INSIDER: Do the Hard Things First

June 1, 2022

Brandon Chenevert, MBA Candidate

Cover Image of the Book Do the Hard Things Firstt

It’s time for a change. It’s time to start winning instead of losing to the battle that has consumed your life—the battle against procrastination. The primary driving force behind procrastination is the prioritization of short-term mood repair and emotion regulation over long-term achievement and wellbeing. In Do the Hard Things First, Scott Allan analyzes the bad habit of procrastination and teaches his audience how to reverse these practices to implement a new set of behaviors and develop a new identity. Allan is the author of multiple bestselling books that motivate readers to build life skills, inspire others, and take charge of their lives.

Procrastination is not a trait you’re born with—it’s learned through years of conditioning, avoiding tasks, and lacking confidence or self-control. To get out of this chaos, there are three major points to follow: breaking fear and big obstacles, taking practical steps for doing hard things, and scaling up five key areas. Executing change by reducing procrastination is important for success in personal and professional relationships.

THINK POINT #1: Breaking Fear and Big Obstacles

Breaking fear and minimizing excuses can be a great start to overcoming procrastination. There are five main areas of fear that one can find difficult to work through: the fears of commitment, failure/discomfort, the unknown, decision making, and criticism/negative feedback. It is very easy to avoid these fears because they challenge us to work outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed or aren’t motivated to start something new, because we have procrastinated on enough projects and are backed up now. The easiest way to deal with these fears is to discover your coping mechanism and stop making excuses. Start with the smallest step first, and be aware of your tendency to avoid or break focus from tasks. Complacency is mediocracy and if you don’t take strategic risks to do the unknown or finish prior responsibilities, you can easily self-sabotage yourself with a bad snowball effect. Do the hard things first, then the easy things will seem like nothing. You might fail, but that’s okay, because then you get right back up and try again. The only thing you should fear is procrastination itself.

Some of the biggest obstacles to navigate when trying to eliminate a bad habit or change behavior are negative conditioning, anxiety and overwhelming thoughts, and limiting self-talk. Self-awareness is the first and most important thing you need to learn before practicing these strategies. Try to sit in silence and practice deep breathing meditation. Once you are in complete solitude, identify the repetitive negative thoughts and self-talk traps, the #1 priority at the time, and the positive things that are encompassing you. Practice doing this every morning and write it down. Once you are comfortable with emotional “check ins,” you can shift your self-defeating thoughts into a mindset that wants to be productive and successful. By understanding yourself, you can then help others reduce procrastination and create a healthy and collaborative environment to surround yourself.

THINK POINT #2: Practical Steps for Doing Hard Things

Allan composes 22 strategies for doing hard things that can cure your task avoidance addiction. Some of these practices may seem like common sense for some, but others may find a new method that will make their lives easier and more efficient. Many of these practical steps take place in different stages before, during, and after working on a project to be most effective at any given point in time for an individual. These 22 strategies range from making mental notes to taking physical actions to receive the most benefits of decreasing procrastination.

Prior to starting your day or a difficult assignment, you should prepare a strategy to set yourself up for success. Make a list of goals and decide you’re doing them…NOW. Prioritize your daily #1 item and identify your constraints. Put in on your calendar, write it down five times if you must, and time block five minutes to start doing it. Once you have visualized doing the hard things first and delegated tasks you don’t want to do or can’t do, you can take ownership for behavior change and are ready to start the day.

Now that you are fully equipped for success with little procrastination, it’s time to get to work. Begin with one small action and close your open loops. Don’t keep referring to other tasks that haven’t been done by trying to multitask, as this delays completing anything at all. Automate these repetitive tasks and train your brain to interrupt sudden “impulse snaps” or control your distractions. Tell someone that you’re busy so that they can hold you accountable. If you do all these things during your tasks, you can minimize procrastinations as best as possible. Allan suggests adopting the 80/20 principle, which means make 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. Taking these practical steps can only help you and make you more efficient in your commitments.

It's good to debrief at the end of a long day or week. Take your mind off work and reward yourself. Employ the premack principle, which states that engaging in a less desirable behavior can be encouraged by the subsequent opportunity for a more rewarding behavior. This principle is as simple as “if I get this long project finished, I can go do my favorite hobbies or eat that large slice of cake in the fridge.” Once you are content with your current situation, briefly think about the future. Schedule a one-hour weekly review session with yourself or someone else and discuss what went well and what could have been better. Set up new goals for the things that went well and try to beat previous records. For the things that need improvement, focus on practicing a different method to avoid making the same mistakes again. Go into next week by revisiting these suggested practical steps, and continue to aim for success by doing the hard things first.

THINK POINT #3: Scale Up Five Key Areas

By now, you should know how to get in the right mindset and what steps work best for you when approaching difficult tasks. Have you thought about what aspects of your life need improving and how you can apply what you’ve learned to these areas? Allan observes five key areas that need attention while you are working through other obligations. These areas include your health, homespace, workspace, personal finances, and personal relationships. Particularly in the workspace, it’s important to be organized and communicate well with your colleagues so that everyone is on the same page. Don’t waste time by trying to learn new things or complete extra work that is going to distract you from completing your primary responsibilities. When you are overwhelmed with multiple hard things and don’t know where to begin, try to identify the reason behind your resistance, delegate the work with which you are struggling, and focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses. By scaling up the five key areas mentioned above, you can declutter your life and have a positive impact on yourself and others around you.

Real Estate Implications

Whether you are an experienced manager who has been in the real estate industry for years or a new agent just starting to build a client network, procrastination is almost guaranteed to cross your mind at some point in your career. With Allan’s suggestions taken into consideration, you can seriously improve the quality and value of your work by doing the hard things first. Show up every day to your office with a clean slate and adopt the “play now, pay later” mindset to take control of your life. Don’t let procrastination win, and keep pushing forward. Remember that success isn’t final, and failure isn’t fatal.

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Recommended Reading

Allan, Scott (2021), Do the Hard Things First: How to Win Over Procrastination and Master the Habit of Doing Difficult Work, Scott Allan Publishing.

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About the Author

Brandon Chenevert, MBA Candidate
Baylor University

Brandon Chenevert is graduate student from New Roads, Louisiana. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Human Movement Science from Louisiana State University in December 2020. His work experience includes managing a new Baton Rouge restaurant, BRQ, and being the Founder and President of two LSU student organizations. Brandon is currently seeking an MBA with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation and plans to pursue a career in the management consulting industry.