Stop Whining. Do Your Work.
August 19, 2015•8 min
Alex Samuel says she never really grew up. And, she adds, neither did you.
“The truth is, all of us have that little kid who doesn’t want to their homework buried inside somewhere,” Samuel told Charlie Herman, host of WNYC's host Money Talking.
The author of several books on mastering technology, Samuel wrote the article "How to Trick Yourself into Doing the Tasks You Dread" for the Harvard Business Review by turning to her own kids for inspiration. She says she gives herself something like the gold stars you get in grade school to motivate her to get work done. She's not above it — and she gets results.
But it's not only trick she uses to. First, it helps to identify the tasks at hand. According to her, there are two main types of tasks we tend to dread: the mindless ones, like emptying out email; and the daunting tasks, like writing a novel. Depending on the kind of task she's tackling, she gives herself a different kind of reward.
Regenerative Rewards: To get yourself started on a this chore, promise yourself a restful reward at the end. These are rewards that recharge you body and brain and give you energy to take on the next task.
Productive Rewards: There are some items on your To-Do list you actually enjoy. Reading a book you've been itching to read or an interesting article, for instance. Maybe you like tidying your desk or installing the latest editing software you've been dying to use. These tasks are easy and fun, like candy. They can be the light at the end of a dark tunnel of daunting tasks that can keep you going.
Concurrent Rewards: Some things you have to do are so boring that a reward at the end isn't enough to even get you started. In this case, reward yourself while you're doing it. For example, watch TV while you're emptying your inbox. Complete your quarterly budget report while sitting at your favorite coffee shop. This kind of reward is great for the tasks that don't take your whole brain to finish.
Cumulative Rewards: Think deferred gratification. Create a big reward for when you get something done. For example, create a special bank account where you pay yourself every day you do the task you don't want to do. Then once your finish, you get to put the money to use wherever you want as a reward.
Samuel says it's important to tailor the grown-up star chart to your own preferences.
"One person’s delight is another person’s dreaded task," she said Pay attention to which tasks stay undone on your To-Do list — that's where you should apply these rewards.
But wait. There's one more to consider. It's what Samuel calls "Avoid These Tasks." If there are projects you go out of your way to avoid doing, then just don't do them. Get rid of the guilt. And what you might find, as Samuel did, once you do that, you will actually check them off your list.