Time Management

by Di McLanachan

How to stop procrastinating

Procrastination: the art of convincing yourself that you can put off until tomorrow what you should be doing today.

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Most people are guilty of this one, for one of a variety of reasons.

  • It’s an unpleasant task – you don’t want to do it.
  • It’s a difficult task – you’re not sure how to do it.
  • You perceive it to be a simple task that won’t take long, so there’s no need to start it yet.
  • The task is enormous and intimidating – you don’t know where to start.
  • It’s not important/urgent enough to need attention right now.
  • If it gets put off long enough, it may not need to be done at all.
  • You don’t want to run out of work; you might look expendable.
  • If it becomes a task with a tight deadline, it’s far more exciting and anyway, ‘I do my best work under pressure.’

To deal with procrastination, focus on the result of the task, not on the process. In your mind, really home in on how good it will be to get it done, and what that will mean to you. If you find yourself drifting back into negative feelings about it, stop, and again access how good it will be for you to get the result.

Remember, gambling on the chance that a task will go away if you wait long enough is just that – a gamble. There will always be a 50 per cent chance that it becomes a hot potato and then you will have to pull out all the stops and abandon everything else to get it done. Better to play safe: schedule it and just do it.

The following are recommended techniques for overcoming procrastination. Try them out to discover what works for you.

  • BANJO stands for Bang A Nasty Job Off. Tackle the most unpleasant job at the beginning of your working day – you will experience a great sense of achievement; the day can only get better after that!
  • If you’re not sure how to do the task, analyse exactly what information you need and where/who to get it from. You may find that you know more than you thought; if not, it’s better to seek help now than when the deadline is close and the people you need to ask are not available.
  • The task may be simple, quick and easy to accomplish, but sometimes the unexpected happens and you have no contingency time left. Schedule a start time for the task on your things-to-do list and get it out of the way. If you get the start time right, the finish time will tend to meet the deadline.
  • Break down large tasks or projects into manageable chunks; schedule each phase with both a start time and a finish time, and tick chunks off on completion. On a large project, this allows you to experience an on-going sense of achievement.
  • To understand how to prioritise tasks into important, urgent and other categories, see the page on How do I prioritise my workload?
  • If you believe you do your best work under pressure, you are a Type A – see Working styles. Working with this attitude can convey an arrogant disregard for others whose input or participation is needed, plus you will convey an impression of being disorganised. Set a new deadline, one that is a few days earlier than the real one, to allow for any unavoidable delays.
  • Promise yourself a reward on completion of the task. This works well if you are a ‘towards’ person – someone who is motivated by moving towards the attainment of targets and goals, and celebrating their achievement. This is also known as a pleasure motivator.
  • You may, however, be an ‘away from’ person, in which case, the painful consequences of not completing the task may be so dire that they give you a real kick start to get it done. To activate this kind of motivator, imagine the worst consequences of not doing the task, and then multiply the seriousness of these consequences 100-fold. For example, you lose an important contract, then you get fired from your job, so you lose your home – make it as bad as you can. You will find yourself becoming motivated by the need to avoid this painful scenario. Not surprisingly, this is known as a pain motivator.
  • Finally, you could set yourself a challenge. Decide how long you are prepared to work on this task for and then use a digital timer to count down the minutes until it alerts you with a ‘ping’ that your allocated time is up and you can stop now. This works particularly well with mundane, mind-numbing tasks such as filing, housekeeping activity on your PC or even using an exercise bike at home. Your mind loves a challenge and you will find yourself competing against the clock to see how much you can achieve before you the stopping time. Of course, you may find yourself so involved in the task that you choose to continue doing it, even though the timer has told you that you can stop!

There is an unwritten law around the concept that work expands to fill the time available. However, if you do complete all your workload, this leaves you time to be proactive and seek new opportunities that could enhance your career and professional standing.