28 March 2015
We’ve all experienced it. The to do list that gets longer as the day goes on, not shorter as we’d have aimed for at the day’s dawn. That small number of tasks that always seem to be on the to do list that never seem to get ticked off. Staring at you. Mocking you with their incompleteness and their persistent presence.
You’re probably procrastinating. That act of putting off important tasks for those less so. Or putting off the difficult or unpleasant tasks in favour of doing easier of more pleasurable tasks. The problem is, the longer we put off the task the more of a mountain it becomes in our head.
So how do we beat it? There are a number of methods and tools that you can use to overcome the habit.
If you’re reading this and recognising that this is you then you’re already on your way. The first tip is to be honest with yourself. Is this a habit of yours? Do you understand how it affects your productivity? Then admit it and commit to overcoming it. What’s more, you’ll be instantly rewarded for your effort with a significantly less intimidating to do list.
Perception vs reality
The task that we’re putting off is rarely as bad as we think it’s going to be. We’ll learn that much quicker if we prove it to ourselves. If you don’t create a written to do list then the second tip is do! Go further than this. Place a time beside each task that represents how long you think each task will take. As you complete each task write down how long it actually took. This serves two purposes. It gives you a reference-able experience of estimating that will help you allocate time for similar tasks in future. It will also illustrate to you that the actual time is often considerably less than you expected. That mountain was actually a modest hill.
Where and when
Plan some time to complete the tasks. Allocate it in your diary and don’t let that diary time be given up for something else (you’re procrastinating again!). You know yourself so you’ll know at what time of the day you’re at your most productive. Allocate this time to the more challenging tasks. This enhances the chances of you completing the task. Also think about where you’ll be when you’re undertaking the task. Get yourself into a productive environment. No TV, distracting colleagues or other opportunities to take your mind off the tasks in hand.
Give yourself a chance
Set realistic tasks and timescales. We’ve all heard of SMART objectives. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time specific. You won’t need to set SMART objectives for every task on your to do list but ensuring that the task is realistic and it is feasible to complete it within the time you’ve allocated ensures that you don’t get frustrated and despondent at incomplete tasks. This is often what leads to procrastination in the first place.
You’ll almost certainly be interrupted at some point during the time you’ve allocated for completing the tasks. It’s a fact of work. Customers won’t wait (nor should they). Colleagues have demands. Urgent matters arise. When creating your list it’s a good idea to build in enough flex time so that distractions and interruptions don’t sabotage your day.
What’s in it for you?
What do you get out of it all? Well, there’s the sense of satisfaction of completing everything on your to do list. That’s particularly satisfying when there were big ugly items on the list that you weren’t looking forward to. Give yourself a reward or incentive too. Something that you enjoy and that will be a genuine treat. Be disciplined with the reward and only reward achievement and the motivation will soon kick in.
Who’s pushing you?
We often find that our clients undertake tasks shortly before they meet us. This may be because they feel guilty about using our time if they haven’t completed agreed tasks. It may even be embarrassment about not doing the work agreed. Alternatively it could be so that they can feel good about themselves that they’ve done everything they said they would when we meet. The psychology that is most interesting here is that by telling someone and allowing them to judge us for achievement or otherwise is a very strong motivator. Use a mentor or a manager for this. Tell them what you plan to do by when and give them permission to push you. This works best if that person is someone whose opinion you respect and value. You’re now not just letting down yourself but them too.