My article is late. My article is due and so far I have almost two sentences once I type the period for this sentence I'm ... writing ... now. Ta da! Two sentences down!
You always hear the advice: Write what you know. So, as I pondered about starting my blog post, I realized what I knew best at that moment was procrastination. I know about doing all the short, quick tasks so you can see 10 items marked off your to-do list rather than hunkering down and writing that article and only crossing off half of an item (it usually takes me more than one day/sitting to write an article, depending on what it's about, there I go again, procrastinating by writing about how long it usually takes me ... wait, close up this parenthetical remark and get back to it!). Is procrastination some sort of disorder, or is it really just a matter of time management? Is there a “cure” for procrastination? Does it serve a purpose? Is it a part of the creative brain? Or, are asking these questions just another way to procrastinate?
Though procrastination can be a symptom of a larger problem like obsessive compulsive disorder, or ADHD, for most of us it’s a bad habit. If you haven't struggled with this issue from time to time you're one of the lucky few. My usual plan of attack is the “just do it” method, if I can just get started (like I'm doing here now), I hope for the momentum to propel me. In addition to my just-do-it approach, here are a few tactics that have worked for me in the past:
1. Choose an Activity That You Really Want to Do
Find something you do every day that you always make time for. Or, it could be something you enjoy but don't always find time to enjoy: reading, a walk, or calling a friend you haven't talked to in a while. Now, set a timer for 30 minutes and start working on your project, right now. At the end of the 30 minutes, reward yourself with your chosen activity. You might even find that the 30 minutes has given you the momentum to continue, but if not, repeat until the project is completed. It's a bit like my just-do-it approach, but with a carrot at the end, and a time limit that should help get the process moving along.
2. Think about Why You’re Procrastinating
Your reason, or list of reasons, will most likely include things like fear of failure, dread, or maybe you simply want instant gratification and this project isn’t going to give you that. It’s going to take time and thought, and that just isn't appealing right now. Whatever your reason, this self-realization can help you push through it, and you can move onto rational solutions. The instant gratification you're seeking only means more work for you later. We all have fears, but we also must realize that that can’t stop us or we’d never get anything done.
3. Take Advantage of the Times You Know You’re More Productive
For some of us that is the early morning, for others it could the middle of the night. Recognize your natural patterns and use it to your advantage.
4. Break It down into Smaller Tasks
If the project just seems too large to tackle, making a list of smaller tasks that will add up a larger completed task may work wonders. This article, for example. I would break this down into smaller tasks such as: research related articles, outline flow of ideas and the points I want to cover, write an intro, etc.
5. Make Shorter To-Do Lists
Rather than looking at your master to-do list that includes everything from “make dentist appt.” to “learn to speak Chinese,” each morning make a list of only three items that you will get done that day. Some days you might choose the three easiest/quickest items, other days you might feel more energetic and able to tackle more lengthy or difficult tasks (but still no more than three!). It’s also important to be realistic.
6. Slash Your To-Do List!
Do you really need to do everything on your list? Are you trying to do too much? I find that any idea I have often gets added to my list. While I do need to make that dentist appointment, do I need to look up that URL I saw on a billboard? Or take your list and make smaller lists from it, under categories like: must be done today, someday/maybes, calls, errands, online tasks, etc. Next, utilize No. 5 above and pull three items from your various lists for each day, keeping in mind the must-be-done-today tasks need to be managed (but make sure they truly need to be done TODAY, no sense in creating false anxiety-inducing tasks for yourself). And, since all your errands are already listed together, do two or three that are near each other and kill two birds with one stone.
Encourage but Forgive
Push yourself to reach your potential, think about all the things you hope to accomplish in your lifetime, all the possibilities that lay before you if you can only manage your time well enough to succeed.
Look at your long-term goals and prioritize those tasks that will get you closer to that goal. But, forgive yourself when you do flounder and play an iPhone game instead. It could be that you’re pushing yourself too hard and who says we can’t have our downtime, the time to just be. Not every minute of every day needs to be filled with performing tasks.
While vacationing with family, the niece of a friend of mine put her day's to-do list on the refrigerator. Her list included (and it says it all):
- eat lunch
- draw a picture