Productivity

Been avoiding tasks? It’s time to consider the transition to getting started

Martin Kovacs /

Everything is good to go. You are finally ready to get started on a long-avoided and increasingly urgent task. But taking the last step and actually getting started is posing a problem.

If this sounds like you, it could be time to consider how you’re transitioning between tasks.

Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Bregman Partners chief executive Peter Bregman observes the primary “challenge to moving forward on anything is the transition to working on it”, because this typically represents a shift from doing comfortable activities to uncomfortable tasks.

“We tend to think that getting traction on our most important work requires that we be skilled and proficient at that work — but that’s not quite right,” Bregman writes.

“The real thing we need to be skilled and proficient in is moving through the moment before the work.

“Once we make the shift, then doing the work itself, consistently and over time, will make us proficient at the work. Which means that the skill we really need to develop — and it is a skill — is transitioning.”

Master the transition

Bregman relates how, after embarking upon a week of morning hot/cold plunges by relaxing in hot springs before plunging into a freezing cold tub, he became increasingly accustomed to the transition between the two.

“Our minds and bodies have an incredible capacity to adapt to just about anything,” he writes.

“The hard part is rarely being in the new normal, it’s adjusting to the new normal. The hard part is the transition.”

In the article, Bregman outlined three key takeaways:

  • Willpower in the moment: sometimes it is necessary to focus on the moment to push through and to get started. Bregman observes that “willpower in a moment is much more reliable than willpower over long stretches of time”.
  • Repetition is a key: once in the habit of doing something it can become etched into routine. “In effect, I had pre-decided that I was going to do it, taking the uncertainty and deliberation, and therefore the hesitation, out of it,” Bregman says of his plunging. “And when my mind did, briefly, protest, I simply ignored it and kept moving.”
  • Being adaptable delivers benefits: by the end of his week of plunging, Bregman says he was staying in the tub 60 times longer. “The mental and physical challenge so diminished that I no longer experienced the transition as pain,” he observes.

While different tasks present a range of challenges, Bregman recommends focusing on the transition as a means to pushing ahead.

“Really, they’re all one big psychological challenge,” he writes.

“It’s often not more complicated — that’s just the story your mind tells you to encourage procrastination. The principle — and the solution — is the same: get good at moving from comfort to discomfort.”

NOW READ: Stop procrastination: Four techniques to promote productivity

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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