Can you avoid this number-one mistake?



If you could do one thing to improve your productivity, your mental well-being, and your organization, would you?

Of course you would.

Eliminate avoidance.

Simple. But not always easy.

We all avoid certain things, either because we don’t like doing them, they’re uncomfortable, they challenge us, or they’re just plain hard.

Avoidance is a squeaky door problem.

At first, the squeaky door seems like no big deal. But every time we go through that door, it squeaks. We tell ourselves we don’t have time to fix it. But every time we use that door, it annoys us.

We’re not sure how to fix it. We google squeaky door and find all sorts of technical advice and are intimidated by the idea of having to remove the door, use power tools, and rehang the door. So we ignore it a little more.

Meanwhile it drives us batty.

Finally, one day, we get out the WD-40, squirt some on the hinges and – voila! – no more squeak.

We realize if we’d just done that months ago, we’d have saved ourselves hours of distraction and annoyance. Or, if we’ve really let the problem go too long, we call in an expert, pay them a lot of money to fix the door, and s/he tells us we should have done this sooner.

We all have a list of squeaky door issues we’re ignoring.

Avoidance occurs at all levels.


I hate voicemail. The red light on my phone is my squeaky door.


The office kitchen may be the biggest squeaky door out there. Challenging projects, repetitive problems, they’re all things we may avoid.


Difficult people, issues, situations we work around – they drain us of energy and attention.

Avoidance has a unique ability to grow larger and larger in our imagination, much like the monster in the closet.

I finally tackled the bin of old home-movies on VHS, scheduling several appointments at our local library, sitting in front of the television with a book while the movies transferred from VHS to digital. It took time, yes, but when it was over, I felt a huge sense of relief. Something I’d been meaning to do for years was done.

The sense of relief I felt when I left the library with a full thumb-drive was incredible.

The same thing happens at work when you finally address the problem, or complete the task.

We put things off when they feel overwhelming. The best techniques for dealing with them are the ones that work for you.

Some suggestions:

  1. Make a list. Just getting them down on paper brings them out of the scary imagination-closet and makes them more manageable.
  2. Break it down. Really think through the bite sized steps. For my videos, it was: make appointments. Buy a flash drive. Go to appointments. Discard videos. That’s a lot easier to tackle than “deal with those movies!”
  3. Tell a friend. Having some accountability can help. Can you schedule a check-in with someone? Promise to hand something in? If you’re deadline-driven, this can help motivate you.
  4. Get help. If your squeaky door is past the WD-40 stage, get some help. Find an advisor who can offer perspective and help you break down the task. They might even help hold you accountable.
  5. Share the burden. At the organizational level, if there’s something you’ve all been avoiding, having a small team of people to eliminate the squeak can be a valuable strategy. If it’s going to take a while, require stamina, or innovative thinking, more heads can be better than one.
  6. Think about the future. Visualize what it will be like when you no longer have this annoyance in your life. For me, the red light on my phone is the annoying voicemail trigger. Instead of avoiding it, I listen immediately, write it down, and assign or return the call. If I can’t handle it immediately, I schedule a time on my calendar (which is next to the phone). Then I don’t have to carry around the annoyance of the unchecked or unreturned message.
  7. Don’t give up. Avoidance is a habit and it’ll take time to replace it with a new one. Use small steps, repeat them often, and don’t give up.


If you enjoyed this, you might also like This article about why you should do your worst task first or This article about delegation.


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