Unaccomplished tasks and the choices we make (or fail to make) can weigh on us, lead to more procrastination and eventually become overwhelming. To break the cycle, you have to take action. But you need a procrastination-busting strategy, right? Here are a few ways to kick yourself into gear and get more done.
Eat your frog
As Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
While I am pretty sure nothing worse would happen to you for the rest of the day, please don’t take this literally. Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy is known for shedding some non-literal light on this phrase. He says to schedule your “worst”, aka hardest or most dreaded task, for the beginning of the day. Why?
Getting that task done helps you build momentum for your other tasks and makes the rest of the day feel easier. When you have a task you’re dreading, you tend to waste a huge amount of time trying to avoid it. Knock that off and just do it. You will feel like a productivity rock star.
Night before list
Many of the most productive people in the world write their to-do lists the night before. That way, as soon as you start on your tasks the next day, you’re ready to go and know exactly what you need to work on. Before you leave the office on any given day, set aside some time to write your next day’s to-dos.
When one of the richest men in the world, Charles Schwab, met with the leading productivity expert Ivy Lee, Lee explained his top tip for greater productivity: “At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.” The night before list strategy is now part of what is called the Ivy Lee Method.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
A common reason procrastination ensues is that we overreach. If you write a to-do list that is overwhelmingly long, then… well, who really wants to get a start on that?!
As Ivy Lee stated in his advice above, write no more than six tasks. Then you can prioritize those tasks. After all, you can’t “eat your frog” if you don’t know what your most difficult or time-consuming task is.
To help you, identify the tasks that are important versus urgent. Some urgent tasks may take priority over important tasks if they have a deadline that, if not met, have serious consequences. These could also be tasks that need to travel down the pipeline to other team members, meaning they are counting on you to get your part completed.
Break down larger projects
Once you have your list prioritized, you can review to see if there are larger projects on the list that could use some smaller steps. Not every project can be finished in one day, but you still have to make sure you’re working on it regularly so you don’t end up overwhelmed by a looming deadline. Ask yourself, “What can I do today?”
Action Steps are the most important components of projects—the oxygen for keeping projects alive. No Action Steps, no action, no results. The actual outcome of any idea is dependent on the Action Steps that are captured and then completed by you or delegated to someone else.
Notice the word “action” is used multiple times. It’s about taking the action that you need to take, but in smaller, more manageable steps.
Delegation and the 80-20 rule
Have you heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80-20 rule? They are one in the same and according to Investopedia, “The 80-20 rule is a rule of thumb that states that 80% of outcomes can be attributed to 20% of all causes for a given event.”
This principle can be applied in multiple ways but for our purposes, it means that 80% of your business success comes from just 20% of the work that you do. By figuring out what 20% of tasks give you the most results, you can eliminate or at least cut down on the rest. This maximizes your results in less time. Easier and greater accomplishment leads to less procrastination and more encouraged effort.
Day theme your week
This tip may not be for everyone depending on your work, but day theming can be a great way to get out of your procrastination cycle. Each day has a theme that you consistently schedule every week.
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, is famously known to day theme. When asked how he gets so much done, in an interview for Techonomy, he said, “The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company. Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off; I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”
Having a focus for the day helps you ignore distraction that does not fit with the day’s theme.
Exercise and get out
This may sound counter-productive and like procrastinating, but sometimes you just need to take a step back and regroup. Exercise, especially if you can do so outside, will help give your brain and creativity a boost. It can re-energize and refocus you when you have a task or problem you just cannot get past.
Walking can help give your ideas “some legs” by boosting creative thinking. Taking even a few minutes to go for a walk can help you come back to your projects with more focus and energy. If you’re procrastinating because you feel lazy, take a walk.
Teach others to work with you, not against you
Do you have a coworker who is always interrupting at the most inappropriate times? Do you allow clients to email you at all hours of the day and night? Not to get all Dr. Phil on you here, but we do teach people how to treat us. Don’t be afraid to set some boundaries on your time and energy. Procrastination can sometimes come because of burn out. Don’t allow that to happen.
Talk with your team and set up certain times to communicate and/or brainstorm and stick to those times. If you can, set yourself some email office hours where you only respond to emails during that daily time period.
If working with clients and customers, consider a welcome packet to clearly explain the times they can reach you and your working rules. Your time and energy is valuable. Train people to respect it. In a nice way, of course.
Use a project management system
Systems can help eliminate procrastination because they offer a clear path from where you are now to where you want to be… with your tasks completed.
The systems you choose can be as unique as you are. You can use a physical planner or an online project management system like Asana, Trello, or a combination of both. You could create checklist documents or use spreadsheets.
Just find a method that works for you to input your plan of project completion. Set up systems that you can take the time to create once and use over and over again. This saves so much time and can keep you from slacking off or losing enthusiasm.
But, if you still find your motivation lacking…
Review your why
If you’re making and prioritizing to-do lists, you already know what tasks are important. But why do you do them? Dig deep on this one. Don’t just say, “Because I don’t want to lose my job and end up desolate on the street.” How does what you’re doing each day help your company, family, and community? How does it help you grow as a person?
Write down your deep, heartfelt “whys”. Keep them before you. Review them whenever you feel like falling back into a spell of procrastination. Looking at the bigger picture and your deeper purpose will motivate you to keep moving forward.
Ready to implement these procrastination strategies into your life? We would love to hear about your best productivity tips, so join in the conversation on social media! And remember:
Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.William James