If you have difficulty accomplishing important tasks, and you complete projects at the last possible minute or miss deadline after deadline, small changes can get the job done.
Having trouble getting things done? A study on procrastination by Dr. Piers Steel at the University of Calgary showed that a whopping 95 percent of us procrastinate occasionally and 20% procrastinate consistently. Steel has studied procrastination for a decade or more and believes we procrastinate because we are “hard-wired” to “value pleasures today more than pleasures tomorrow.” Whatever the cause, here’s what you can do about it.
Identify the source of your procrastination. Are you afraid you’ll blow a project, so you put it off until the last minute, congratulate yourself on a job done well, but think you could have done even better with more time? Do you feel that your work is never good enough for you? Are you afraid of success? Do you tend to value the short-term payoff versus the long-term reward? Do you lack a set routine or the energy to meet your goals? Understanding why we put things off allows us to begin to make a change.
Identify how you procrastinate. Some people ignore a task, hoping it will go away, especially if is intimidating. Others over- or under-estimate the amount of time a project might take. Do you substitute a less important task for the task at hand? Take the endless break? Do you get stalled on one task of a project, which leaves less time for other, equally important tasks? Do you just not know where to start? When you are aware of how you procrastinate, you can better control that behavior.
Create a productive environment. Set up a space that’s conducive to work, but do not get caught up in spending time making the workplace “perfect.” Your workplace should be low on distractions. Limit your time on e-mail and surfing the web, two of the largest modern time wasters. Do your most important work when you are at your best. Some people get more done early in the morning. Others might do their best work mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Before you quit for the day, plan a to-do list for the important items that need attention the next day. Then you’ll start with a plan in the morning.
Challenge your excuses. If you only have an hour, you can still complete a few small tasks for a project, or perhaps some piece of a larger task. Waiting for research? Ask yourself if you have enough information to make a start on a project, and then research later as needed. While it’s nice to have a tidy office, cleaning often becomes a means of procrastination rather than preparation for more important projects. If all you need is your brain, a pen and paper, or computer, and those are at hand, get started.
Take small steps. Break projects into activities, activities into smaller tasks. For example, if you need to put together marketing materials, an initial activity might be to hire a designer. That can, in turn, be broken down into tasks such as: call three associates and ask for a reference, spend no more than one hour online searching for designers, call three designers, set up meetings, etc. Then decide what tasks you will put on today’s to-do list. Each task you cross off your to-do list brings you one step closer to the final result.
Set mini-deadlines for yourself. If you are used to the agony and thrill of getting something done at the last minute, set mini-deadlines for yourself. If a project is due in four weeks, set deadlines for project tasks throughout that time period.
Eliminate distractions. Turn your e-mail notifications off. This way the ping of new e-mails won’t lure you in to checking “one” e-mail, then cleaning out your e-mail box, or surfing the web. When you need to focus, turn your cell phone off and catch up on voice mail at scheduled times. Don’t allow yourself to go off on tangents. Keep some paper handy to jot down “things I need to do” that pop into your head so you can quickly return your focus to the job at hand.
While you may never be completely cured of procrastination, you might be amazed at how much more you get accomplished with a few small changes in the way you work.