Why Fully Understanding a Task Will Help You Finish It

Do you have a big project you’re afraid of completing? What’s the process of fully understanding the task at hand?

Immediate Action by Thibaut Meurisse says we tend to procrastinate when we don’t fully understand the task we need to complete. The best solution to this problem is to take time to understand every detail of the task.

Check out how to fully examine the task at hand.

Make Sure You Fully Understand the Task at Hand

When we’re undecided as to how we should approach a task, unsure of what the final outcome should be, or unclear about the ultimate purpose of the task, we find it difficult to make progress. Even a lack of urgency about the project can undermine our ability to get to work.

One solution to inadequately understanding the task on your to-do list is to take the time to examine the specifics of the task. Meurisse writes that when you don’t fully understand what you need to do, why the task is important, or how you can best approach it, it’s worthwhile to sit down and figure out the answers to those questions. You might make your goal more specific and measurable, ask yourself why it’s important to complete the task, or even ask someone else how they would tackle the task. 

(Shortform note: Other experts agree with Meurisse’s advice to go back to the drawing board when you’re procrastinating and unclear on what you need to do. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, explains that since procrastination is an evolutionary adaptation, you can assume that you’re postponing a task because your brain thinks your plan isn’t sound. Newport writes that that means you have to confront procrastination by coming up with a stronger, more certain plan—one that your brain can get on board with. There are many ways you can do that, but one you might try is following Smarter Faster Better author Charles Duhigg’s advice to set goals that are “SMART”: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.) 

Alternatively, says Meurisse, if you fully understand what you need to do, then you might need to heighten the urgency of the task. Reflecting on how you can make the task feel more important and more urgent can help you get started on it. For example, you might think about the colleagues who need your report before they can move forward with a project, or envision all of the people who will read a blog post that you’re supposed to be writing.

(Shortform note: Developing a sense of urgency about a task you don’t want to complete can feel like a challenge. But Brian Tracy writes that it’s a key part of developing an “action orientation,” a mindset that will help you get important tasks done efficiently. He explains that you can think of urgency as a sense of racing against yourself to get something finished. When you truly feel that a task is urgent, you’ll feel almost impatient to get to work on it. Then you can not only spring into action, but you may even be able to experience flow, the state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says helps you feel present and purposeful in your work.)

Why Fully Understanding a Task Will Help You Finish It

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Thibaut Meurisse's "Immediate Action" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Immediate Action summary:

  • How procrastination was useful in early human evolution—but not anymore
  • How to face your procrastination habit head-on and build healthier habits
  • Why we tend to do nothing when we have too much to do

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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