Procrastinating_Edited

Seven Strategies to Help You Stop Procrastinating

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…and Take Tasks Off of Your To-Do List

We all have them. Those few scary tasks that have haunted our to-do list for weeks. A deadline is approaching, and we still haven’t made headway. Here are seven strategies to stop procrastinating and get tasks done.


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1. Begin your day with a productive morning.

Get yourself ready for your workday by waking up early and completing a purposeful morning routine. Include time for learning and growth, exercise, a healthful breakfast, and reflection. In addition to my own post about mornings, both Michael Hyatt and Jeff Sanders have some great information about productive mornings.

2. Identify (and tackle) your frogs.

Frog

A wonderful colleague of mine gave me a book by Brian Tracy: Eat That Frog!. The title is based on a clever quote from Mark Twain:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

In his book, Mr. Tracy advises you tackle your “frogs,” those ugly items that haunt your to-do list, first thing. 1 How can you tell a task is a frog? Maybe the task that has been sitting in your queue for over a week, or you have danced around this task by completing related tasks.

3. Prioritize e-mail 2nd.

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Give yourself time every morning to face a frog before checking your email. E-mail identifies the “fires” you have to fight during the day. “Fires” are urgent tasks that do not align with your goals, and are typically on other people’s priority lists. Therefore, put e-mail 2nd on your daily schedule. This way, you know that YOUR most important task is complete before you begin helping others with their priorities. Even if this isn’t possible every day, set a time limit for email in the morning to prevent getting too caught up in other priorities.

4. Give yourself realistic chunks of work time.

Dr. Gloria Mark found that the modern worker is interrupted every 3 minutes, five seconds in the office. 2 This leaves little time for a completed thought, let alone a completed task. Rope off a full 2.5 consecutive hours on your calendar. For the first hour, turn off your e-mail and phone, wear headphones, and begin your task. After that hour, take 15 minutes for a “true” break (see strategy 6). After your break, begin your second hour. Take another 15-minute break when you are done. You will be amazed at how productive you can be with only 2.5 hours.

5. Motivate yourself with the 15-minute rule.

When you just can’t bring yourself to start a project, set a timer. Promise yourself that you will focus on the task at hand for a true 15 minutes. John Sonmez dubbed this the “15 Minute Rule,” and I find it works for me! 3 Those first 15 minutes will get your feet off the ground, and set you on the right course if you feel distracted or are simply unable to resist the urge to avoid the project.

6. Take True Breaks.

A “true” break is one that provides physical, emotional, and mental relief. A quick stroll to the water fountain or a walk around the block will clear your head. Why? Activity and hydration helps your blood circulate, and well-circulated blood increases the amount of oxygen reaching your brain. Science backs this up. A review of 8 studies focusing on children concluded that aerobic physical activity (exercise that makes you out of breath) improved brain function. 4 A water break can also be beneficial. One study of a group of men showed that even mild dehydration can reduce mental performance. 5

7. Maintain a productive workspace.

MessyDesk

Keep your desk clear of distractions, including digital ones. In the book Getting Things Done, David Allen identifies 3 priority items for your workspace: a writing surface, an “in” basket, and a writing tool. 6 This doesn’t mean that your desk cannot have other items. Placing an oxygenating plant or a framed photo on your desk can serve as motivators and create a calmer environment for to you to work. Just make sure that items on your desk don’t distract you or remind you of other work.
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And remember, practice makes perfect! If you struggle with procrastination, implementing these seven strategies will take time. Even implementing one strategy (or part of the strategy) will make a difference.

Do you ever feel scared of items on your to-do list? What strategies have you used to tackle those items?

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© 2017 Caitlin W Howe, LLC
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Notes:

  1. Brian Tracy. Eat That Frog!. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco: 2007.
  2. Kermit Pattison. “Worker, Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching.” http://www.fastcompany.com/944128/worker-interrupted-cost-task-switching
  3. John Sonmez. My 15 Minute Rule to Productivity. http://simpleprogrammer.com/2012/10/28/my-15-minute-rule-to-productivity/
  4. Lees C, Hopkins J. Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Cognition, Academic Achievement, and Psychosocial Function in Children: A Systematic Review of Randomized Control Trials. Prev Chronic Dis 2013;10:130010. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd10.130010
  5. Matthew S. Ganio, Lawrence E. Armstrong, Douglas J. Casa, Brendon P. McDermott, Elaine C. Lee, Linda M. Yamamoto, Stefania Marzano, Rebecca M. Lopez, Liliana Jimenez, Laurent Le Bellego, Emmanuel Chevillotte and Harris R. Lieberman (2011). Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. British Journal of Nutrition, 106, pp 1535-1543. doi:10.1017/S0007114511002005. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN106_10%2FS0007114511002005a.pdf&code=98741a395190a22da52396b9fb4b0cce
  6. David Allen. Getting Things Done. Penguin Books, New York: 2001.
  • thefluter

    For non-work priorities, I find it helps to set aside a scheduled time in your calendar to work on something. For example, if paying bills is a task you hate doing, block 30 minutes in your calendar once a month. When you have a dedicated time coming up to take care of a task, it’s a lot easier to mentally prepare instead of procrastinating. -j

    • Great idea. I especially like your approach to making the task specific–an allotted time and date. The task becomes a real expectation, rather than “oh, I’ll do this once a month.” Thanks for this useful strategy!