All irony aside, I waited to write to you about procrastination until I had overcome my own. It's an ongoing challenge—anyone who claims otherwise probably needs a bigger to-do list. (Mostly kidding.) Here are some tips:
- Give it the “Who cares?” test. Maybe what you’re putting off doesn’t really matter. Ask me if I'm ever going to get around to putting all my pictures and mementos into a scrapbook. Probably not—and at long last I'm okay with that. What task is it time for you to let go? Do it. You’ll have more time for what you do care about.
- Plan your escape: A hike. Lunch or coffee with a friend. Something active or social that will help you stay motivated and moving forward. As an example, after I wrap up a handful of key projects this morning, I'm having lunch outdoors with my friend Juanita. Our visit is my incentive to tie up as many loose ends as possible beforehand.
- Break it down. Write down step by step what needs to be done—then go back and pencil in how much time you think each step will take. Now the whole thing is easier to grasp. Start chipping away at that list, and soon you’ll be miles from where you started.
- Diminish the distractions. You can get more done in 30 minutes offocus than two hours of dabbling. Set a timer, and go at it. Doesn't have to be for 30 minutes. It can be for one minute. Whatever works.
- Pick up the pace. Again, this is where it helps to set a timer. Some of the things we put off—clearing our desk, for example—really don't take that long. They just require us to get started. Picking up the pace helps us break free from our self-imposed rut.
- Do something. Anything. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” The first step might simply be organizing the project at hand; for example, setting up a file folder to hold all your project notes.
- Ask for help. Sometimes the tasks we're putting off—or part of those tasks—are better off delegated. I learned this recently when I hired someone through Upwork (formerly eLance) for a small project needing fast turnaround. You could also reach out to a co-worker, a friend, or family member.
Where is procrastination stressing you out—or keeping you from your best? Try tackling even one overdue item per day, and see if it doesn't boost your spirits and sense of control.