Do The Hard Thing First

· life · gtd ·

I was reminded again today of the most useful productivity lesson I’ve ever learned. It’s this: do the hard thing (or things) first.

There’s always something on your todo list that you really don’t want to do. It’s difficult, it requires thought or negotiation, or it requires you to confront something you’d rather not address, thank you very much. It sits there, mocking you. What tends to happen is that you put it off, and do something on your list that’s easier. However, that leaves a sense of dissatisfaction and foreboding, because you know that you didn’t do the Hard Thing, and it will still be there to mock you tomorrow. Alternatively, you try to psyche yourself up to do the Hard Thing, but end up flopping around like petulant teenager thinking, “I don’t want to”, which has much the same result, but is even less productive.

No, our parents were right: you have to eat your vegetables before you’re allowed to have any pudding. It’s not an easy thing to do for the very reason that you put off doing the Hard Thing because it’s… hard. You just have to be really tough with yourself and make it a personal rule that you do the Hard Thing first (at least one of your Hard Things a day), and you don’t do anything else until you’ve completed that.

It’s horrible, it really is, but when you’ve come out the other side, you feel great. Perhaps the Hard Thing wasn’t as bad as you thought it might be, or perhaps it was worse. Either way, you’ve done it, and you get a little buzz of achievement and freedom. The rest of the day often seems like a glorious bonus as you free-wheel downhill getting through some easier tasks, and you can enjoy the feeling of being out of the shadow of the Hard Thing.

I think that I might start marking up my todo list with a little code that identifies the Hard Things so that I can make sure that I force myself into putting one first every day.