I am the consummate procrastinator. If there’s a project or task to get done, I’ll find a way to procrastinate and put it off until it must absolutely get done. Sometimes I hurt myself by putting things off too long. Here are some techniques I use to combat procrastinate and get things done.
—Lists. I make lists–a lot. I create a list of my top five or six tasks for the next day before I wrap up my work. If I can put it down on paper (or in my phone) it gets it out of my head and becomes more likely that I will actually accomplish what I want or need to get done. There’s something very satisfying, too, about drawing a line through a task you’ve completed (or tapping the button that says “completed” on your phone). I know people who create their lists in a notebook and keep a record of all the things they’ve finished over time. I’m not that organized and prefer to use notepads I accumulate from attending conferences and expos.
—Chunk it down. I learned this trick when I was working on my dissertation. The entire project looked huge and the prospect of working on something so large became a block. I put off starting the writing because I couldn’t conceive how to finish. Someone told me to take pieces and work on just that part for a while. When I did that, I started completing chapters. Soon, the chapters took shape and I was able to connect them and shape the entire project. “Chunking it down” gave me the ability to focus and finish. Now, I do this with larger projects on a regular basis. I break it down into parts, focus on the parts, then assemble the final work. I’m more likely to finish a small piece in a timely fashion.
—Consider the end result. It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have a vision of where you’re going with something. I like to know what the planned outcome of a project is before I start working on the component parts of it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of considering the objectives or determining the preferred result. Whatever the end may be, starting is easier when you have a goal. This applies to just about any endeavor you undertake! I trained for marathons and half marathons one week at a time. The goal was to finish the race, and I kept this in mind as I trained.
—Set a timer. If the prospect of working on a project for a long period of time (especially when it’s something you don’t like doing, but must) keeps you from starting, set a timer and tell yourself you’re going to work on X for Y minutes. When the timer goes off, give yourself permission to do something else. Come back to the project and set the timer again. Work on it for a number of minutes, then stop. This might seem counterintuitive (work on it until it’s done!), but by giving yourself permission to step away from a task that you don’t like makes getting it done a bit easier. I use this when cleaning my house. I really dislike cleaning. I manage to get it done with the timer.
—Take a walk. Get out of the office and take a walk now and then. You’d be surprised what five minutes away from your desk will do to your attitude and ability to focus. Too often we chain ourselves to the desk thinking that’s the only way to get something done. We end up spinning our wheels and spending more time checking e-mails or looking at cat videos on Facebook. Walking away from your work at regular intervals can help you get it done. I make a point of getting up once an hour and either walking around inside the building or heading outside for a walk around the block. I’ve even done this when working at home. I come back to my desk energized and ready to get things done.
Sometimes you just need time to think and absorb the material you’re working on. Don’t forfeit contemplation in an attempt to speed up the process. Some projects are complex and need time to develop. Try any of these techniques next time you find yourself avoiding the work that needs to get done. Hopefully you’ll be able to accomplish what you thought you couldn’t and stop beating yourself up for procrastinating. That in itself will be an accomplishment!