End Procrastination in Ten Minutes

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 25, 2010 in: Time Management Strategies, Tips in 10

We all face procrastination from time to time. Although the causes may differ, the result is the same: We avoid doing something we should be doing. What’s most annoying about procrastination is not that it happens, but that it’s something we often don’t realize we’re doing until we look up from the clock half an hour into a game of Farmville and we think: “Oops – I just wasted so much time”. But the very next day, the same thing happens again.

Or, worse yet (in my situation and maybe for you, too) is to have a big project that needs to be done and a million smaller work-related projects as well. We should be doing the big project but we end up working on the little ones. It all needs to be done… be we know in our hearts that we really should be working on the big project!

Over the years I’ve collected a series of procrastination-busting techniques that work effectively for me (yes, even I find myself tempted to procrastinate from time to time). I’d like to share some of those tips in this article. You’ll find that many of these take about ten minutes each, which make them perfect for quick procrastination busting throughout the day.

Record what you do in the day: You can use a simple printable calendar to write down how you spend your time. Record it in 15 minute increments and take a moment every hour to update it. Not only does the act of recording help to keep you on track (you’re less likely to procrastinate if you’re thinking about it), it is a way for you to catch yourself procrastinating in the day. Track yourself for a week to analyze. And, I’ll bet you many of you find it so helpful that you will continue to track your time on an ongoing basis.

There are great tools online to help you do this: TimeSprite, for example, is a program that sits on your desktop and every minute it records the active window you’re using. Then it gives you a report at the end of the day of how you used your time. This won’t help if you leave a window open and step away from your computer, but if you’re the kind of person to procrastinate with Bejewelled when you should be working, it can be a wake-up call. You should also check out this list of computer-based and web-based procrastination-killing time-tracking tools: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-tools-to-track-how-you-spend-time-online/.

Spot the problem times: We all have times in the day when we don’t feel up to work. We sit at our desks and pretend to work but really we just mess around on Twitter or our email. If you know of specific times in the day when you tend to procrastinate more (such as before lunch or at about 3 PM) you can find other things to do during those times that are a bit easier. Tracking your day is helpful for this analysis.

Keep a list of tasks with durations: One key anti-procrastination technique I use is to list the anticipated duration that I expect a project will take. Then, if I have five minutes before I have to turn the oven on for supper, I look at my schedule and do a five minute project.

Outsource the pain: One of the reasons that we procrastinate is because we’re about to do a job that isn’t pleasant and we don’t want to. (Certainly that’s not always the case, but it often is). If you have an assistant or a virtual assistant, this would be an excellent thing to outsource. Either give them the entire task that you don’t want to do or break it up and only give them the portion that you find unpleasant, while keeping the rest for yourself.

Be proactive and think about all of the things you do in your day that you don’t like to do. Give those to your assistant to proactively remove procrastination before it can even start.

Keep your deadlines short: Ever notice something weird about procrastination? We procrastinate frequently until the deadline is looming. Suddenly, every excuse we used to make for procrastination no longer works. We become uber-productive! Use that to your advantage: Rather than creating a two week deadline and procrastinating for the first week, create a one week deadline and feel the productivity pressure right away! (I have a friend who swears by this method and he says it helps him stay busy at work). The only drawbacks, of course, are that there isn’t a lot of margin built in for error and there’s always a sense of foreboding deadlines. But if your goal is to eliminate procrastination, that might be your solution.

Break your project up: Often, we procrastinate because all we see is a giant, unwieldy, and poorly defined project in front of us. So, as the first step of every project, sit down for ten minutes and break the project up into smaller pieces. Break them up into very small chunks – chunks that will only take a few minutes each to do. Then do them. One by one. If time allows, do one an hour or one a day. It will seem so much easier (and chances are, it might actually go faster, too).

Set your clock and do a five minute burst: This is my favorite anti-procrastination idea right now. I have a timer on my desktop. And when I find myself tempted to procrastinate about a project, I turn on my timer and do as much as I possibly can in five minutes. For me, it’s no longer about avoiding the project but it’s more like a contest with myself to see how much I can do. I’m aiming for quantity not quality at this point… I can always go back and fix the quality if I need to, but the point here is to sort-of “pop the cork” and get the thought-process flowing. Once that cork is popped, the procrastination ends and I go work on the project easily. I just needed that initial “oomph” to get me started. You’ll actually be amazed at how much you can do in five minutes, too, by the way!

Give yourself some variety: This is related to above. I used to find that procrastination would occur at the prospect of working for two solid hours on a project. So instead, I would plan my day to work in 20 minute rotating shifts on a few different projects. I could get quite a bit done and had enough variety to want to work. (And in case you wonder if I have ADHD, let me assure you that I don’t; it’s just that some projects – BIG projects – aren’t things that I want to spend a solid mind-numbing block of 2 hours on).

Envision success: This is where you envision the successful completion of your project as a result of your focused, diligent, efficient, and productive effort. If you bill by the project, this is where you envision earning the billable revenue. If it’s a non-billable project, this is where you envision the success you’ll gain because of the completed work. This method is okay; it’s one I’ve read frequently in time management and procrastination books. I have seen it work successfully in some cases, although some of my clients admit that it’s hard to remember to do when you’re in the middle of procrastinating.

Figure out what your tempters are: We all have different procrastination “tempters”. I’ve mentioned the more popular ones throughout this issue – Facebook, Twitter, email, Bejewelled, etc. At the time it may not feel like procrastination but you know as you read this that a couple of them are your “go-to” places when you’re procrastinating. Figuring out your procrastination tempter is the first step. The second step is to avoid it. For example, use Facebook or Bejewelled as rewards after a certain period of work.

The biggest challenge in this area is when you procrastinate by doing one type of work instead of another – such as is often the case with email and Twitter. It’s very difficult to identify and manage this because it’s still work. In those cases, I would advise that you schedule time to check your email and Twitter once every hour or once every 90 minutes. Some of you won’t like that; some of you will say it’s impossible; but if you’re serious about ending procrastination and if email or Twitter (or some other work-related activity) is your procrastination tempter, then you will need to be more intentional with them.

Reward yourself: I’ve already hinted at this. Reward yourself for a period of uninterrupted work-time. Use some of your procrastination tempters as the reward. However, just make sure that you don’t spend as much time on your reward as you do on your work!

Pre-planning: I’ve found that pre-planning some of my work is an effective weapon against procrastination. One of the reasons that I’ve caught myself procrastinating in the past has been because I get to a project and I have to think about that project. Maybe I need to do some research, for example. Suddenly, that 2 hour project becomes a 3 hour project! But if I do some initial thinking, planning, and research and then let it “percolate” in my mind overnight or for a couple of days, when it comes time for me to work on the project, I’m bubbling over with ideas and enthusiasm for the project!

Procrastination isn’t something we schedule, but it quickly takes over our schedule! It’s not easy to fight against because it’s not something we plan for. I’m convinced that more entrepreneurs will be way more successful if they can identify procrastination and eliminate it to recapture more of their time in the day. Use these tips to help you fight procrastination everyday. You’ll get more done, earn higher revenue, and spend less time at your desk!

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