Does indecision keep you from getting your projects started … or finished? Did you know that besides derailing you from achieving your goals and advancing in your work, procrastinating reflects on your professional image as well?
Everyone procrastinates on occasion but some people do it regularly. Even when they are aware they are procrastinating, they still put off important projects. If procrastination keeps you from completing projects, it is chronic and should not be ignored. Otherwise, it could easily affect your career, your home life and your self-esteem.
If you are committed to overcoming your procrastination habit once and for all, we assure you that it can be done. Why not give the tips below a try? They will help you stop the games you play with yourself to avoid a project you do not want to do.
BEFORE STARTING THE PROJECT:
Evaluate the importance of the project. Is it still a priority? If not, take it off your to-do list or consider moving it to your Someday/Maybe list.
Figure out the reasons you are procrastinating. Knowing “why” will help you come up with the tools to fight it. For example, if you do not understand a particular area of the project and how to go about completing it, consult colleagues who are experts in this area or research the area in question on your own.
Find uninterrupted time. Enter a date in your calendar to work on a specific step of the project. Be sure and keep the appointment. Your dates are just as important as meetings with others. Your time is valuable.
Decide on the location where you will do the project. Sometimes working in a coffee shop with headphones on is better than the office where there are many external interruptions and distractions.
Prepare ahead of time. Decide what is needed that will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Clear space on your desk. Last year’s documents? Find those important papers ahead of time and have them ready. These are the types of obstacles that could prevent you from moving ahead.
Create a positive mindset. It makes all the difference in the world how you approach the project. If you think of it as impossible and too hard to do, then it will be. On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you can do this and are ready for the challenge, it will not be as difficult. Think of the feeling of accomplishment when the project is completed.
BEGIN THE PROJECT:
Divide the project into individual tasks or steps. Make each step doable. A project may have five steps or fifteen. Write each step down on paper or electronically.
Estimate the time it will take to complete each step of the project. Then double it. That may seem to be far too much time but most steps take longer than estimated. If you finish the step sooner than expected, continue. Or, leave the next step for another time.(Don’t forget to enter the next step on your planner so you will know exactly when you will be getting to it.)
Make the first step easy. Ease into the project slowly. You may want to make this step short and simple although, once you have completed it, you will have gained momentum and the commitment to continue.
Set the mood. What external stimuli will entice you to get started? For example, lighting, music, and snacks can make the task more enjoyable.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started. Even if the person is just there while you work, sometimes that is all it takes.
Seek help from colleagues or friends if you run into obstacles. If you do not know how to tackle a specific step, consult with someone who does. All you need to do is ask. People are happy to help.
Eliminate interruptions and distractions so you can focus on the project. Turn off the sound and pop-ups signaling new email. Let your phone go to voicemail. Close your door or put up a sign saying you are working on an important project. Keep a pencil and pad where you are working to jot down thoughts not related to the project. That way you will not forget them and can go back to them later when you are finished working.
Be mindful of the progress you are making. Track your accomplishments and be aware of the progress you are making. Think in the present.
WHAT IF THE PROJECT IS DUE IMMEDIATELY?
If you have delayed the project until the 11th hour, you may have to condense the suggested steps above and move right into action. Here’s one approach:
Move directly to the “Begin the Project” section. Imagine you are leaving town tomorrow. We have all experienced that hyper-active mode before leaving for a business trip or vacation. You had no idea you could accomplish so much that quickly. And why is that? Because you concentrated on the tasks that needed to get done. That probably meant limiting conversations with colleagues and not allowing distractions and interruptions to throw you off target.
CELEBRATE WHEN THE PROJECT IS COMPLETED
Once a project is off your to-do list, it is not always easy to move immediately into another high-level task. Switch from your high-functioning thinking to low-level tasks such as returning phone calls or doing email. Consider taking a walk and giving your brain a well-needed rest.
Enjoy the feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the weight hanging over you is gone and that you did it! Feel good about your accomplishment. Remind yourself that you overcame procrastination and that you can do it again. Maybe, just maybe, the next project won’t be nearly as hard as you anticipate and will go faster than you expected. The secret: just start.
We hope these tips inspire you to begin a project you have avoided yet must be done. Once you actually begin, you’ll be amazed at your energy and motivation. The effort will be well worth it, and we are here to help.
This morning I had a lot of calls to make and did not particularly feel like making them. Then I remembered the book I had just finished reading — Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. In the book procrastination is not allowed. I would need to make the calls first thing and begin with the most difficult one. Ug. Well, I did it and it felt wonderful.
Tracy’s premise is that starting and completing the most important — and often the most difficult — task of the day will soon become a habit. Email and less important to-dos must wait until the most important one is done.
He suggests that we ask ourselves 3 key questions:
1) What are my highest value activities?
2) What are the biggest frogs I have to eat to make the greatest contribution to my organization? What can I and only I do that, if done well, will make a real difference?
3) Ask yourself every hour: What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
What important eat that frog task will you tackle tomorrow morning?
My friend Necia has been telling me for months that she intends to get organized.
The other day we were sitting next to one another in a meeting. She had a notebook in front of her and I was curious — what was she writing in it? She showed me. It is how she is finally getting her office organized. Her secret: she spends thirty minutes a day at this task and tracks her progress daily in the lined notebook.
Her notes look like this:
Day Commitment Actual Y/N Level Ripples
Mon. 4/3 Getting Organized Review old files Y 4 Got it done!
Tues. 4/4 Getting Organized File 30 minutes Y 3 Making Progress
Necia shared with me how she learned about evaluating her daily progress to reach a goal. The idea came from a newly released book called The Ripple Effect. Author Doug Grady has created an easy-to-implement system (just the kind we like!) to change a habit or to take action to get things done. We agree with Grady — small action steps help eliminate procrastination and keep you focused on your goal.
As efficiency experts, we are all about achieving goals and accomplishing the projects you rate highest on your list. Writing things down (or entering them into an electronic device) is an indication of your commitment. In fact, just the act of writing down your day-to-day progress has a positive effect on the outcome.So, Grady’s recommendation to keep track of progress in a notebook works. The cost to implement this solution? the price of a notebook and the desire to achieve your goal. That’s it.
Want to accomplish a project that you have thought about but not yet acted on? Try Grady’s method. This will be a positive use of your time and will help you achieve the results you desire.
With the start of spring and warm weather, it gets even more challenging to focus on the tasks you know you need to get done. Try these suggestions to stop the games you play with yourself to avoid the task at hand.
1) Add planning time to your day to decide what must get done.
2) Confront the task or project you have let slide. Is is still a priority? No? Take it off your list.
3) Write down specific steps to complete the project and estimate how long each step will take.
4) Decide what will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Last year’s documents? Uninterrupted time?
5) Set the mood. What external stimuli will entice you to get started? Music and snacks often the task more enjoyable.
6) Tackle the first step. If you have time, continue. If not, leave the next step for later.
7) Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started.
What a feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the project is done — or, at least, started.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to the project I’ve been putting off.