|By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle
“Don’t put off for tomorrow… what you can put off for the day after that!”
Ahh, the mantra of a procrastinator.
I recently came across a brilliant TED Talk about procrastination, why it happens, and what exactly is going through the mind of a procrastinator. It is both humorous and insightful. I’ve shared this video with my family and my daughter is sharing with her class in high-school. It is impactful because the presenter speaks truth.
Some people are serial procrastinators but everyone has times when stuff– sometimes important stuff — gets put off to the detriment of their work, their home projects, or their relationships. So, in addition to the TED Talk link above, I thought I would share some of my own advice on how to manage important things that just can’t be deferred.
- If it is important but distasteful, just do it now. Drop everything else and complete the task. End of story. It will be done and over with and you can get on to something else that you care more about.
- Put a time limit on it. Look at the task (or break the project down into a series of tasks) and determine what a realistic time frame should be for completing the task (each task). Say, you have all afternoon to complete a task, but realistically you should be able to complete it in an hour and a half. Without the time limit, many people will kill the whole afternoon working away at it. Although this isn’t exactly procrastination in the sense of putting something off, it does waste a LOT of time that you could use more productively… perhaps working on the project that you have been putting off. Additionally, a time constraint can be a motivator of sorts so another aspect of this is if you have a month to get something completed and the task won’t take more than a week, set the time limit to be one week and commit to this. That way you won’t find yourself “cramming” to get the work done in the last week of the month. This is especially good if there is a chance that there may be an overage of time needed if something goes sideways or if other new and urgent work should happen to present itself during the last week of the month. Starting early allows you to more easily manage the unexpected.
- Tell someone about your time limit verbally or through email. Be specific. Two things are working for you here: one is that you now have someone else who has expectations of you that you won’t want to disappoint; the other is that you’ve committed to a specific timeframe that may also act as a motivator for you. By drawing a line in the sand in a very visible/obvious way, the onus to actually complete it goes way up.
- Rotten jobs don’t get better with age… see point #1.
- To-Do Lists. Without to-do lists, busy people may procrastinate without even knowing it. Things, sometimes important things, will slip between the cracks and never get done.
- Prioritize. When you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and the sheer volume of tasks that you’ve undertaken is keeping you from starting anything, it is time to “ruthlessly prioritize”, tossing those tasks that aren’t critical and be done with them. This way you clearly know what you need to work on first, second, third… and you are clear to commit more confidently to your list of projects/tasks.
- Understand that what you produce may be an input for someone else. Business/work needs to get done and, in today’s world, it is often that you are working as part of a team. Identify which of your tasks have a deliverable that someone else needs to start or complete their own piece of the project and give this a higher priority. It is one thing to hold up your own success in work or in life, it is quite another to hold up someone else’s. This can be a great motivator in itself.
- Start. Often what keeps one from completing a task is the inability to envision the complete solution so you never even begin; you just keep putting it off for later when you have more information. Just starting the work, even if you don’t know where it will all go, is often enough to generate the ideas and insights that you need to complete the project. Or it will, at least, help to more clearly define the gaps that you need to research so that it can be completed. Once begun, people find that the task isn’t nearly as daunting or complex as they’d expected it to be. So start and you will greatly increase your chances of completing.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it. [quote: W. C. Fields] Love this quote. A certain practicality needs to be taken when reviewing something that you just don’t want to do. There will be items that can’t be avoided, that you know really shouldn’t be avoided, or that you just won’t allow yourself to avoid — these things need to get done (use one of the 8 points above to motivate you). But there will be tasks that just don’t matter as much to you or that you really are poor at doing. Sometimes you just need to “cut bait” on something you’ve started and let it go. Either delegate it or drop it all together. In the end, you may be happier for this.
I hope that an idea or two presented here might help you out of your own “dark playground” when your “panic monster” comes calling! [References to the video, you really do need to watch this! Maybe later??]
Bonus 10th Point: Ask yourself if what you are doing right now, this very minute, is driving you to accomplish one of the tasks that will move you closer towards completion of your key business or personal objectives. There are a lot of distractions out there that will feed your procrastination. If your answer is “no”, then stop what you’re doing and re-focus yourself on one of your outstanding high-value tasks/projects. [Why I mentioned this idea last: If you answered this question honestly, right now, you’d probably stop reading this article and get back to work! 😉 ]