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Most of us have been there so many times. The monster is on your way. Sometimes it got there by itself, and sometimes you put it there yourself. Whatever, you need to move on, and you wonder if you’ll have the energies and the skills for it.
Obvious advice may not help in taming a difficult task. If tricks worked, the task would not be difficult. The task is difficult for one or more reasons, and nobody is in your shoes.
You need a comprehensive yet effective and manageable approach, that we’ll soon see.
Nobody is going to do that for you. The thing seems complicated and overwhelming, but you need those things too. Success in any area, included avoiding things getting worse, requires breaking through obstacles and put in the work. There’s no real way around.
The resistance that you’re feeling is necessary. The absence of it is a clear sign of no meaningful results.
You don’t need to chase demanding tasks, of course. Not all are for you. But if the job is worth doing, its difficulty is part of what makes it valuable. Accept it.
All you need is a way to approach it.
You need to know why the task is there and what it can do for you, what’s the value in it.
It sounds obvious, but sometimes we lack motivation because we lack clarity in why we need the task to be accomplished.
Know why the task matters for you and stuck that into your mind. Remembering that is key to your motivation. You don’t need to put extra pressure on you, but you need to remind your why often enough, not only to find courage for the hardest passages but also to avoid getting lost.
Identify the many parts
Take your time to know the beast. Before solving, you need to know what the obstacles are, where difficulties come from. There’s no solution to an unclear problem.
Give yourself the freedom to think about the whole matter without trying to solve it. It’s not the time to be afraid or to decide, it’s the time to just know, to frame difficulties and critical elements. Let yourself navigate the matter.
Rushing this part would only fuel your anxiety, be a loss of energies and, worse, lead to possible big mistakes.
You need to know which are the obstacles exactly. Don’t think about the solutions, now, think about identifying the difficulties.
Is the obstacle the amount of effort? That tells much already. The task is not really complex; it’s a matter of motivation and patience. “Only” hard work, actually.
Is the obstacle a significant risk? That tells much too. You’ll need information and maybe counseling. Maybe some investigation and testing.
Is the obstacle your lack of skills and knowledge? Time to learn, and to try negotiating a resizing of the task and an extension of the schedule, if possible. Maybe also time to take some risk.
Is the obstacle a courageous action? You’ll probably need a courageous action.
Then, what are the key elements of the task? You already know that splitting the task into smaller tasks will be part of the plan, but you can’t split something that you don’t know what it is.
Don’t make things more complicated than what they already are. Just outline the task and the problems and give priorities. I know you might think that this part is boring and unproductive, but you need to adapt to the task and get a picture of it. You’ll need it anyway.
Don’t try to solve everything. For now, try to identify what’s to be solved. Solutions will be subtasks for later.
You might have time pressure. Also, you don’t want to waste much time. So, if at some point some subtasks are clear already, go with them and start progressing. But don’t start before having at least a rough picture of the task or you risk putting yourself on a wrong path, hard to fix later.
If the task can be clearly split into measurable chunks, with milestones, the better. It will help to stay in line and being on time. But don’t force it. A schedule is a possible tool, not a goal.
If you’re in this with other people, that’s the moment for some brainstorming.
You don’t know everything, and that’s okay. But you might need to know more.
Are you basing your decisions on information, facts, past solutions, or whatever could support them?
If you’re unsure about the way to go, start acquiring more knowledge about what you’re facing. That knowledge, at some point, will lead to a different perspective.
Don’t feel the pressure to identify the precise knowledge that you currently need. You can wander, learn in the related area, and refine your research gradually. The knowledge you need usually doesn’t pop up alone, but emerges from other knowledge.
Getting help is such common advice. Unfortunately, it’s common because it’s easy, not because it always works.
If you’re asking for help or delegating because you’re lazy, stop. Don’t put the thing on the shoulders of the others unless you’re going to do your part, or did it first. You’d waste the others’ time, add complexity to the process, avoid learning for the next time, and leave control of essential aspects to people probably less motivated and instructed than you.
However, you might need help.
If you’re stuck, consider getting help. If you’re unsure of the path, consider asking for counsel. If something can or should be delegated, considered asking others to do it on your behalf.
Involving someone else can also have the advantage of offering a different and detached perspective.
Help is a resource. But if you see it as a shortcut, you’ll soon have fewer friends and will end up being less prepared for the next task that life will inevitably put on your way.
Move by steps
When you’re ready for some steps, go for them.
Don’t feel the need to have a clear plan in advance, if it’s not strictly needed. You need to know what’s the right direction.
A step forward in the right direction is progressing, is approachable, and is the foundation of your daily productivity.
The more you’re into the task, the more you’re in a better position to progress further.
There’s a moment to get a broad perspective, and there’s a moment to go small, and pin little results on your timeline. You can’t and shouldn’t bear the pressure of the entire task all the time.
This is not about “breaking” the task into subtasks. Difficult tasks are difficult because you often don’t even know how to exactly “break” them. If you can, do it, but don’t feel obliged to have a specific plan. It could also hide the real complexity and hinder smart analysis and solutions.
However, you need to identify small tasks for your daily activity. It will be easier to find energies for a specific and limited subtask. The more you identify, isolate, and address smaller subtasks, the better. Just don’t choose them because they help you avoid the real work. Choose them because they’re smaller and specific.
The larger is the task, the more are the possibilities of getting distracted by thousands of details and divergent paths. The more complex is the task, the more you get lost in options and doubts. One question leads to ten others, and soon to hundreds.
You must know your point – the why of your task – and remember it anytime you don’t see your work connected with the end goal.
This time is about the difficult task at hand. There will be time for other tasks. Keep note of the side paths that you want to follow in the future and stop them here, for now.
You can take a pause. You can keep your pace, if you’re allowed to. But you can’t waste your energies in countless rivers.
It’s not about oversimplifying – that you should avoid – but about resisting the temptation of going off-road. “Focus” doesn’t necessarily mean “speed,” but speed always has a major role, even when you don’t have a tight schedule. Deal with details, but don’t let them upstage the core activity.
The task at hand could become more complex with time, pressure, changes in the conditions. You should give yourself the time to manage it, but not the task time to grow bigger.
You build on results, not on attempts.
Bring this one home. Then it will be time for something else.
Difficult tasks often involve major risks. You want to manage those risks, but not all the risks need the same level of care.
The courage to make decisions and going beyond some obstacles is inevitable, at some point. Often, having full control or taking the optimal path it’s not necessary.
You need to know when risks are blocking you. That can happen in the following three conditions.
At some point, your analysis, research, and background work have gone far enough, and you’re ready to decide. Now, you need the decision. It’s time to gather the key factors and have the courage to take one path and let the others go. If you’re in that position, it’s time to own your responsibilities. Sleep on it, maybe, then you must accept residual risks.
But it could also be that parts of your activity are pending on some decisions. You’re not ready for those decisions but the “best” decision is not necessary. Your task is difficult enough. Don’t make it more difficult. A sub-optimal decision that allows you to get unstuck and progress, without much impact on the final result, could be much better than waiting for a “spontaneous” solution. The more minor decisions you accumulate, the more the task becomes intricated and confused. You need to fixate some points to support the rest of your activity, and maybe the people that help you. It could mean taking risks but, as long as those risks don’t undermine the end result, consider speeding things up and avoid accumulating decisions.
Of course, there’s also the case when you’re someway – by time, people, or anything else – forced to take a major decision without having enough elements for it. Well, that’s life. You need courage too. A wrong decision can make your life harder, but no decision can also do that.
Use your strengths
Don’t try to force yourself into the habits of someone else. There’s more than one way to do things in real life.
You need a pause, take a break. If you’re more productive in the afternoon, avoid waking up at 5am. If you’re not a chair person, go further with actions. Use your strengths; don’t count on your weaknesses. You may want to improve yourself and your productivity, sure, but don’t forget that you have a goal at hand. Is it learning time or doing time? Maybe both, but you need the best you for this one.
Don’t worry much about how someone else would solve. This time, in your shoes and the specific conditions, it’s up to you.
- Accept that it’s a difficult task. The way ahead is not by a trick.
- Know and remember your why. Stay motivated.
- Identify the many parts. Let yourself make a rough map of the territory.
- Know more. You’ll have a different perspective, afterward.
- Ask for help, when needed. Don’t let others carry your weight, but let them support you.
- Move by steps. Daily productivity is made of small accomplishments.
- Stay focused. Tasks can perish or grow. And they generate countless tasks.
- Take risks. Identify and manage significant risks but don’t let minor risks slower you.
- Use your strengths. Unleash your best self, your way.
You handled difficult tasks for all of your life. This is just one more.