Would it be silly to mention that I put off writing this post?
I knew I wanted to discuss procrastination, but then I got distracted by magazines, TV, cleaning up my desk, and all those little things that get in the way.
When procrastination starts taking over my day, I pull myself together by following these easy steps.
Do 2-Minute Tasks First
Some people will tell you to tackle your most important task first, but for me, thinking about my most important project deflates my mood. I know my most important tasks will take hours to complete, and other smaller tasks will get pushed off (again). Starting with the most daunting item is sure to make me procrastinate even more.
Look over your massive to-do list and put a star next to the tasks that will take 2 minutes or fewer to complete. Maybe you could send off a quick email. Maybe you could wipe down the kitchen counter. Maybe you could shred a stack of papers.
Being able to cross off a task—any task, no matter how small—on your to-do list will give you mental strength to continue.
Don’t have any 2-minute tasks? Take one of your mammoth-sized projects and break it down into every tiny step in the process. For example, if you need to clean out an overstuffed garage, your 2-minute task might be gathering up all the cleaning supplies, trash bags, broom, etc. and placing everything by the garage door.
Set a Timer
After you’ve gotten your 2-minute tasks behind you, it’s time to dig into the more challenging to-dos. I can get a lot of things done without losing my motivation by working in chunks of time. First, I’ll set a timer for a doable amount of time, usually 15 minutes.
Hey, we can do anything for 15 minutes, right?
I’ll start the timer and jump into the next project. When I begin getting the “I don’t wanna do this” feeling, I remind myself that I only have to do it for 15 minutes. When I see the minutes ticking down on the timer, it spurs me onward. I think, “I bet I can send off this report before the timer beeps!”
I’m amazed at how much faster I work when I’m using a timer. Racing the clock ignites my focus. I have a hot pink Gymboss timer on my desk that I use nearly every day.
My Gymboss is great because I can set it up as a stopwatch, countdown timer, and even an interval timer for my workouts (eg, 30 seconds active followed by 60 seconds rest x 8 rounds).
Give Yourself a Reward
OK, you survived 15 minutes of focused work. You might be so impressed by how much you got done that you’ll be tempted to do another 15 minutes right away. Resist the urge to continue working! Give yourself a reward first. You’ll feel good about your progress and avoid burnout.
Find a reward that’s satisfying but not so distracting that you won’t want to go back to your work. Take a 5-minute walk around the block. Cuddle with you dog. Stand up and do some yoga stretches. Read a short magazine article. Meditate or do a breathing exercise.
I like to listen to brief podcasts. My favorites include The Daily Boost, Grammar Girl, and Nova. If you choose to listen to podcasts or music, be sure to limit your break to 5-10 minutes.
That’s my puppy, Skyla, in the background of this picture. I’m sure she’s up to no good.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
After you enjoy your reward, it’s time to get back to work. But before you get started again, review your to-do list. Look at all those crossed-off tasks! You’re making progress!
Choose your next task (or continue the last one) and start your timer again. Really focus your attention on the task at hand. Don’t think about what your next reward will be or what you’ll eat for lunch. It’s only 15 minutes, and then you can take a breather and enjoy another reward.
True, there are some days when you’ll be on fire and it makes sense to work for an hour or 2 without a break. Great! Hold on to that momentum and go with it. But when you can feel procrastination coming over you, use these tips to keep yourself moving forward.
A tiny bit of progress is better than losing a whole day to procrastination.