Getting shit done: It’s everybody’s daily goal. We just feel better when there’s not an overburdened to-do list hanging gloomily over our heads. But productivity, just like good hair days and discontinued LuLaRoe patterns, can be hard to come by.
We don’t always wake up ready to kick ass and take names. After all, motivation is what drives us, not what puts us to sleep at night. So sometimes it’s MIA when we need it most, and on those mornings (let’s be real: that’s most mornings), we have to conjure it up out of nowhere. It’s tricky but absolutely possible (after a few cups of coffee), and it will set the tone for the rest of the day. I promise.
So what’s the secret to getting a big productivity boost when you’d really rather just browse Facebook and procrastinate?
Think of the gnarliest, most unpleasant task on your agenda — that thing you wish you didn’t have to do, but you have to do it — and then get it done. Before anything else.
Get angry if you have to. Gripe and moan about it if you must. But get it over with. Make yourself tackle the thing you look forward to the least. It’s amazing what a difference it can make in your entire day when you don’t have to dread doing something because you’ve already gotten it out of the way. Now you have your whole day ahead of you, and the worst is over.
Mark Twain famously advised this tactic when he compared it to eating a frog: If you do that first thing in the morning, he said, “that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” Obviously he didn’t mean you should literally eat a frog. But it’s a great metaphor for starting your morning in the suckiest possible way. It has to be done no matter what, so you may as well get it over with and unburden yourself.
You’d be surprised at the domino effect it has. When you complete the difficult stuff first, you feel triumphant, like you’re winning at life. When you feel triumphant, you want more of that feeling, so you tend to keep the momentum going and — voila! — productivity happens in the form of one small victory after another. You murder that to-do list.
The opposite is true too. If you start out dragging your feet and doing everything you can to put off the inevitable, the trend continues. You may get a few things done, but they’re not the major things, and it feels icky to know that the worst of it is still looming ahead of you. That anxiety can keep you up at night, your head spinning.
If your craptastic task seems too daunting to do before the coffee even kicks in, remind yourself of another metaphor about eating gross things. One of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems is about a little girl named Melinda Mae who — for whatever reason — wanted to eat a whale. All the haters were like, “You’re too small! You could never eat a whale!” and Melinda Mae was like, “Hold my hoops, bitches,” and she went for it… Bite. By. Bite. As the poem says, “She took little bites and she chewed very slow, / Just like a good girl should… / …And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale. Because she said she would!”
Melinda Mae is my kinda girl.
So whenever I find something too overwhelming and don’t know where to start, I start small. It’s like a miniature version of the small victories principle: Break the task down, do it in parts, and when you finish one part, you’ll feel more able to finish the next.
However you choose to get it done, whether in bits or in one fell swoop like ripping off a Band-Aid (or whichever disgusting animal-eating allegory you choose), I promise that accomplishing the hard stuff first will make you feel more awesome for the rest of the day. My neighbor runs around 12 miles every morning (no, I’m not joking), and I’m assuming that this is so she feels empowered to do all the things afterward.
Maybe I’ll start doing that too. Although the length of my run would probably be 12 yards.
Hey, eating a whale, right?