Key learning outcomes:

  • Acknowledge the disadvantages of procrastination, including reduced productivity and increased stress levels.
  • Differentiate between procrastination due to lack of motivation and due to lack of skills.
  • Apply a range of preventative tools such as minimising distractions and rewarding yourself for completed tasks.
  • Recognise the benefits of signing up an accountability buddy.

Article:

Procrastination is the act of putting off until tomorrow what should be done today. It is without doubt one of the greatest killers of good time management and high productivity. There will be few people reading this that have not at some time or another allowed procrastination to get in the way of successfully completing a task or project, or who have been left in a stressful position because they have procrastinated for too long.

At times we have written a newsletter or article under pressure because we either let other things get in the way or we lacked the motivation to get down to the task. The following are some proven tips and tools that we have used and we recommend you use to ensure that procrastination is not something that holds you back from success.

1. Adopt a worst first mentality

One of the things that leads to procrastination is avoiding a task or activity for some reason. It might be making a difficult phone call, having a meeting with someone that you do not particularly like or writing a report that you find boring. Whatever it is, the first step is to identify that you are putting the task off, not because you do not have the time but because you do not want to do it.

The solution is to adopt a worst first mentality. Make the task or activity the very first thing you complete for the day. It may not be the most pleasant thing you do for the day, but the sooner you do it, the sooner it will be over and you can move on. There is no better feeling than crossing something off your list that you have been dreading or avoiding![wlm_ismember]

2. Break your work down

Very often the reason we put off doing something is because we feel that we do not have enough time to devote to it or because the task just seems so large. The problem with putting off a large project is that the amount of work is not going to get any smaller over time, and your stress levels are likely to rise as the deadline approaches.

The key to overcoming this issue is to break the task or project down into more bite-sized chunks. For example, if you estimate that the work will take six hours to complete, break this down into three two-hour sessions to make it more manageable. The advantage is having completed a portion of the work, the remaining task becomes smaller and less daunting, and you will feel more motivated to finish it.

3. Use proven tools and techniques

There are many tools and techniques that are available to help you to manage your time and avoid procrastination. One of the techniques we use effectively when writing is the “Pomodoro technique”. It is explained in detail in the “Time Management” section of our website. This technique helps to boost your productivity through focusing on one task or activity for 25-minute blocks of productive time over a two-hour period.

Other tools on the website that can assist you are “Effective To-do Lists”, “Ideal Week” and the “80:20 Rule”. These are all proven tools that will help you to identify what is most important in your week to boost your productivity.

4. Minimise your temptations

One reason that we procrastinate is that we let more attractive activities distract us from the job at hand. Of course, talking to a friend, searching for your next holiday destination online or popping out for a quick coffee with a colleague could all seem more appealing than getting started on that boring report. However, it is important to remember that we are in control and if we let distractions take away from our work, there might be larger issues such as errors, rushed work or missed deadlines to deal with.

It is important to eliminate your chances of being distracted. Before starting on a task, conduct a quick checklist of the things that you can control to avoid being distracted. Turn off your phone, close your email notifications, close down your social media and if possible close your door. Additionally communicate to those around you that you need to work solidly for a particular timeframe and refrain from interrupting you. You might find our article “Managing Distractions” helpful here.

5. Find an accountability buddy

If you work in a small business, you may find that you are working alone more often than not and it can be hard to motivate yourself day after day to be productive. This can be an even bigger issue if you have a home office. We suggest that you read our article “Working from Home” for some additional tips. Even if you do work as part of a larger team, more often than not you are responsible for your own workload. Your performance will be judged on your ability to perform the tasks and duties that are assigned to you, and on the results that you ultimately achieve.

Having to be self-motivated every day can be tiring for all of us, and this is why you will find even the most successful people have mentors or coaches to keep them accountable. If you do not have access to someone like this, don’t worry, you can do the same thing effectively by working with someone you know as an accountability buddy.

This person may be a friend, colleague or even someone that you respect from within your industry or wider network. However, we recommend you choose someone other than your boss. The key to working with an accountability buddy is that you share your goals each week or month in regard to what you want to achieve and what tasks or projects you are going to complete. You then simply set up a check-in system; this might be a weekly coffee catch-up, a regular phone call or even an email. The main thing about this system is that you are kept accountable and this will provide you with added motivation and focus.

6. Go public

This is similar to the tip number five, but there is one significant difference. By publicly announcing what you are going to achieve, and when, you are setting a deadline that you are accountable for. The key difference is that it is very likely that you will announce this to your boss. This will create some additional pressure that in turn should give you some added motivation to get the work completed. The consequences of not completing the work on time are likely to be harsher in this scenario than when you are working with an accountability buddy. In the previous tip, your buddy is helping you to be accountable to yourself, whereas by going public you will be held accountable by your peers and possibly superiors.

7. Negotiate with yourself

When you are planning your work, you can have a little fun by negotiating with yourself. When going through your to-do list, set yourself some positive and negative rewards. For example, you might set yourself a deadline to get a task completed and add a reward to it, such as “I will get this report finished by 3pm and then I can go to the cafe for coffee and a cake”. Or it might be a negative reward like “I cannot go to the gym until I get this report done.”

The key to making this work is that you need to determine what type of reward will work best for you, that is, you will be disappointed if you miss that deadline. It is also essential that you stick to it. This technique will not work if, for example, you miss the 3pm deadline, but still go out to the cafe for coffee and cake.

8. Ask for help

One of the reasons we procrastinate is because we get stuck at a particular point in a project. Very few of us are good at everything; therefore, it is important to recognise we are procrastinating because we do not have the skill or knowledge, not because of a lack of motivation.

The key to overcoming this issue is to identify it early in the process. If you have a new task or project, take some time at the beginning to assess what skills and knowledge you will need to be able to complete the work. If you are missing something, you need to determine if it is something you can learn, if it is something that someone else in the business can do or if it is something that you will need to outsource. The faster you can find a solution, the faster you can move forward.

9. Change your environment

They say a change is as good as a holiday! If you find that you are procrastinating on a particular task or activity, moving do a different location might help you to move forward. For example, we regularly encounter this with salespeople who put off making their sales or prospecting calls. Often new salespeople feel reluctant to make calls in an environment where other people can hear them, and this in turn leads to procrastination. A helpful solution is to move the person to an office or other location where they can make the calls in private. Over time, as they gain in confidence and experience, it may not be necessary to continue with this change, yet often the change of scenery can become the trigger for high productivity in that particular activity.

Another key point to remember is that by moving to a new location, you might find yourself surrounded by people doing the very thing you are putting off and this motivates you to get started. A couple of examples would be someone who has trouble exercising on their own, but finds that they can do it when in the gym; or someone who is having trouble studying but can get motivated when they are in a library where everyone around them is doing the same thing.

10. Do not let perfect get in the way of progress

This is by far one of the biggest causes of procrastination. Too often people don’t move forward with something because it is not quite perfect. Of course, we all want things to be the best that they can be; however, it is essential to sometimes take a broader view.

Let’s imagine you have been working on a new sales proposal for your business. You do not think it’s perfect yet, so you have not implemented it inthe business. The key question to ask is “is it better than what you are currently using?” If the answer is yes, then you should implement and either work to fine tune or move on to something else. The important thing to remember in this example is that every day that goes by, an inferior sales proposal is being sent to potential clients; therefore, the procrastination is possibly causing you to lose business.

One of the great things about procrastination is that avoiding it is 100% within your own control. We find that the first step in avoiding procrastination is acceptance that you are doing it. The faster you learn to recognise the signs, the easier it is to get back to being focused and productive. Remember, the best way to get something done is to begin it and do it![/wlm_ismember]

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