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Turn Barriers into Benefits

Thank you card and envelopes.
Photo by author. Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Whenever you have a hard time starting, maintaining, or finishing a project or task, take a moment to reflect on why you are avoiding it. If you've been kicking an item down your to -do list a few times, ask yourself why you don't want to do it. Your first thought might be, "Because I didn't have time." But remember, you had time to do other things. Why did you choose those items over this one? "I really hate doing x." Yep, but why do you hate it? That "why" is your barrier to completion. Once you have identified your barrier, you can address it. Can you think of a way to knock that barrier down? Even better, can you flip it into a positive outcome?

An Example

One of my tasks is to acknowledge donations given to the library. Following the pattern set by the library director before me, I would print out formal letters on campus letterhead paper. Too often, I've put off writing the letters for months. When I asked myself why this task kept repeating on every single Nice Clean List I made, I realized that my barrier was the letterhead and envelope. That realization was a breakthrough, but it would take a few improvement cycles before I found the positive outcome.

My Barrier

Each time I had to print on letterhead, I had to remember how to load the paper into the printer. I'd waste at least two sheets of paper and too much time fussing with the direction of the paper. Since I use the same printer as the public using the library, I couldn't just load up a drawer with letterhead and leave it there. I also have to monopolize the printer while I'm experimenting so that no one accidently prints a research paper on campus letterhead.

Improvement Cycle 1: Address the Barrier

First, I started by delegating the printing. This kind of clerical task doesn't specifically fall within anyone's job description in our library, but I manage everyone's workload and could ask someone to take it on. I'd write the letter, share the document with someone who had time, and ask them to print it for me, address the envelope, and put everything in my inbox. That worked, but it still slowed down a simple process by a day or two, and the public still couldn't use the printer at the same time.

Improvement Cycle 2: Make it Better

Have you been thinking, "Why the heck doesn't she just have a letterhead template in her computer?" I was too. Our campus had been changing logos and I wanted to make sure I had the current approved letterhead. That didn't seem to be available in electronic format for awhile, but eventually I got it. Problem solved, right?

Improvement Cycle 3: Make it Fun

I'd solved the main problem, but it still wasn't my favorite task. I don't write these letters often enough to make the using the letterhead template seamless, and I had shifted to hand-addressing the envelopes because envelope+printer is worse than embossed letterhead + printer. One day, as I was addressing an envelope and enjoying the feel of a nice pen on quality paper, I had my "Aha!"

I wasted no time in ordering a set of nice "Thank You" notecards. It had taken me longer than it should have for me to get to this solution. I was stuck in the box that my predecessor left for me. I have updated so much in this library, but I hadn't rethought these letters. Embossed letterhead is a remnant of the days when we used typewriters. Everyone didn't have email, social media, text. People still kept in touch with family and friends through handwritten letters. Handwriting was for personal use. Typewritten correspondence was businesslike and professional.

That realization was a breakthrough, but it would take a few improvement cycles before I got to the positive outcome.

I love writing old-fashioned handwritten notes. I spend most days staring at a computer screen and typing. Like my paper Messy Planner, sitting down with a pen and paper rests my eyes and helps me slow down a bit. When I write these thank you notes, I take the time to write a personal message in my best handwriting. Donors seem to love it. One sweet woman let me know she was "delighted to see a handwritten card" in her mailbox. Donors still get a formal response from the campus development office for their tax records, so my letter is has always been just a courtesy.

Apply it to your own barriers

Once you identify your barrier to completion on a particular task, think through how you can remove the barrier and ultimately make the task more fun to do. Some tips:

  • Can technology or a product make the task easier? Right now, I'm searching for the perfect litterbox and vacuum combination for my new cats who kick the litter everywhere. (I didn't appreciate how tidy Mikey was!)

  • Consider whether you can trade the task with someone. For example, does your roommate enjoy doing laundry and you enjoy doing dishes? Trade! You do her dishes and she can do your laundry!

  • Can you delegate the task? Can you afford to hire someone to do it? Is this something a coworker, partner, or child can do? If you haven't let them do it in the past because they don't do it as well as you do, give up the perfectionism. Better for vacuuming to be done regularly, even if there's a little rim of dust around the edge of the living room carpet.

  • Can you schedule to do a detested task less often than you would like to, but more regularly than you have been doing it? I'll use vacuuming as an example again. (yeah, I hate it. so does the Spouse-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. And he doesn't like the Roomba, either.) In my ideal world, our living room carpets would be vacuumed at least once a week. In real life, it happens only when there's visible grime/dust/fur that one of us can't live with. But if I put it on my calendar along with watering Fuzzy (a succulent plant of unknown species), my phone reminds me every two weeks. That's not so often that I ignore the reminder, but it is often enough to keep the carpet clean within an acceptable range. Since I'm motivated to keep Fuzzy alive, it helps build the habit of regular vacuuming.

  • Is the task really necessary? Dig deep down and consider. Are you feeling guilty about not doing this thing because other people expect it, or because it serves a real purpose for your well-being? Our example is making the bed. We don't, except on the day when we change sheets. Each night, we make sure the blankets and sheets are distributed equitably. If you procrastinate on a task for weeks, months, or years and there won't be a negative consequence, just cross it off your list.

  • If the task is necessary and you can't find a way out of doing it, then find a way to make it fun. Play music, make it a game, or reward yourself for doing it.

Need help identifying your barriers and ways to knock them down? Coaching can help. Set up a free call with Marie to discuss whether affordable text, email, or Zoom coaching can help you.

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