ask yourself, “Am I the right person for the job?”

There are some jobs that just don’t fit with your strengths.  Heck, you can’t be good at everything.  When working for someone, you may not have the power to turn down a project.  That is why #6 is even more important.  Adding people to your team will allow you to work on tasks that are aligned with your strengths.

If you are repeatedly given work that you don’t like, then you may need to make a change.  You have an obligation to yourself to do work that makes you feel successful.

Share your insights with others

The bonus to working on a difficult task is the knowledge that you will gain.  It’s a great feeling to have this knowledge, but you need to take it to the next level.  Try sharing it with others via blog, newsletter, over the phone or in person.  You’ll love the reaction from your audience.

And that’s the best part of teaching.  Teachers learn as much as their students.

Karl Staib writes about the importance of happiness in the workplace and how to achieve it on his blog, Work Happy Now.

Photo by: Paulgi

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19 Comments

  • For me the biggest issue with difficult tasks is that I somehow think I have to do it alone. Somehow I have learned that I do have to do it alone and that I can NOT request assistance.
    I have to struggle with my inner Little Voice, which unfortunately seems to be a committee of my worst enemies, that comes up with all sorts of objections as why I should NOT go for help and make a difficult task less intimidating.
    Once I get out of that muddle and I put a request in, issue is solved. It is that initial inner self talk that keeps me procrastinating difficult tasks.
    However now I know, I am becoming more and more capable of putting in requests and now I am learning to deal with the ‘nos’ as well.

  • Hi Karl.

    I will give that a try about doing the harder things first. I had heard about MITs and working on them first, but didn’t really try it. I think it will make a difference like you have said here.

    Doing the easy things first sucks later on, because then you’re left with the hard things, and don’t have easy things worth doing left to do, so your day gets negated in that respect.

    That point that we can’t be good at everything is smart to point out so we don’t keep unnecessarily trying to do everything, which comes out more like doing nothing.

  • I liked this post, especially about the part where you speaks about doing the harder ones first and making some progress in them :)
    “Start now” is the best :). That is something that people find it very difficult to do

  • “Chip away at the day.”

    This is such GREAT advice. The days I’m the most productive are usually the days where I am wearing my ‘to do list’ down by attrition.

  • There is nothing under the sun that is difficult to do, things are only difficult in your mind. The only time something can be considered difficult is when you actually have no idea how to do it

  • Hey man, thanks for this. I think a lot of us dread tasks not only because they’re difficult, but because they pack emotional feelings we don’t enjoy encountering, such as frustration or anxiety. But the more we can accept these feelings and take it one step at a time, the easier it will be to get difficult tasks done.

  • Love the advice about separating the hard parts from the easy parts… That’s really important! Great post — so helpful!

  • This was a great article. Like you said, we gain new knowledge from difficult challenges. In my opinion, that is usually reason enough to move forward if it’s something that I desire.

    I always tell myself that the only surefire way to fail at something is to not try. After all, nobody every accomplished anything without getting started. I just continuously remind myself of that in order to get past feelings of self doubt.

  • With difficult situations it sure does help to have a routine and proceed in an ordered manner. Many of us just charge in head first.

    A short fits-all problem solving list:
    Gather all the facts.
    Describe the problem in detail.
    List all the possible solutions.
    List the advantages and disadvantages of each.
    Detail what to do.
    And follow through.

  • I loved this post and you hit on some fantastic points. My favorite is “chipping away” everyday. Many people look at tasks as being so large that they don’t even take one step towards them. The key is…baby steps.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Dayne
    TheHappySelf.com :)

  • I always enjoy a good challenge but my problem lies with wanting to find the best answer or action.

    Perhaps I’m not always the best person for the task, but I always find it an opportunity to learn something new. I consider it a problem because sometimes the task takes longer to complete than desired.

  • This is a great article and these are some excellent tips. You’ve really broken it down to simple steps that anyone can take to “get things done.”

    The first step to getting anything done is to get started! Thanks for the advice & next time I’m procrastinating, I’ll be back to remind myself of this great advice.

    -Dena
    Evolution

  • I’m glad everyone enjoyed the post. It’s so cool to see how different communities react to guest posts. Marc, you have a great group of people here.

    Difficult tasks can be so frustrating. I’ve struggled with countless concepts. Hopefully I helped a few people have an easier time on their next difficult task.

  • Marc,

    This is good article, however, finding someone to help is not so easy for some of us. I find there are more people looking for help, rather than there to help.

  • Hi,
    The point “Separate the hard parts from the easy parts” is an interesting concept. This is synonymous to breaking up the project into actionable chunks so that the whole task doesn’t look as daunting. The more you peck away at the project the more you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    BTW, I love the whole premise of your blog “Work Happy Now”. What a concept… :-)

    Best,
    Bob

  • I find that breaking down challenging tasks into smaller components, takes off the edge…

    What came across as overwhelming, turns out pretty ordinary.

    Nice post Karl +_+

  • […] as anyone when I think about those things that I put off.  However, there are some ways to make difficult tasks easier.  These suggestions are sure to give you the confidence you need to get off high-center to […]

  • I experiment and take risks, even when there is a chance of failure. It has helped me succeed too.

  • I always take chances, never giving up. And although I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my to do list, I usually make significant progress. Great tips.

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