Procrastination comes in many forms. It is doing the urgent rather than the important. It is watching television when you should be exercising. It is lingering over lunch, while things are stacked up back at the office. It is avoiding people rather than facing them when there is a problem. Whatever form it may take, procrastination is something we should strive to overcome.
There are several reasons why we procrastinate: the task is unpleasant, the task appears to be overwhelming, the task requires a decision, or the task is perceived as being of low priority.
To overcome procrastination, we must overcome an inertia that has set in, a tendency to resist taking action. From physics we learn that a body remains at rest until a force is exerted against it. Physics also teaches us that it takes less effort to maintain motion once the initial inertia has been broken. Here are some techniques to help procrastinators get moving and to stay on track.
1. Don’t try to do it all at once.
Too often we avoid starting a project because know we don’t have time to do it all in one sitting. This all or nothing approach rarely works, because most of us don’t have such large blocks of time. The trick is to see how much you can accomplish simply by chipping away at a project, even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes at a time. You simply must not underestimate the cumulative value of a small amount of time performed on a regular basis. For instance, 15 minutes every day adds up to about 55 hours in the period of a year.
2. Start anywhere.
Starting “at the beginning” makes sense when doing something, which has only one logical place to start. We frequently put off starting on a project because we just can’t decide on the best place to start, even though it may have more than one starting point. And, we lose sight of the fact that starting anywhere is better than not starting at all. If you find yourself in this position, take the first step; any step, just get going.
3. Start imperfectly.
An obsession with perfection can be paralyzing. Believing that everything must be done perfectly can prevent an individual from starting. The beginning stage of a project is not the time to worry about getting everything absolutely right. If you start in plenty of time, you’ll be able to correct, edit, rewrite, and double check the facts. One way to crash through the wall of perfectionism is to start with an obvious error, which you can correct later.
4. The “drive yourself crazy by doing nothing” approach can be very effective.
Assemble all the materials for your project, arrange them in front of you on your desk, and then sit at your desk and do nothing for precisely seven minutes. Don’t even write down any of the ideas that come to you during this period. By the end of the seven minutes, you’ll be itching to start.
Incidentally, the reason for this specific amount of time is to make sure you actually sit for seven minutes. For most of us; “five minutes” or “ten minutes” tends to be a somewhat vague concept rather than an actual time period.
5. Work no more than 15 minutes at a time.
This is a very good way to deal with procrastination. Set a timer and then work full blast on the project for the next 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, you must decide immediately whether to stop, or to reset the timer and work for another 15 minutes. Most of the time you’ll find that you’ve already built up enough momentum, so that you don’t want to stop. You can work for hours using this method, yet it never feels that long because you know that a break is never more than 15 minutes away.
6. Start even when you are not in the mood.
Sigmund Freud once said, “When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.” If you wait for inspiration, you may never start. It’s more reasonable to establish a daily routine of settling down to work during your usual high energy periods, which will hopefully coincide with moments of inspiration.
7. Unpleasant tasks don’t get easier with time.
If anything, unpleasant tasks become even more so when we put them off. Furthermore, worrying over not working on a project consumes one’s energy, energy that could have been used more productively. It’s like swimming in the ocean when the water is cold. You can run quickly into the surf and deal with the shock in a few frigid seconds, or you can prolong the agony by stepping in, inch by shivering inch. So, when you have an unpleasant task, take a deep breath, jump right in, and get it over with.
8. Schedule a “Hell Day”.
A friend has discovered a way to confront all those annoying little tasks that we tend to ignore. Every month or so, she sets aside a day devoted entirely to those tasks. “Those days are hell,” she admits, “but you can’t imagine how terrific it feels to finally get all those things done.”
9. Honor your leisure time.
Make sure you have a reasonable amount of time for rest, relaxation, or just plain fun. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can play only after we have finished our work. The “work before play” mentality is acceptable occasionally, but not over the longer term. Working long hours, for weeks or months on end, and feeling that you have to keep up that pace usually leads to inefficiency, unnecessary stress, and burnout.
You can be more productive over the long run if you treat your work life as a well-paced marathon rather than an overextended sprint. Putting limits on how much work you take on, developing a strategy for dealing with procrastination, and having some fun to look forward to when you’re finished, these things all help you to be more effective at what you do. And as an added bonus, your employer will probably benefit as well.
Take a few minutes to analyze your procrastination by asking yourself the following questions:
1. What things do I tend to put off most often?
2. What am I putting off right now?
3. How do I feel about my procrastination?
4. What has my procrastination cost me?
5. What is the cause of my procrastination?
6. What can I do to overcome my procrastination?
People procrastinate for many different reasons. The following tips may help you deal with your procrastination:
1. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by large tasks by breaking them down into smaller components and focusing your attention on these smaller, manageable tasks.
2. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection paralyze you with self criticisms and self doubts. Try to do your work well, but remember that no one is perfect.
3. Don’t wait until you “feel like it” to get started. Warm up by doing a small bit of work.
4. Record your progress by checking off the items on your list of things to do. Step by step, you then experience the satisfaction of accomplishing what you set out to do.
Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission www.hr.com, your community for knowledge, expertise and resources.
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