Monday, 18 December 2017

Six procrastination-beating tips

Procrastinating? Can't get started on a project? Try these strategies for getting moving when you are stuck.

I was just reading a HBR Blog post by Chris Bailey about procrastination, which had some great tips for those of us who get side-tracked, and need some tools to help us through, over or around whatever is halting your progress. Chris logged all his tasks, and found, to his horror, that he wasted 6 hours a week on procrastinating. If you are time poor, then procrastinating can be very costly. It can stop you having a day off. He is a bit of a productivity guru, having written a book, Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy. 

Apparently we procrastinate when things are 'boring', frustrating, hard, ambiguous, unstructured, the process is not rewarding, or it doesn't have personal meaning for us. We need to be self-aware enough to work out which of those might be the factor, and try to inject something else into the task to overcome the draw-back. Such as if we find the process of doing our GST return not rewarding, we could instead consider how much better shape our finances are in at the end of getting the return in, and therefore how much we save at the accountants. To find that out, all we need to do is to call the accountant and find out how much it would cost us for them to do the work.

As Chris pointed out in his post, getting work done is "rarely as bad as we think. Getting started on something forces a subconscious reappraisal of that work, where we might find that the actual task sets off fewer triggers than we originally anticipated". He proposed some strategies to help us avoid procrastination:
  • Noticing. Start observing our own behaviour. When do we procrastinate most? With new tasks? Or boring ones? If we know what tasks are those that we put off until the deadline looms hugely, we can build a strategy to get us into better habits. 
  • Compete. Make a competition out of writing a report: see how many words you can crank out in a set time. Try to beat your own record. 
  • Plan. Create a template to plan our projects, laying out all the steps we need to take, and the deadlines we will set. Use this when we get becalmed during a project. Report to someone on whether we have taken our steps when planned.
  • Micro-tasks. See what the ideal bite size of time is to work on our project, and decide to just do [x] minutes. Sometimes half a day is daunting, but 15 minutes is do-able. If we start, and have to stop, we are more likely to be able to continue on later, as thoughts and improvements to do with the task will keep surfacing.
  • Cost. Write down what procrastination costs us; like an early completion bonus, or a missed deadline penalty. Chris also suggested that - while we are at it - we could go wide on what we procrastinate about, including things like "ways procrastinating on retirement saving could affect your social life, finances, stress, happiness, health, and so on".
  • Disconnect. Go off-line. Close social media, email, turn our phone reminders off for periods of the day to eliminate possible distractions. This will help us not get tempted away from the key job. I do this when I am marking. I become 'not available' for chunks of the day.
It will still be a journey of exploration to find a fix that will really work, but a start to the journey is progress!


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