Reading time 4 minutes
/”Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” – Don Marquis
Two minutes to post a tweet. Three minutes grabbing another cup of coffee. Just five or six minutes checking a Facebook news feed. And suddenly it’s the end of the day and you’re looking at the hours gone by wondering, “What did I actually do today?”
Procrastination is that nasty little word that convicts you and makes you feel like you and Sisyphus have suffered similar fates. It takes a number of forms:
It’s the paralysis by analysis that leaves you deliberating simple decisions for far too long.
It’s the sudden urge you get to delete the four hundred unread emails in your inbox.
It’s the three quick calls you have to make before you finally settle in to do the day’s work.
But more than anything, it’s a self-sabotaging habit that keeps you from being productive and profitable.
What are you waiting on anyway?
“There’s just not enough day in the day,” you say. Well, friend, you have the same amount of time as everyone else.
I know there’s probably so much on your TO-Do list that you will never get it done. We are a culture of doers who take pride in being busy. But busyness and business are not the same thing. In order for you to be effective in your business – to make decisions, build relationships, make sales and eventually organize your stacks of dough, you have to develop the skill and the habit of organizing, prioritizing and executing the actions needed in order to make progress.
Success is a habit. Making progress is a discipline. Procrastinating is the incremental undoing of both simultaneously. That’s because the action being delayed – no matter how unpleasant it may be – is often exponentially more important than the action we took in its stead. So why would anyone engage in such a destructive and counter-productive pattern?
There are three main reasons why people procrastinate, according to Psychology Today.
The first reason we procrastinate is aversion. There’s something in the queue that we just don’t want to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s delaying another load of laundry, ignoring the need to make a difficult phone call, or being slow to start on tedious paperwork facing. Aversion is the quickest route to procrastination.
The second reason people procrastinate is they’re not passionate enough about what needs to be done. There’s no pull, no thrill, no compelling reason to move forward with purpose. In short, you don’t care enough and it may be as simple as sitting down to define what you need to do, why you need to do it and what you stand to gain and lose by finally pulling the trigger.
Third, we’re easily distracted. The Digital Age has taken away our downtime and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to stay focused on one thing at a time. We spend 14 unscheduled minutes engrossed in a text exchange about whether to stay in or eat out when the same conversation could have been handled with a 30-second phone call. For every interruption you experience, it can take up to 15 minutes for you to regain your focus.
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, I don’t know who “they” is, but I do believe in facing challenges head-on. You have to spot procrastination just as it’s settling cozily into your day. When you first consider the idea of doing it later, recognize where you’re headed.
#1 Take baby steps. The first tactic to use in your fight against procrastination is to make incremental progress. I use the five-minute rule. This one works well for household chores. Instead of spending the entire day in dread when I think about the dishes, I set the oven timer for five minutes and wash dishes for five minutes and five minutes only. I may not finish all the dishes in the time allotted, but any progress is better than no progress and I can always add another five minutes later. The beauty of this method is that you build intention-momentum and usually when the timer goes off, I’m not quite ready to stop washing dishes, so I usually end up knocking the task off my list altogether.
#2 Write your tasks down. Define and assign any nondescript plans that made their way into your consciousness but not onto your schedule. Planning is important to project management, particularly for projects you would rather not even do. Make lists, keep a planner, use a whiteboard – whatever you have to do to keep a running tally of what’s been done and what remains in the queue. You can use task management software with time tracker functionality so you keep track of what you do and how long it takes you to do it.
#3 Unplug. Eliminate distractions by limiting your access to information. If you don’t absolutely have to check your email in the mornings, don’t. If headlines on your MSN homepage distract you, change your homepage. If you’re likely to answer a ringing phone, silence the ringtone on all calls except for any that originate from your spouse or your kids’ school. Take control of your environment and reduce the temptation to get distracted.
Make a commitment to yourself that you will work toward using your finite time and limited resources more efficiently in the future.