Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog. I am taking a break this week. Please enjoy this article from the archives!
Originally published on 6 July 2009.
Back in April (2009) Tim asked me about procrastination tips. I am assuming that we want to know about how to get around procrastination, rather than how to procrastinate!
The first trick to getting around procrastination is to know when you are procrastinating. This means being aware at the time, rather than looking back on a day or a week with little progress made. By recognizing it when you are in the middle of it, you have a chance to fight it.
Symptoms of Procrastination
You can figure out if you are procrastinating by taking measure of your feelings. Perhaps you have a vague sense you should be doing something else. Or while looking at a list of things you need to do, you rapidly skip over something with a bit of guilt. The signs of procrastination can be subtle, but they are there and you can learn to recognize your particular brand of them.
Sometimes a task gets procrastinated on simply because it is not in line with your goals, interests or intents. Take a look through the list of things you have to do right now, and ask yourself if there is anything on there that doesn’t need to be done at all, should be done by someone else, or that you said yes to in a weak moment? Take steps to get them off your list. If the task doesn’t need to be done at all, cross it off. If it needs to be done by someone else, hand it off. If you were conned into doing it, contact the original requester and back down (“I’m sorry, I know I said I would do this, but I just don’t have the time to do it well right now…”)
Zen To Done recommends a method of making progress on your major projects by picking out Most Important Tasks (MITs) to do every day. If you are trying to blast through a list of tasks that have been outstanding too long, I suggest picking out three Procrastination Avoidance Tasks (PATs) every day.
Pick three tasks that you want to get off your list. Do the tasks as soon as possible in the day, ideally first thing in the morning. Within weeks you will have whittled the list down.
But I Still Can’t Get Moving…
If the task is still bugging you, and you can’t seem to get going on it, here are the strategies I use:
Make it ridiculously easy. If you have a paper to write and can’t get started, just do as Mark Forster recommends and tell yourself that all you have to do is get out the folder. Just making a start often gets me moving on the task.
Break it down. Often I will procrastinate if a task seems overwhelming. I apply David Allen’s method of determining what the very next action that needs to be done is. For example, instead of “Plan party” the task would become “Call Angela for caterer recommendations.” And if I didn’t have Angela’s phone number, the next task would be “Look up Angela’s phone number.”
I can’t possibly get enough done in the time I have. I always underestimate how much I can get done in a small chunk of time. FlyLady’s 15 minute rule helps with this. If my task is to clean the dining room, I set a timer for 15 minutes and go at it, with permission to stop when the timer goes off – even if I am not “done”. I usually find that I finish the task within the 15 minutes.
But I don’t WANT TO! When I find myself whining, I give myself a reward for working on the task for a given amount of time. Let’s say I’m reading a technical book and I simply don’t want to. I use the (10+2)*5 method to plan breaks. I work 10 minutes, do whatever for 2, then repeat the whole thing four more times. An hour will have elapsed, and I will have worked 50 minutes of that hour on my task.
These are the ways I get around procrastination. Does anyone have other methods that work for them?