Our goal today is to lower the barrier to doing things that are necessary but unpleasant. And we’re going to use a simple, familiar tool.

Most of us have a morning routine (whether we designed it intentionally or not). On weekday mornings, we tend to do the same things in more-or-less the same order, and having even a loose plan makes the start of the day a whole lot easier. It would be pretty stressful (not to mention inefficient) to approach each morning with no idea what order to do things in. Instead, we follow a process: Get out of bed, let out dog, make coffee, etc.

But when it comes to our least-favorite recurring tasks, we’re much less likely to have designed a step-by-step process. Whether it’s writing a quarterly report, breaking bad news to a boss or client, or getting ourselves to weekly physical therapy sessions, we tend to dread and put off these tasks because they’re both difficult and a little vague. “Okay, I guess I have to do this. Now, where do I usually start?”

Fortunately, mitigating this problem is pretty simple.

Write out a process for unpleasant recurring tasks

Like all project planning, the trick is to break the outcome down into a series of physical steps. Say you need to make a business call to someone you really don’t like. Write yourself a script.

  • What will you say to start the call? (Hint: get down to business first and save the pleasantries for the end. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, people tend to remember the most intense moments and the final moments of any interaction. It’s called the “peak–end rule.”)1
  • What’s the crucial piece of information you need to convey or receive?
  • What will you say if things go off the rails?
  • How will you finish the call?

Write all this out and keep it somewhere convenient—maybe just save it as a note on your smartphone. The next time you need to call this person, force yourself to read through the script.

Process and routine calm the mind. If you take the time to turn a couple unpleasant tasks into processes, you’ll likely be surprised at how much easier they become (and how much more quickly you do them).

Food for thought:

  • What’s a recurring, unpleasant task that you approach anew every time?
  • If you wanted to write out a process for this task, what might that process look like?

  1. Thanks to author Chris Voss for this application of the peak–end rule. ↩︎