Everyone procrastinates, but when you’re in the grip of a procrastination funk, it can feel like you’re destined to spend the entire day reorganizing your bookmarks and cleaning up your contacts in a sham of “productive work.” When you’re a one-man-band, you create your own deadlines, and there’s not always someone to look over my shoulder and tell you to get back to work. So I’ve developed a foolproof strategy to pull myself together and get back on track.
1. Admit it: You’re procrastinating.
I usually try not to admit that I’m procrastinating. I pretend I’m doing “research” or tell myself, “I really do need to get more organized.” But the first step in beating procrastination is to face up to it. Yes, I am procrastinating. It’s only human. But if I want to send another invoice one day soon, I’d better get over it.
2. Figure out why.
I usually procrastinate for one of two reasons. The first is that I’ve had a crazy week working long hours, and now I just don’t seem to be able to focus on anything. Sometimes that’s OK. Once I realize my brain needs downtime, I’ll scan the task list, knock off anything that’s urgent, and take the afternoon off. After long periods of doing things for other people, it’s only fair that you’re able to do something for yourself — time permitting, of course.
The other reason I procrastinate is that at least one of the tasks I have to do seems “too hard.” Once I realize that I have a “problem” task, I’ll decide not to commit myself to knuckling down and getting it done. Instead, I tell myself I’ll “look at it more closely.” Yes, I have to trick myself into overcoming procrastination.
3. Take a break.
My next step is to take a break. Having made the decision to consider something that’s daunting me, I take a five-minute break from the desk. I might make a cup of tea or play with the dog. The break makes me feel rewarded for deciding to look at this daunting task, and lets me recharge, so I can come back to the desk in the right frame of mind.
4. Break the task down.
OK, break’s over. It’s time to consider the nightmare. Recently, I was procrastinating over interviewing a finance expert. It all seemed too hard. But when I looked at it more closely, I realized that there were multiple hurdles: not only would I have complete my research and conduct the interview, but I’d have to go into the subject’s office in town, the logistics of which were likely to be a pain in the neck.
At this point I usually get a pen and paper and start listing the components of the task. What exactly will it entail? What will I need to do to achieve each part of the job? By doing this, I can identify problem areas that call for extra attention.
This is about figuring out how you’re going to tackle each of the task components.
I had to do some serious research for my interview but I wasn’t sure where to start. I worked out a few options, one of which involved talking to a few contacts in the industry to get their advice. Also, since I’d received the job brief, I’d had a few new ideas about the project. I’d need to speak to the client to make sure these fit with the overall plan. I’d also need to look at the public transport timetables, and call the subject’s office to arrange a meeting for the interview.
6. Schedule time to complete each task.
I then schedule the time it will take me to complete each task so that I have a clear plan of how I’m going to get everything done.
Suddenly my horrendous task had dissolved into a series of smaller jobs, some of them quite enjoyable (like brainstorming with friends). As I dropped them into my schedule I realized I could probably knock a few of these jobs over before the day was done!
7. Get started.
Once the plan is in place it’s time to get started on the actual work.
By the end of this process I usually feel like I’ve actually achieved something. But, more than that, I feel inspired to get started. I usually try to knock over some of the smaller tasks on the same day so that when I get up the next morning, I feel like I’m already on my way to getting the job done.
If you’re looking for more techniques for avoiding procrastination, Darrell shared some great strategies in “Road to Recovery: Tools for Web Working Self-Control and Productivity.”
That’s my strategy for beating procrastination. What’s yours?