By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
This post is one of many resources in my anti-procrastination series. I’ve included links to the other resources throughout this post and at the end.
Each post in this series begins with a list of 6 common reasons most people procrastinate. Tim Pychyl identified that we procrastinate on a task when it is one of the following:
- Ambiguous (unclear)
- Lacks personal meaning / intrinsic reward (i.e. you don’t care about it)
This article offers procrastination tips for overcoming the fifth trigger on the list: when a task lacks personal meaning or intrinsic reward. In other words, when your excuse is I don’t want to do my work because I just don’t care about it.
Harsh truth: Life is full of things we don’t want to do but have to do anyway. (Yes, I’m using my mom-voice here.)
Even enthusiastic students occasionally struggle with assignments they find uninspiring. Same for adults in the workforce, and parents running a household, and any human ever.
Obviously, the less we “care” about a task, the less motivated we are to do it. If we don’t see its direct value, then we wonder why we should even bother.
The problem arises when tasks we don’t “care” about are required or mandatory. That’s when we need strategies for overcoming our resistance.
If you’ve been avoiding your work or a homework assignment because it lacks personal meaning to you, then you need to find a way to make it mean something. The goal with these procrastination tips is to encourage you to look beyond the task itself and find value in something bigger.
How to want to do your work when you don’t care about it
1. Set a reward.
You might not care about the task, but you’ll likely care for the reward you give yourself after completing the task. So before you begin that thing you’ve been avoiding, arrange a reward for finishing it. Rewards for small tasks could be simple – like a snack, a latte, or a nap. Or perhaps your reward is a phone call with a friend, 30 minutes of indulgent social media bingeing, Netflix, a workout, a new notebook. We are not all inspired by the same rewards, so pick one that’s motivating to you.
This strategy is so simple that you’d be silly not to try it.
2. Do the task with a friend.
If you arrange to do the task with a friend, you will find value in the friendship aspect of the experience. Let’s say you’ve been procrastinating on a school assignment; find a friend who also has schoolwork to do, and spend time together working on your individual tasks. You’ll be more likely to finally complete your task because … let’s be honest … it would be weird if you just sat there while your friend worked.
3. Find value in what the task is teaching you, not in the task itself.
This strategy requires a mindset shift. (But for real – what is more powerful than our mindset?!) Instead of focusing on the task itself – which we have determined you don’t care about – focus on what skill the task has the potential to teach you.
Example 1: You’ve been avoiding your assigned 30 minutes of online math practice for school. You might not care about the math, and that’s fair. But by doing the assignment, you are going to build the skill of doing things even when you don’t want to. And my friends – that’s one darn life-changing skill.
Example 2: You’ve been avoiding building a pivot table in Excel for the report you’re supposed to turn in for work. You don’t care about the data, the table, the report, or Excel. Fair enough. But can you find value in learning how to build a pivot table? That’s a valuable skill to add to your resume! Get it?
4. Separate feelings from actions.
One of my favorite and most commonly expressed pieces of advice I give to my students and clients is this:
You can simultaneously not want to do something AND STILL DO IT. The two things can co-exist!! (Please read that again because I love you too much for you to miss the importance of that sentence.)
For some reason, so many of us wait for the right “feeling” to strike before we act. The expectation that we have to want to do the thing and like the thing before we do the thing is, frankly, nuts. It’s counterproductive and misleading. Sure, it would be lovely if we fully cared about all our tasks, but come on, folks. The skill of being able to do things we don’t “care” about is invaluable.
The key to this mindset shift is acknowledging when you don’t care about the work, letting that feeling exist if it needs to, and then doing the work anyways.
5. Determine what “value category” the task falls into.
We all have values that we build (or want to build) our lives around. Values can be service, friendship, family, career, freedom, balance, kindness, etc. If there’s a task you’ve been procrastinating on because you don’t “care” about it, then determine what larger value category it belongs to – and then focus on that for your motivation.
Example 1 (again): You’ve been avoiding your assigned 30 minutes of online math practice for school. You don’t care about the math. But you care about your education, and so you do the math.
Example 2 (again): You’ve been avoiding building a pivot table in Excel for the report you have to turn in for work. You don’t care about the data, the report, or Excel. But you care about furthering your career, and so you build the pivot table.
Example 3: You’ve been avoiding cleaning out the closet because frankly you’re not really bothered by the mess in there. You don’t care that your hallway closet isn’t Pinterest- worthy. But you care about the message that clutter and chaos send to your family, and you care about your family, and so you organize the closet.
These 5 procrastination tips will not magically make you care about all the things you’ve been avoiding. That’s not the point and that’s not the promise. But each of these strategies encourages you to think beyond the task itself so that you find value in something bigger.