Sometimes there are tasks on my to-do list that I keep avoiding for weeks, if not months. They seem exciting at first, and imagining the final result makes me feel great. Yet, the more I think about those tasks, the more I realize how daunting they are, and how many unknowns they may hide. At this point, they usually get stuck on my to-do list while I fight with task avoidance behavior and all the anxiety that comes with it.
Research shows that the most common reasons to trigger such behavior include abstract goals, task aversion, fear of failure, perfectionism, to name a few. But the tasks that I'm talking about today are different. Usually, the goals are clear, the tasks are exciting at first, I know I have all the skills to accomplish them, but somehow I still fall into the avoidance behavior. So, I tried to figure out what is it exactly that makes them so problematic.
Another problematic project
In August 2020, I decided to build myself a website so I could showcase my latest design work for future clients or employers. And as I've never owned a proper online portfolio before, I knew that this task was going to be a serious challenge. Fast-forward to October 2020, and instead of being finished, my portfolio project hasn't made any progress at all. Instead, the task got stuck on my to-do list, while I was avoiding the actual work. On the bright side though, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to finally understand what's been triggering such behavior in me.
Observation and self-analysis
As it turned out, no matter whether I was just thinking about my portfolio, or tried to write down smaller tasks it consisted of, I would always go through the same experience:
- A short motivational boost and anticipation of great results;
- Intention to start working right away;
- First confusion, not knowing where to actually start;
- The immediate avalanche of thoughts, ideas, and open questions;
- A wave of anxiety, paired with the feeling of losing control and not being able to process everything that was popping up in my mind;
- Switching to familiar but completely unrelated activity (procrastination and avoidance behavior).
As you may notice, my ability to generate hundreds of thoughts and ideas in a matter of seconds was not doing me any favor. Instead, it was the main cause that was holding me back from getting started.
I knew that I didn't have a choice but to break down the project into smaller tasks. However, it still felt impossible every time I tried to do so. So, I started searching for a solution that would allow me to gain control over my thinking process. And luckily, I found one.
A chronological approach
I don't remember how I came up with this idea, but one day I tried to write down a chronological order of actions that I would need to take to create my portfolio. The chronological order was meant to be a condition that wouldn't allow me to jump from one random idea to another, but rather help me describe everything as a logical sequence of events. Another important thing was to note questions that would pop up along the way.
Here's a small preview of how it looked like:
1. Today I'll start building my portfolio website and I'll be using Squarespace website builder for this.
→ What paid plan is best for me and how much does it cost monthly?
→ Does Squarespace offer a discount if I pay yearly?
→ Can I find a promo-code on the internet to save even more?
2. After I'll choose a paid plan, I will need to connect my own domain.
→ How can I connect my domain to Squarespace?
3. As soon as I'll connect my domain, I'll be ready to start building the website itself.
→ Are there any good Squarespace templates for portfolio websites that I could use as a shortcut?
→ What pages do I want to have in the main navigation of my website?
→ How many projects do I want to showcase in my portfolio?
→ What projects that I've previously worked on do I want to showcase?
As you can see, I tried to imagine creating my portfolio as a step-by-step process. And as soon as I was done generating questions for one step, only then I could proceed to the next one. It allowed me not to worry about all potential future problems and unknowns, but rather focus on what was already in front of me.
But that's not all. In the end, I also converted everything into tasks, so I could easily manage them on my to-do list.
It took me two straight hours in complete silence to describe my portfolio as a chronological set of events. But most importantly, I finally felt in control over the project and was ready to bring it to life.
Since this whole blog post was about my portfolio, you may wonder how it all ended up. Well, I've spent two more months working on my website, and successfully launched it by the end of December 2020. You can check the final result here → egorev.com.
As a side note, I have spent January 2021 applying to full-time design jobs, and thanks to my portfolio, I was lucky to find one pretty fast!
From now on, whenever I spot another task that I start avoiding, I remind myself that it could be a good idea to eliminate distractions, sit for an hour or two, and imagine how I would accomplish it step by step. It helps every single time.
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