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Tips, advice, and information for South African business owners

24 Jan

Starting The Impossible Task

How hard is it, really, to keep up to date with the routine and often mundane chores of running your business? Whatever industry you’re in, even the most exciting, cutting edge business, it’s highly likely that your work is dominated by routines. So it’s important to make your routines work for you and to work your routines relentlessly. Good business is boring.

Whatever dominates your work, whether it’s your daily sales calls, getting quotes out on time, keeping your email inbox tidy or checking your bank statement regularly, maybe the biggest motivational impediment to ticking off these tasks is surely the banality of the routine. So what’s so difficult about that?

The problem is when, for no discernible reason, an everyday task can turn into an Everest. A 2018 viral Twitter thread about the impossible task, by Molly Backes, explains this challenge. This resonates with me because it’s not only a conversation I’ve had with many coaching clients over the years, it’s an affliction I grapple with, too. Suddenly, something we’ve done a thousand times seems utterly impossible. And for no rational reason!

Although we could attribute it to our current state – depression, anxiety, overwhelm, decision paralysis, fear of failure . . . whatever – the direct cause of what makes the task impossible is impossible to pin down. That’s because, in my coaching experience, the moment we become aware of the cause, that’s the moment the task ceases to be impossible. Awareness and the solution coincide.

Luckily, there are some tricks to help us get back on track.

Healthline published one of the more useful articles I’ve found that offers 7 tips on overcoming impossible task syndrome. At the top of the list is the technique I’ve discovered is most likely to work for both me and my clients: split the project into smaller tasks. Sounds easy, but the task of chunking down a bigger, impossible task can, in itself, be our impossible task – the irony!

For these tasks that seem determined to remain impossible, it’s often the starting point that proves to be most challenging. If the impossible task is a giant concrete flywheel, we want the biggest lever possible to jolt its inertia and get the momentum going. So here’s another tip to make it even easier: focus on the micro habit that just gets you started.

The goal is just your very next action. We might start with the end in mind, but that’s not the goal. The ideal habit is a short – under 2 minutes – and enjoyable practice that reinforces who you see yourself being. It gets you in the mood or creates a sense of progress. James Clear describes a similar concept of his atomic habits in this 5-minute video.

The weird thing about this is that the micro habit that breaks the impossible task’s deadlock might look nothing like the overall task. For example, one of my habits that helps me start highly creative tasks – like writing this article! – is to de-clutter my desk and prepare doodling space. It literally can take me a minute or two to return my coffee mug, stack the papers, pack away the stationary, then pin a clean sheet of A4 into my clipboard. From there I’ll automatically segue into mind-mapping my thought stream of ideas as I brainstorm the problem or solution.

As a result, I find my creative tasks don’t take as long as they used to – it’s the getting going that used to take up so much of my effort! I’ve also noticed that it’s not only my work-rate that’s improved, but the quality and satisfaction of my output that’s better off. And though I haven’t analysed business case – how much more money is this technique making me or saving me? – I know I’ve levelled up at being more proficient at my work.

As an entrepreneur, if I’m doing work that matters and I’m getting better at doing that work, that’s got to be good for business, right?

What are your micro habits that fire up your momentum..?

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