One of the most frequently asked questions I received from people during events and workshops was how to beat procrastination. Office workers, parents and the elderly- it seems that no one can escape the ‘head in the clouds’ syndrome.
After all, procrastination is something that comes and goes, which we all suffer from on a regular basis. But that doesn’t mean it has to affect your productivity levels, or prevent you from completing your daily tasks.
Below is an interview I did with Tim Lawrence in 2002 for Espy Magazine. The information is over a decade old, but the advice still proves to be useful up to this day (I find the methods covered in the interview below to be more effective than those complex productivity apps).
For those who need a crash course, here it is- Procrastination 101!
The art of putting off until tomorrow that which could, and should, be done today.
Any facts on it?
Lots! But let’s keep it short for this interview. One key point, I believe, is that procrastination is often linked to lack of clarity about what’s important to you. If you’ve got clear and exciting goals, procrastination ceases to be a sexy option. Instead, what’s really exciting to you helps to impel you forward, and into action.
However, not to trivialise the topic, for some people are really challenged by it, there are other reasons, apart from a lack of goal-setting, that I’ve identified.
1. Inability to prioritise
2. Poor self-starter skills.
What are its symptoms?
Ask any procrastinator, and they’ll give you a lengthy list! But seriously, the external symptoms are things not done in a timely fashion. Internally, it’s often a feeling of inadequacy, frustration, stress, and tiredness.
How can you beat it?
- The quickest way to answer that (and hey, I’m into saving time, right!) is to give you a summary of the 10 tips in my new book ‘About Time – 120 tips for those with no time’ Chunk big tasks into smaller tasks – then nothing seems as daunting.
- Use a mind map for quick clarity
- Eat your vegetables first! Do the hard thing first and the rest is a breeze.
- Beware of majoring in minor things
- Develop a ‘Do it NOW’ attitude
- Start with the end in mind, mentally rehearse it, and the end will be as you picture it
- Enjoy and celebrate every small milestone of success – it is a key tool to help you overcome procrastination
- No time to work towards a big goal? Use the leftovers
- Enjoy creative procrastination. Put off until tomorrow that which won’t advance your life plan by being done today. Give yourself the gift of prime time to do whatever you like, including doing nothing – if that’s your choice.
- Indecision is a thief of time – learn to weigh up the balance sheet of each situation quickly and get on with it. Only rarely does it really matter which way you go.
Any experiences you’ve had?
Is this self-confession time! Plenty, but let’s give one.
Some years ago, in the very early days of my time management business, (when I was still in shock that people were asking me for help,) I had two filing cabinets to clean out and integrate into one larger one. Believe it or not, I actually like cleaning up cupboards, drawers and miscellaneous messes. However, with a background in sales, and a pretty new business to get off the ground, I didn’t want to use commercial time for this kind of activity, and used that as an excuse to keep deferring – for months!
Finally, it became such an issue that I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I decided to put some time aside that Easter, only a few weeks away.
However, on the Thursday before Easter, after listening to all my friends talk about the fun things they were off to do, I was sorely tempted to forget the whole idea and go play. I still remember standing at my office door (I have a home -based office), and having one of those conversations with the little inner voice/conscience/strong-minded responsible part of me. Finally, with a mental shake by the scruff of the neck, I stepped into the office, began to pull out files and sort them into piles on the floor. I knew myself well enough to realise I couldn’t ignore a big mess all weekend. The funny thing was, it took only 10 minutes to get past the initial reluctance, and I found I didn’t want to stop. By mid-afternoon the next day the whole thing was done, and I still had plenty of play time, feeling great!
How have you personally beaten it?
I think the example just given probably covers that. The key point in that story is that a beginning task, no matter how small, gets you moving. And once you begin, it really is easy. In fact, it releases such a charge of adrenalin that you wonder why you took so long. And of course, every time you beat it, it’s easier the next time, for the memory of success enters your sub-conscious, becomes part of your cellular memory, and helps to reinforce better habits in the future.
Another very powerful technique I use is to make a commitment to someone else. It might be the dentist, the accountant, or someone to do exercise with. Find an ‘unreasonable’ friend, who won’t let you off the hook, and you’re more than half way.