Raise your hand if you’ve been here: you know you have a short return period for a shirt you bought, but you put off returning it to the store day after day. Or maybe you’re immersed in a project at work and can’t imagine tackling another task right now, even if it has a more pressing deadline.
There’s a name for when you’re able to get past this and get things done: task initiation. Think about it like the getting up and walking of your brain. You have to turn the key, put the car in gear and then press the accelerator; otherwise you won’t go anywhere.
Your mind works the same way. Long to-do lists, big projects, or pesky household chores can sometimes seem so overwhelming that starting your metaphorical ignition can seem impossible. But if you can’t start, you’ll be stuck with the wheels spinning, frustrated that you missed deadlines, you’re late again, or ignored homework, texts, emails, dirty dishes, or whatever else you wanted to do but just couldn’t.
Anyone can have difficulty starting a task, but it is especially common in those with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who associated with executive dysfunction. Chanel Johnson, Licensed Professional Counselor and CEO of Altus Home Counseling and Behavioral Services LLC in Detroit, he has worked with several adults with ADHD or who need help starting tasks. In fact, even she needs help with this sometimes.
“I’ve also found myself struggling with starting tasks, including waiting until the last minute, missing deadlines, or neglecting things altogether,” Johnson told HuffPost. “This can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’re a perfectionist or the person other people look to to keep everything under control.”
There can be many reasons why you struggle to start something, including fatigue, anxiety, perfectionism, procrastination, executive dysfunction and lack of motivation, according to Johnson.
Billy Roberts, Therapist Focused Mind ADHD Counseling in Columbus, Ohio, said underlying anxieties are a big contributor to task initiation challenges. This includes fear of failure or perfectionism.
“Because their expectations of themselves are so high, they feel frozen when it comes time to start,” he said. “Another possibility is a general feeling of being overwhelmed. With so many tasks or steps, it’s hard to know where to start.”
It can be so frustrating when you want to do something but can’t bring yourself to start. Luckily there are tools to help. Read on for these expert-backed things to try if you’re having a hard time starting a task.
“A great way to get started is a skill called ‘chunking,’ which means breaking things down into small actionable steps,” Roberts said. He also suggests that people should “lower their expectations if they find a task too overwhelming and recognize that done is better than Perfect.”
kate mcanna licensed mental health counselor who has a private counseling practice in Worcester, Massachusetts, gives an example of how to break down a daunting task.
“Instead of thinking, ‘I have to clean the whole kitchen, and it’s a mess, I don’t know where to start, and it’s going to take forever,’ break it down into, ‘clean the kitchen, first I have to put away any food that’s left out . Then empty the dish rack. Then I have to empty the dishwasher. Then I can carry the dirty dishes. Then I can wash the pots. Then I can clean the counters. then i can see the real housewives as a gift because I will finish,’” he said.
“Breaking the task down into small doable chunks that are controlled can help break down that wall of total resistance,” McCann added.
Transition to homework by doing another activity first
Kara Nassour, Therapist at Shadow Branch Counseling in Austin, Texas, suggests using another activity to help you transition to the task you want to do.
“If it’s hard to get off the couch to mow the lawn, it may be easier to get up, walk around the garden while listening to music, and then mow the lawn,” Nassour said.. “If you’re having a hard time starting your homework, reviewing your previous homework might help get your brain back on track.”
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Limiting your to-do list will help your tasks feel less overwhelming.
Reduce your list to just three items
Sometimes to-do lists can be overwhelming, not to mention impossible to do in a day. Katie Ziskind, therapist and owner of Wisdom within counseling, suggests choosing three main objectives.
“If you don’t have clean clothes and you need clean clothes for work in the morning, but you still have some fruit, beans, rice and pasta to eat, doing laundry will be more important than shopping for food,” she says. she said. “Even if you think shopping for groceries will be more fun than doing laundry.”
Ziskind added that “when you don’t feel motivated, that may be because you feel like you have too much responsibility.”
Telling yourself that you have to finish everything to feel fulfilled is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, Johnson recommends rethinking what you consider victory.
“Redefine the success of a task to make it more manageable or easier,” he said. “An example is telling yourself that doing half the dishes today will count as a win instead of saying you have to do them all and clean the entire kitchen to feel accomplished.” Sometimes just doing a few dishes is all you can do that day, and that’s okay.
Calculate exactly how long it takes to do the task
Sometimes it’s hard to get started on something when we think it will take more or less time than it actually will.
“Say your goal is to unload the dishwasher,” said Mary Hadley, a speech-language pathologist who specializes in executive functioning challenges in Signpost Speech and Language Therapy in austin, texas. “Write down how long you think it will take, time yourself and see how long it really took.”
This is not so you can judge yourself for how long it took; rather, it is a way to raise awareness and gain a better understanding of yourself. This can make it easier to plan your day and say no to things you really don’t have time for. Once your day feels more manageable, it can be easier to get started.
“Being unrealistic about what can be done in a day often makes it difficult to get started,” Johnson said. “You set yourself up for failure.”
Allow yourself a certain time to distract yourself
Distractions are going to happen, so embrace them. “Allow yourself to be distracted, but set a timer for your distractions,” Johnson recommended.
Ziskind suggested an alarm to avoid scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, “which can eat up the time you’d have to complete tasks and assignments.”
There is nothing wrong with asking or seeking help. If there’s a task you consistently can’t bring yourself to do (like cleaning bathrooms), hire someone else to do it if you can. Or offer a trade with a partner or friend. Ziskind said that even doing this once can help you.
speak kindly to yourself
Cheer up like you would a friend. “Talk kindly to yourself, be your own cheerleader, and encourage yourself are keys to starting tasks and getting them done,” Ziskind said.
Hadley agreed, encouraging people to regularly engage in “positive self-talk.” “This is a simple, free, and surprisingly powerful tool to implement in your daily life,” she said.
“Speak to your anxiety or distraction when you start a task: ‘Hey anxiety, good to see you, thanks for stopping by, but I don’t need you right now,’” Hadley explained. “Or, ‘I’m going to set a time and work on this for 20 minutes. I have this.’ Remember that this is a process; it will take a while to feel fulfilled and there is no such thing as perfection.”
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Giving yourself small treats after you complete your tasks can help motivate you to complete them.
Get rid of the old advice to do the hardest thing on your list first. Instead, start and end with something fun.
“Do something you want to do first and plan something you hope to do later as a reward,” Johnson said.
Focus on the end result
Make a vision board, write down your goals, or just imagine what you want your end result to look like to stay motivated.
“Have visual reminders of the overall goal,” Johnson said. “For example, if you’re having trouble getting started on work projects, but you’re eager to move up in the company, have a sheet of paper you can look at with your name and the title you want behind it.”
If that doesn’t work, think about how happy you’ll feel in the short term. “Imagine how grateful your future self will be to your current self for doing it,” McCann said. “I do homework on Thursday mornings, so on the weekend [Me] you don’t have to, and Weekend [Me] love thursday [Me] For that.”
He explained that avoidance offers momentary relief, but ultimately makes you feel worse at the end of the day. “No one wants to do homework now or feels like doing homework, but consider how you would like to feel later,” McCann continued, adding, “If you complete a few small steps and praise yourself a lot for doing it, you will feel good about yourself doing it. end of the day.”
Pay attention to how you feel
Nassour suggested paying attention to how you feel when you find yourself avoiding tasks. “If you’re feeling tired, depressed, anxious, irritable or in pain, that’s likely to interfere with the task you intended to do,” he said. “Address the underlying problem and you’ll probably get more done.”
“Don’t criticize yourself for having difficulty starting tasks, because feelings of guilt and shame can cause your brain to associate that feeling with the task and subconsciously want to avoid it in the future,” she added, suggesting treating anxieties underlying. or other problems.
Watch your health
Making your health a priority can help make getting started easier. “Take care of your mind and your body,” Nassour said. “If you’re not eating or getting enough sleep, or if you come home exhausted, or if you’re in pain all the time, these things will interfere with getting things done.”
He added that regular use of cannabis, alcohol or other substances could also affect you, and limiting them “can improve your motivation in other areas of life.”
See a therapist for help
Therapy can help those who struggle with task initiation. According to McCann, a cognitive behavioral therapy approach that reframes “negative cognitions and beliefs into positive ones helps you see a problem as less overwhelming and yourself as more competent, which helps you engage in different behaviors.”
Psychodynamic therapy, also known as “why do I feel the way I feel?” therapy, can also help. Roberts explained that “it can help resolve any underlying emotional issues related to starting the task.”
Discovering tricks to jumpstart your brain and improve task initiation can be a game changer. We all have bad days or times when we struggle with procrastination, but with a little health maintenance, kindness, and lots of rewards, it can start to get easier.