I covered procrastination in my newsletter last year but since it’s Tax preparation time and Spring is here, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject.
The word procrastinate comes from the Latin procrastinatus, which means, literally, “forward tomorrow.” If you’ve been putting off till tomorrow what you could — and should — do today, then recognize that procrastination is a habit that can be broken. But it won’t happen overnight. It takes 21 days to form a new habit. So set a date, (Mondays work well, because they feel like a fresh start) and track 21 days to stay the course. (Comment to this post with your START DATE – accountability helps us get started.)
First of all, give yourself a reason to stop procrastinating. Will you improve your financial situation because you’ll pay your bills on time? Or will you impress your family, friends, and coworkers because you’ll appear productive and efficient? And — gasp — will you be less stressed because you are on top of your to-do list and arrive on time? (collective gasp is heard when you arrive on time)
Whatever the goal, keep it in mind throughout the first 21 habit-forming days.
How can you get started? Start writing. Yes, most of us have smartphones and if you’re like me, you are using up EVERY SINGLE bit of memory, but a good ‘ol fashioned notebook is a great tool…seriously. Whatever you do, scraps of paper and sticky notes won’t do – they have their place but not for getting started on stopping procrastinating. Remember, you’ll want everything in one place because you are forming a new habit.
In this notebook, keep a running list of tasks that need to be done. (It might be really long.) But then, each evening, make a smaller “to do today” list for the upcoming day, on a separate page in your notebook. List only the most important things you need to accomplish that day, and keep the number of tasks realistic and attainable. (About five things usually works well.) The next morning, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done, and you can concentrate on those tasks above all else. That evening, re-evaluate your list. Anything not completed moves forward to the following day’s task list, and a few more items are added. And take a moment to permanently remove tasks from your list that no longer contribute to your goals or happiness.
I use a paper calendar for my business. It has sections for personal, family and business items for each day. I review it in the evening, and in the morning. I keep a notebook beside me and on me at all times and this goes with me when I’m out and about.
REALISTIC-SIZED CHUNKS OF WORK: This is so key because procrastination is usually tied to poor time management…yeah, sorry but it’s true. So as you’re writing your to-do list, make sure to break tasks down into realistic-sized chunks. If your goal is to organize your messy kitchen, the enormity of it will seem daunting. Instead, break it down into one-hour tasks: toss out all expired foods in pantry; clean out refrigerator; organize junk drawer; set up mini-filing system for kitchen. Completion dates are important, so assign specific tasks to specific days. You won’t organize a kitchen in a day, but over the course of a week, you can do it! And each day’s successes will give you the drive to keep going.
For truly unpleasant tasks (for me that’s cleaning the bathtub…ewww), set a timer for 15 minutes, and just do it. Nearly anything is palatable for a quarter of an hour. It’s also helpful to see that most unpleasant things don’t take nearly as long as we think they will. You may hate going through your in-basket at work. But just 15 minutes each morning and evening is enough to review, sort, do the quickie tasks, and assign the longer ones to your planner. If you’re feeling sluggish, complete an easy job first, to get your momentum going. Also, do the toughest tasks when your body is most alert — some people function better first thing in the morning, while others perk up later in the day. I am not a morning person, more of an afternoon person, so I schedule tough tasks for the afternoon.
Treat time like a precious gift. Are you a people-pleaser? If you’re truly behind in your own tasks, don’t add any more optional to-do items until you’re caught up. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to delegate. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. And stop saying, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.” This is what has kept you stuck already…and that’s not working too well for you, is it? Just limit your choices, let well enough be okay and move forward. Perfection is not realistic or required in life…just “let it go”.
Reward yourself. After 21 days of “just do it” action, treat yourself to something nice… lunch with a friend, a luxurious nap or bubble bath, a hot-fudge sundae, a concert, or an afternoon with a favorite book or movie. You’ve earned it!