Procrastinating again? The dictionary defines procrastination as ‘putting things off’ or ‘the avoidance or delay of doing a task’. For each of us, procrastinating is a big time stealer. You know exactly what you need to be working on but delay for a multitude of reasons. You might not like the task, you might feel it is too large, you might feel you don’t have the experience to do it, or it could be you feel your brain won’t get into gear or focus.
There are two excellent ways to help beat procrastination. You might choose one over the other depending on which way you like to work.
Write an effective to-do list
The first way is by writing and acting on an effective to-do list.
We all need to-do lists. You might have a master list from which you then isolate your daily tasks. But all too often when we write a to-do list we list an item as a whole project, almost like a reminder, for example:-
London Book Fair
without writing down what action points we need to take
Instead it is better to be writing an actionable to-do list, which could like this:-
Check that all July titles on the critical path are in progress
Proofread pages 1-20 of new catalogue
Confirm London Book Fair appointments with Publisher A B and C
When you write a task that contains an action, you save yourself from procrastination. The task tells you what you need to be doing next, so you get on and do it, rather than think about what you need to do. This will also help reduce work anxiety, as the actioning of tasks becomes automatic and you quickly move from one task to the next.
If you want to read more about writing actionable tasks, both David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Graham Allcott’s How to Be a Productivity Ninja have some good points. But I give a warning. When I first read Getting Things Done, and followed it through, writing down every single thing I had to do, I felt completely overwhelmed. I realised I would never clear my to do list. It took me about 3 weeks for me to recover and get productive again! I couldn’t face the feeling that the heavy workload would never end. So please, don’t write every single thing down. Think about your workload as a few months at a time, and work through it accordingly. Focus on the key responsibilities of your job and the aspects of your role that underpin the success of the company.
The second method comes from Declan Tracey’s Clear Your Desk! Take the first piece of paper or email and deal with it. There are 4 key processes: Action, Read, Pass On, Bin. You should touch each piece of paper (or email) only once. Deal with it and then move on to the next. This is sometimes a good process to do when everything on your desk feels like it all has the same urgency. Or you are so far behind, you don’t know where to start.
A couple of bonus points about to do lists.
It is usually recommended not to have over 6 items on your to do list for the day. This is because if you only do 3 tasks, you’ve cleared 50% of your workload and will feel a sense of achievement, which usually has a positive effect in helping you feel like you are getting somewhere. The best thing about a to-do list is being able to cross things off as done.
If you are completely stuck and anxiety about what do to first it is holding you back, then choose only ONE task. That’s right. If you can only do one task, what one task would that be? What task would make the biggest difference to how you feel right now? Clue: It is usually the task that stresses you the most; it might not be the most urgent or important, but its the one that’s bugging you. So, providing you’re not missing a deadline elsewhere, work on it and you’ll be able to move on.
PS. If you are totally stuck then a Productivity session with me could be the answer. In the first instance, book yourself into our Careers Clinic so we can have a confidential chat.