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How to do Hard Things

By Suzanne Falter-Barns

One of the harsh little realities of pursuing a dream is that sooner or later, you're going to have to do some stuff you don't like very much. It's just plain inevitable. Enter procrastination. Dread. Meltdown. Complete inertia.

But the prospect of doing the tough stuff doesn't have to stop you cold. To that end, I've been teasing out some different ways you can keep going. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Play music. I learned this when I started running, or 'jogging' as we called it back in the 70's. Clamping on the headphones made it go so much better. Even today, as I pound the treadmill, it's just so much easier if I've got country music videos playing along while I work out.

    In fact, I recently saw a movie in which a soldier talks about overcoming his fear and going into battle by listening to heavy metal music piped into his helmet. Neurosurgeons, emergency room docs, and others in high-pressure operating theaters often play lightly upbeat, soothing music to keep stress under control as they work.

  • 'Bookend it'. This is a phrase the 12-steppers wisely use for calling up a supportive friend before AND after a tough task - just so you're accountable out there to someone. Use the phone or email and make that connection. You'll be less likely to procrastinate your way out of it.

  • Delegate. Got a task you just can't somehow do? I always have three or four lurking around the edges of my desk, until the day I rise up and give it away. Hire a local teenager, elderly person who wouldn't mind a little light work, a family member, or even a local odd-jobs person to come in one day and give you a hand with all or your 'hard stuff.' If the problem seems to be on-going, hire a Virtual Assistant, from one of the on-line sources like This is a person you hire on an hourly basis, usually in some other part of the country, who helps you electronically with all kinds of administrative needs. If you can't afford to find help, buddy up with a friend and offer to do each other's 'hard stuff' in an even swap.

  • Plan a big, juicy reward. We're talking one you seriously want "and the nastier the task, the bigger the reward. If you must, combine this with book-ending, to make sure you not only do the task, but reward yourself as well.

  • Dare yourself to not do it. Really imagine life without this particular task completed. Then see what the consequences are. Truly dire? If not, maybe you can actually drop the hard thing from your to-do list. On the other hand, will you be disappointed? Will things just not seem right somehow? Better use that image of disappointment to move your dream along.

  • Jump in, first thing. We tend to be fresher, and less conflicted, stressed or distracted first thing in the morning (post-coffee, of course.) That's the best time to seriously seize the day and do the hard thing. Success manuals all preach doing it first, and they're right. It works.

  • Envision the goal. Is it 1000 new subscribers to your ezine? Is it a potential big sale that will change your business, or leaving a job that will help you live your dream? Make a little note and park it somewhere that's frequently in your line of site, such as a Post It on your computer screen. (You can word it obscurely to protect your privacy in an open office environment.) By keeping you attention on the big picture, you'll naturally get less hung up on the day-to-day small stuff.

  • Impose a temporary goal. One of my dreaded tasks is vocalizing, or exercising my vocal cords every day in an effort to keep my singing voice in shape. Just about the only motivator I've found that works is always having a small performance just ahead - especially in times when I'm working on a long-term project that doesn't 'need' my voice anytime soon. Knowing I have to perform, even at a dinner party, keeps me interested in staying in shape. Same would apply if you want to work out on a regular basis. Find a charity fun run or walkathon you can get yourself in shape for.

That should give you some fodder for facing the harsh realities of life, and getting on with those annoyingly procrastinated to-do's. Feng Shui experts insist this 'mental clutter' keeps us small and inefficient; once we actually go through the hard stuff, and clear out our anxiety and procrastination, we thrive.

And guess what? They're absolutely right!


Create a better to-do list

One of my little projects for the summer was to tame my unruly, wildly unreliable to-do list. Somehow it spilled out of my date book, spewing Post-Its all over my desk and computer, with another undocumented stack of tasks always clogging up my inbox. What to do?

First I read David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, and a little light bulb went off in my head. Allen suggests organizing tasks by the location where you do them. So you maintain lists like 'At Computer', 'Errands', 'Office Time' and 'Calls to Make'. That's easy and efficient. Allen then has several suggestions on where to keep these lists.

I choose the Tasks function of Outlook, on my computer, and boy is that terrific! Every day when I turn on my email, there's my task list staring me in my face. Productivity experts note that a graphic portrayal of tasks is actually helpful in understanding, and being motivated by them. Some are done, some are undone - and I can divide them into location lists, check lists, a timeline, or any kind of list I want at the click of a button.

Not only that, the computer actually gets me to put a time frame on all tasks (if I want) and then reminds me when the deadline is near or past.

This is just the kind of office structure a meandering, creative mind like mine (and yours?) needs to keep focused and on track.

About The Author

Suzanne Falter-Barns ezine, The Joy Letter, brings you a crisp, fresh burst of inspiration for your dream every week or two. Sign up at And if you need extra help getting through the tough parts, check out her Passion Connector e-course at


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