5 Mind Hacks to Help You Tackle Dreaded Tasks

We all have that task or two on our to do lists that we just can’t make happen. The one that’s actually pretty important, but gets prioritized somewhere below cleaning out the litter box and doing all the dishes in the office kitchen.

There are tons of reasons that we humans avoid work: It’s hard, it’s high-stakes, or it’s boring, just to name a few.

Whatever the reason, sometimes all it takes is a good mind hack to help you stop spinning your wheels and start knocking dreaded tasks off your list. Here are 5 of my favorite strategies.

Set a timer

I’ve found the best way to trick myself into doing something is to pretend I only have to do it for 30 minutes. This probably stems from my elementary school piano practice days, when mom would set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the piano bench until it rang.

(Thanks, mom. There, I said it.)

The way it works is this: I’d rather do anything but tackle that project I’m avoiding for whatever reason. I set a timer for 25 minutes, and promise myself that I only have to sit here until it goes off. Afterwards, I can do whatever “fun” thing I’d rather be doing instead. (Like fold socks, or do my weekly accounting.)

Generally by the time the timer goes off, I’m pretty engrossed in my task, and I’ll keep working on it until I’m at a good stopping point.

Oh, and if you’re curious…. No, this didn’t have the same effect on my piano practice. As soon as that kitchen timer rang I bolted outside to play.

Procrastinate on something else – for now

I wrote a while back about how to procrastinate the smart way, using your desire to do anything but that to knock out smaller projects that also need done. The desire to procrastinate can be a powerful motivator, but don’t forget to set yourself a time limit.

Let yourself work on something else for now, but at a specific time – say, 2pm – make a pact with yourself to switch modes and do that dreaded task.

Scheduling it for slightly later tricks your brain into preparing for it. Every time you glance at the clock, remind yourself that you have an unmovable date at 2pm, and by the time it rolls around you’ll be mentally prepared to tackle it.

Do the least onerous part first

When a task seems overwhelming, it can help to break it down into less imposing parts. The upside is that some parts may be more enjoyable than others, allowing you to make progress on a big task while actually enjoying the work.

Is there any aspect of this project that actually sounds fun? Or at least less dreadful than the other parts? Do that first. Once you’re done, you can check it off the list and be happy to have one thing done. Plus, you may actually find yourself getting into the rest of the project.

Give yourself a treat

Hate data entry but love Gillian Flynn’s thriller novels? Treat yourself to an audiobook chapter while you bust out some spreadsheets. Hate typing up meeting notes but love dark chocolate? Keep a bar on hand specifically for those tasks you despise the most.

Associating boring or hard work with things you like can have the effect of making you look forward to the task. (And hopefully not making you hate dark chocolate.)

Get accountable

If your boss is breathing down your neck to finish a project, you probably have plenty of motivation to do so. But if you need some accountability, talk to a friend or coworker and ask them to check up on you.

A little social pressure can do wonders. Just announcing at a meeting or to your spouse that you’ll have something done this afternoon can be enough to get you doing it. If you need a little extra motivation, put something on the line, like taking the entire team out to lunch or making dinner for your partner for the rest of the week.


What are your tricks for tackling dreaded projects? Leave them in the comments!

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