Ways to End Procrastination
By Sarah Miller
People get behind because they procrastinate and then they procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed that they are so far behind. It's a vicious cycle but it can be broken. So how do we get everything done and keep our sanity?
I started a business 23 years ago and a second one (CorpNote) 14 years ago; so I really have to manage procrastination if I want to make everything happen and not be stressed out. Here are some of the ways I combat the "overwhelmed" feeling. They might not all be right for everyone but I hope that a couple of these tips are meaningful for you.
- A Manageable Daily 'To-Do' List with a Reward. If I feel overwhelmed by a huge to-do list (it's been up to 9 pages some days), I break it down into smaller manageable tasks. At the end of every work day, I look at my to-do list and pick the top 3 to 5 items that have to be done the next day. I then organize them with one favorite small task at the top and then I organize the rest by either what absolutely has to be done or by least favorite tasks in descending order. I write these tasks on a sticky note which I adhere to the bottom of my computer monitor. (It just needs to be in a place that you will see it.) This forces me to write just a few words to describe each task (making them seem simple) and to really examine what absolutely needs to be done. At the bottom, I write my "reward" item for the day in all caps (more on that later).
- Crossing Items Off the List. I finish my one small, easy task – yay that's one item crossed off the list – and then I tackle my second task. For me, this is often my least favorite task of the day. That is the one I know I will procrastinate if I don't do it second! But I always feel a sense of relief when I finish that task and cross it off of my sticky note (sometimes quite aggressively). I then put the list back on my computer monitor so I can see it all day long. I do this to not only see my task list but so I can see the items getting crossed off as the day progresses. I've also been to add smiley faces, use colored pens and star stickers. Whatever makes you feel good about your accomplishment!
- Remove Distractions. This depends on the type of job you have; but, in my case, it is not essential that I check my email or phone constantly throughout the day. I keep my phone in "silent mode" on my desk and only check my email between tasks or at a specific break time if it's a long task. Obviously if you have kids, or other people that really need you, make sure you change your phone settings to enable "Emergency Bypass On" so your phone will ring for those phone calls or texts. The bottom line is you will need to identify your biggest distractions and find a way to manage them. For example, I have a rule that when someone comes into my office and I'm obviously deep in thought, they will leave a note on my desk, come back later if it's unimportant or stand there until I can get to a break point and pause. That might not work for everyone but the goal is to find the most reasonable solution for you.
- A Clean Work Space. This is actually a subcategory of distractions. People say they can find things when their office is messy (and that might be true) but a messy work area makes me feel as if that's just another 'to-do' item weighing heavy on my shoulders and I find it distracting. When I feel overwhelmed, at any time, I will turn on my favorite music and clean. If it's super messy (like the art room - sigh) or I have other tasks I absolutely must get to, I will set a time limit and stick to it. I will then just clean the immediate work space needed and literally stack everything else neatly in a corner so I don't have to look at. Cleaning makes me feel like I have accomplished something on my 'to-do' list and I have found that a clean work space adds to a feeling of 'balance' which is essential for my being productive and focusing on the task at hand.
- Looking Forward to the Reward. Remember that reward I mentioned that I put as the last item on my daily 'to-do' list? Everyone will have their own idea of what they want as a reward, and it often changes daily for me, but I find it is very helpful in keeping me motivated. I sit at a desk most days and deal with a lot of mind-based tasks so I will often choose something physical as my reward after work. For example, I recently discovered that I love martial arts but I also like gardening or even just taking a walk with my two dogs. Some days my reward is even an enjoyable task like dinner with friends or going to a show. The point is to pick something every day that is a reward you can look forward to after completing your tasks.
I love the feeling of seeing items physically crossed off on a "to-do" list. Even if I didn't get everything done that I wanted to, I can see the evidence of the items I did cross off my list. And I can't lament over what I didn't get done, I just add them to the do list for the next day and move on. What I have discovered is that when life gets busy, I can get an incredible amount of stuff done. I may not always reach the end of my big, never ending 'to-do' list but I know, at the end of the day, I have accomplished what I needed to.
If you have a favorite tip for ways you fight procrastination, please share with us on social media or use our "contact us" form.
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