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Productivity hack: Do the things you are afraid of

This morning I read 10 sobering lessons learned after teaching 88 struggling entrepreneurs for six months. The third lesson is:

Entrepreneurs put off what they are most afraid of – failing. For most, that’s selling their idea. They will stick their head in the sand and build a product for 6 months, come up for air, only to realize no one wants it.

This tendency has by now been widely recognised and the customer development work of Steve Blank and lean startup work from Eric Ries are designed in part to overcome this natural human failing. Interesting to note it’s still prevalent.

It’s not just entrepreneurs who put off what they are afraid of though, it’s (nearly) everyone. And it’s not just what they’re most afraid of, it’s all the stuff they’re afraid of. The most frightening things get put off the most whilst things that are a little bit frightening get left until the end of the day or put off until tomorrow. Procrastination is a sign that a scary task is next on the agenda.

I regularly review my work habits looking for ways to eke out some more efficiency and a couple of years back I focused in on cutting the time I spent procrastinating. At that point I realised that I was procrastinating because I was worried about what I had to do next – e.g. make a difficult phone call or deliver some bad news. Most importantly the time spent procrastinating feels uncomfortable and listless and it doesn’t make the task ahead any easier.

At that point I resolved to recognise when a task was frightening and simply get on with it. I don’t always manage it, but I’m pretty darn good now, and much more productive as a result.

This hack works well in combination with the hack of writing down the three things you are going to do at the beginning of each day.