How to Do Something You Don’t Want to Do

Even if you’re a pro planner and obsessed with productivity, there are still going to be times when you just… don’t want to do something. We’ve all been there. After many years, and lots of things I don’t want to do, here’s the biggest secret I’ve found that helps me personally get them done – plus some smaller tricks to help yourself cross those pesky items off your to-do list that you just can’t seem to get finished.

A spread from my bullet journal, with a habit tracker, thoughts header, and "this week" bookmark.

My Big Secret: Find the Why

When I know I don’t want to do something, or if it’s a recurring task that’s tedious but I know it needs to get done, I find the why. I remind myself what the bigger picture is, and why I’m doing it.

Grounding yourself in the why helps you get through a task. There are lots of small tricks below that will help you get it done, but finding the why is the foundation. It will carry you through because you can always say to yourself: “Even if I don’t want to do this, I know there’s a bigger purpose.” I usually find that when I’m procrastinating or migrating a task from one to-do list to the other, that’s a sign I need to think about the why in order to get it done.

What if you can’t find your why, or see the bigger picture? Try a little bit harder, because I definitely think there often is one, even if it’s a few steps removed. Try to connect it to a bigger reason that you know motivates you. For example, if you’re a professional, you might have to do a budget reconciliation. If you’re like me, I’m not a math genius, but I remind myself that having a healthy budget makes it possible for me to implement and advocate for my programs, and that helps me create experiences for my students, which is the part of my job I love most. If you’re a student, you might have to write a paper for a class you dislike; even if the class isn’t related to your ultimate ideal career, it might be required and therefore help you get the degree you need to go into that job. It’s still something that can motivate you, even if it’s a few degrees of separation. Talking to a friend or journaling can sometimes help me ruminate on what that bigger picture could be.

A very long to do list in my bullet journal.

I will say, if you really, truly can’t find a why, then that might be a sign you need to think more deeply about why you’re having trouble doing that: is something going on at your workplace/school/home/within yourself that’s affecting you outside of the normal day-to-day? Maybe you need an invigorating side hustle, or you’re a bit burned out? Do you need to think about changing professions or majors? Don’t be afraid to get reflective (I like morning pages to help me figure out what has me stuck) and most importantly, get the support you need – whether a caring friend, a manager, or a therapist – to help you figure it out or address it.

Once you’ve found your why, use it! Even if the reason seems stretchy, work hard to remind yourself of the why – like a mantra – so that if you find yourself wavering, you ground yourself in the reason why you need to get this done, and keep going. You’ll trip up sometimes and get distracted, but this foundation will ultimately keep you going.

Below are some other little tricks I use in conjunction with the why to help me get things done when I’m just not into the task…

Break it Down

Create your to-do list with smart, manageable, chunky tasks, not overly ambitious, broad goals. The end result can be big; the steps you take to get there must be just that, steps! Break it down into tasks that will take you about 20-30 minutes each, so you can take brain breaks in between and feel like you’ve had some successes. (For example, not “write a 30-page paper” but a series of tasks like, “collect list of resources; write an outline; write a draft of the first 1/3 of the paper”…and so on!)

Read more in this post about creating manageable tasks!

A close-up of a long to-do list in my bullet journal.

Treat Yourself

When I complete a task, I like to treat myself, in true Parks and Rec spirit. I take a walk; make myself a coffee; have a piece of chocolate… something small to keep me going and say to myself, “yes! you took a few steps to get this thing done!” But make sure it’s a small treat that takes only about 10-15 minutes, not a huge one, so you don’t get sucked into watching twelve episodes of Parks and Rec on your break or go down a YouTube bullet journaling plan with me hole (been there, done that, learn from my mistakes).

Combine it with Something You Like

When I have tedious tasks I dislike doing, like filing or paperwork, I try to combine it with something I like, such as listening to a favorite album or saving an episode of a podcast for that specific task, or even wearing a sweater I like while I’m getting the thing done. It’s the same trick of playing fun music while you’re cleaning your house – it makes the time go by more quickly if you can combine it with something you’ve been looking forward to or genuinely like.

A close-up of a different spread in my bullet journal, with a to-do list weekly task list.

Schedule and Isolate It

If all else fails, this is what I force myself to do. I have generally about 2-5 tasks that I migrate from one to-do list to the next, telling myself, “there’s no set due date so I’ll get it done eventually…,” when really I just don’t want to do the task, period. When it’s finally due (or even if it’s just been there for too darn long and I’m sick of re-writing it!), I time-block it into my schedule, therefore making the time to do it, and just do it. This is the hardest technique because it’s not really a motivator beyond a due date, really, but sometimes having it actually written in my calendar as an event that I must do makes me settle down and finally get it finished.

I hope these ideas help you get things done that have been on your to-do list for ages! What tricks do you use to help you get things done that you don’t want to do?

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