If you have trouble finishing what you start you are not going to finish reading this blog post, are you? If that’s the case, seek immediate medical help! I am kidding, of course! A little procrastination humor.
On a serious note, here is how to stop procrastination – the summarized version of this blog post for those who want the answer right now! If you want more details on each of these bullet points, read on!
- Create a task list
- Prioritize your task list
- Breakdown big tasks into smaller ones
- Schedule time to do each task
- Eliminate distractions
- Work on one task at a time
- Get an “accountability partner”
- Change your work environment
Define: procrastination – The act of putting something off intentionally and habitually.
Procrastination can be a serious problem and can affect anyone. It’s a bad habit that, if left unchecked, can affect your life in drastic ways: at home as well as at work. Perhaps one of the biggest symptoms of procrastination is not finishing what you start. But the deeper, more negative effects of procrastination are immeasurable and translate into missed opportunities, unfulfilled personal life goals and aspirations. In the workplace it can cause a low, lackluster productivity that can reflect on your overall performance.
However, there are steps you can take to minimize procrastination and actually finish what you start. Here is what you can do:
Create a task list
Procrastination has a psychological aspect to it. When we think about the amount of work that we need to do to accomplish a task, we seldom get a good feeling about that task. When your brain says “no”, the battle is usually lost before you even start. To eliminate the “brain opposition” altogether, you need to take the thinking out of it. You do that by creating a task list. Write down everything you need to do for the week. You can use an app for this, use good old paper or even an excel doc (you can download my free worksheet). Once you have a good list going, go through the list and separate the tasks into two categories: work (or business) and family related tasks.
Prioritize your task list
If you are like me, you may have as many as 40 plus tasks per week, after you do your initial brain dump. Let me say this right now: you will fail miserably if you try to get them all done in one week. That’s just not realistic! If you have to do all those tasks (personal or business), you need to start thinking about delegating some of those tasks to someone else.
Not all tasks are created equal. Therefore, you must prioritize you task list and focus on the most important ones. The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity, By Stephen Covey talk about the concept of “Big Rocks” versus “Small Rocks.” If you take care of the “Big Rocks” first, it becomes much easier to take care of the “Small Rocks.”
Look at your list of tasks from the previous step. Give each task a rating by order of importance from 10 to 1. “10” means this is a must do, critical task. “1” means this is not an urgent task at all.
Next, sort your task list by descending order (largest number on top: 10, 9 and so on). Finally, separate out the personal tasks from the work related tasks. Any task that scores between 8 and 10 is a “high” importance task and must be done before any other task. Any task that scores between 5 and 7 is a “medium” task. These are important tasks that should be completed after the “highs” are done. Any task that scores 5 or less is not important and should not be the focus of your time. You can delegate these to someone else. Such low priority tasks include mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters for example. At work, these could be lower level project tasks such as storing project documents to the appropriate location after the project is finalized.
Breakdown big tasks into smaller ones
Just because you can write down a task in a few words does not mean it is a simple task. Here is an example:
“Paint the guestroom.” Simple, right? Wrong!
Unless you paint houses for a living, this one can be a procrastination trap – most home improvement projects are, especially for Do-It-Yourselfers.
This is a complex task because it requires you to do some pre-work before physically painting. You need to break down your task into smaller ones. In our “paint the guestroom” example, you may need to break it down into the following tasks:
- Research what paint to use
- Research the price per gallon
- Research where to buy the paint (online or local store)
- Get paint samples and buy the paint and painting materials (mask, roller, etc.)
- Move furniture out of the guest room or cover furniture with plastic paint tarps
- Prep and prime the walls
- Paint the walls and let them dry
- Finally, remove tarps and clean up.
Suddenly, the simple task of painting a room does not seem so simple. As you can see it may take days to get all the tasks completed. Subconsciously, we know that. And that knowledge can cause us to procrastinate relative to that task. This is why you must break down complex tasks into smaller sub-tasks.
Related: How to Set Goals and Achieve them
Schedule time to do each task
I have come to believe that what does not get scheduled, gets forgotten or postponed. If you are a chronic procrastinator, make this your new motto and glue it to your bathroom mirror! We have busy lives; it’s just a fact of the times we live in. Scheduling important tasks is a must for a procrastinator. While some procrastinators start a task and never finish it, others never manage to get started in the first place.
When you schedule a task, it becomes “legit” in your mind’s eye. Most importantly, the fact that there is a finite amount of time dedicated to that task, makes it seem less daunting and easier to finish. Schedule the things you want to get done no matter how small they seem!
Use tools to help you schedule and organize your task list. There are many applications available for your smartphone or tablet. Just go to the app store and search for “to do list” or “productivity” apps. If you want to keep it simple, you can use a web based calendar such as Google Calendar to schedule tasks and sync it to your smartphone so as to get reminded of your tasks – Google calendar can also send you an email to remind you when a task is due. No matter what tool you choose, the important thing is that when you schedule your tasks, your schedule should be visible (kitchen wall calendar) or notify you when a task needs to be started (cell phone app).
Distractions are a big Achilles’ heel for most of us. I must admit I have to constantly watch myself to keep them in check. The problem: there is a thin line between entertaining relaxation (which is important for our sanity!) and distraction. Anything that takes 2 or more hours out of your day, with little to zero productivity resulting from it, is potentially a distraction. These days, the most notable culprits are TV, social media and gaming apps.
A recent study shows that the average American watches more than 5 hours of TV a day. If you factor in Internet browsing and other personal interruptions, you quickly find it nearly impossible to finish anything!
To eliminate distractions, you need to have a “safe space.” A place where distractions are kept at bay. A place where you can sit and just do what you need to do. If your distractions are people, you need to find a “people safe space” where no one will bother you. If your distraction is technological, you need to have an “unplug space.” Go to your home office, kitchen table or a separate room to do your work. Make it a consistent routine. You can get a lot done in an hour when your progress is uninterrupted.
Tivo or DVR your shows and movies and watch them in one block of time instead. Avoid binge watching! You can also catch up on a show on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or your On Demand service provider.
Consider turning off your Internet connection, your Wi-Fi or cell phone when working. If you have to be online to do your work, refrain from checking out the latest Facebook video of cute baby Pandas. I use a browser extension called “Momentum” that shows me what my objective for the day is, whenever I open a new browser tab. It refocuses me whenever I am tempted to go off task.
Finally, schedule time for going on social media and the internet – I have “social medial content creation” as a task on my calendar. If you know that you have one hour per day to go on social media for a specific purpose, you will be less likely to get lost in the rabbit hole while randomly perusing sites without a time limit.
Work on one task at a time
Who is more successful? The person who starts a thousand things or the one who finishes one great thing? I am not saying you cannot have multiple projects or tasks. What I am saying is that you should pick one thing and see it to fruition before you take on anything else! Working on multiple tasks and projects tricks you in thinking that you are VERY productive when in reality, you may not finish any of them. When your time is divided, your focus and your engagement to the task at hand is also divided. Furthermore, you are always thinking about the other 100 things you need to do. You are never truly focused. Use the prioritization tips I mentioned above to focus on the important tasks; the “Big Rocks.”
Get an “Accountability partner”
Tell your spouse, a friend or relative what you aim to accomplish for the week (or however long you think it will take). Tell everyone on your network while you are at it! People will ask you: “how is your project coming?” That question will have a “peer pressure” effect that will get you to make progress on what you have to do. There is a reason why people pay big money to get coached to accomplish their life goals to change bad habits. It is not so much the expertise of the coach that makes it work; It has more to do with having to report on your progress to someone. Accountability begets action and action begets success.
Talk with likeminded people who are trying to accomplish the same things you are. Seeing the progress others are making can give you the kick you need to finish the things you start. Join a meetup group, a Facebook or LinkedIn group. Make sure to attend an in person meeting at least once a month. Be part of a mastermind group.
Change your work environment
Sometimes, you might just not “feel it.” You decide to finally get started on your task but you just aren’t engaged. When that happens, consider changing the physical and psychological circumstances. There are many things that can affect your willingness to start and finish a task. For me, sitting at my desk or dining room table versus the couch can boost my motivation tenfold. It varies for each person but the goal is to do something different or change something.
Change your location. Go work in a different office, room or home. Go to your local library, coffee shop or home improvement store. Change your chair, sit differently, change the lighting. Get comfortable. If you are too cold or too hot, it makes it hard to focus. Change your mood. Go for a brisk walk around the block or strike up a conversation for a few minutes. My writing time is up! Another task just popped up. Pun intended!
That’s it! If you follow the tips outlined in this post, you will quickly see a positive change, a boost in your motivation and your ability to stop procrastinating and finish what you start.
Related: How to Set Goals and Achieve them
What to do next? (you will feel better about yourself, I promise!)
Brain dump everything you need to do, without thinking about it. Just focus on listing everything. Don’t get up from where you are, don’t look at an agenda (it will distract you). Just write down what you can remember without looking it up. And I do mean everything: work and personal life! When you are done follow step 2 above. This will give you a good start. Baby steps, right?
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