Last Friday we featured Part 1 of Hugh Culver’s great article on how to stop procrastination. Today we run Part 2 and on Wednesday we will wrap up with the final part. There are few bad habits or behaviors that plague us more than procrastination. Imagine how much more effective you could be and how less frustrated you would be if you could conquer this.
Stop Procrastination Today
Tip the scales on procrastination.
When you procrastinate you get a reward. It’s counterintuitive, but when don’t do the thing we were supposed to do we get rewarded for that.
When you watch an Oprah rerun instead of walking the dog you are rewarded with leisure time. Similarly, when you lose an hour watching YouTube videos you get to avoid the housework. Now, here is how use your rewards in your favor.
Think of every decision you make as being on a scale: on one side is “DOING” to represent getting something valuable done and the other side is “AVOIDING”. When you procrastinate about those sales calls the “AVOIDING” side is avoid rejection. And as long as we hold the thought that this is “better” we will always avoid the work.
To tip the scale in your favour you need to first create a reward for doing that is bigger than what you get from avoiding. I like to see tasks crossed off my list (reward) so I record even small tasks on my Day Plan just so I can cross them off. I like to be well prepared for my speaking events (reward) so I block preparation time on my calendar months in advance. And my reward for sticking to my planned exercise in the morning is to record it on my calendar (as well as feeling great!) and see my fitness goals achieved.
Using this model the trick to getting more of the right stuff done is to always have a valuable reward in mind before you start. If you want to tackle that report you’ve been putting off then break the task into 20-minute chunks and take a break after each one. If you want to have that tough conversation then imagine how much better you’ll feel once it’s behind you. We may be sophisticated and well educated, but in the end we’re all motivated by rewards.
Chunk your work down.
A standard in project management is to chunk down (break down) big jobs into smaller ones. This is great for delegation and measuring results, but it’s actually essential for motivation. Maybe this has happened to you: it’s 2:30 in the afternoon, you’ve had a demanding day and now you are scanning your list deciding what task to tackle next. And then you spot the entry “research venues for planning sessions” – “Yikes”, you think “that looks like an hour of fruitless phone calls and getting voice mail.”
Instead, what if your entry was “1) call mike – ask what they did last time 2) email three venues for quotes.” Now you are looking at a 20-minute task with a defined outcome – simple.
Best-selling author Dave Logan wrote his best-selling book Tribal Leadership using this technique. He calls it his “Multiple Put Down” technique because he is revising the project (like you revising that manual) over and over in 20-minute chunks until it’s complete. “During the 20 minutes”, says Logan “you must focus on that task without interruption. And unless the building burns down, do nothing but work on that task until the timer goes off. You may hit the wall, but keep going. The vast majority of people find they can work on that task ‘in the zone’ until the timer goes off.”
I find that even fifteen minutes is enough time to rough out a table of contents for a report, book a meeting room, send a query note to a colleague, or review and make notes on a proposal. And anyone of these actions moves my project forward – just like a wheelbarrow.
I like to use the analogy of a wheelbarrow full of dirt (maybe you’ve even done this in your garden.) When you first pick up the handles it feels heavy and awkward. Maneuvering like this is difficult and the load keeps threatening to tip and slip out. But if you get some momentum, like when you invest 20-minutes to make a few calls, or create that spreadsheet, suddenly the load seems lighter and more maneuverable. The trick is to get started and not stop – even if you are only make a small advance you are still moving in the right direction.
Do the most difficult task first.
Most people are morning people – that’s the time we have fresh, positive energy. In fact, we get work done faster and better. One study (of over 2,000 office workers) found that people typically have about a 90-minute higher energy period in the morning and another 60-minute period shortly after lunch. It’s like secret power sources ready to be tapped into every day. But, do you take advantage of this natural rhythm in your day?
If you have a choice, plan to do your most difficult tasks (the ones you are most likely to procrastinate about) in your high-energy time zones. Leave your email, paper shuffling and returning calls for low-energy zones. This is such a simple change, but it will require some discipline.
First you need to pre-plan for this time – if you wait for time to become available it may never happen. I always plan at the end of the day for the next day. Just five minutes will set you up for success in the morning. As an early riser I also have a small plan for the first two hours of the day (this time is always for writing, family and exercise.)
Next, you have to be committed to your plan. There will be the inevitable emails, interruptions, and distractions that want to pull you off course – don’t let them. Block the time on your calendar and then treat that time like a client meeting – stick to it, be on time and show up smiling.
Skip the perfection.
Sometimes I catch myself fussing over the alignment of text on an invoice or double-checking the wording in my email when I actually had other, more important work that needed to be done. Will my client care about my eye for detail and clever underlines? I doubt it. My fussing is just an excuse for not doing real work.
Let’s be honest, most work doesn’t have to be perfect (with exceptions for heart surgeons and airline pilots.) Sure it’s nice that the columns in your spreadsheet are all the same width and that your PowerPoint slides had colored bullets. But if you had half the time would you still go that extra step?
When you catch yourself seeking perfection at the cost of other work, stop. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “One week from now will this matter?” At the end of the day only a few things you do really matter. The call to the client, the coaching conversation, the proposal sent on time or the sales calls. It’s sometimes tough to draw a clear line, but everything else is just filler. And the trick is to stay focused on the work that counts and to spend as little time as possible on the rest.
A good exercise is to look at your list for today and do a quick assessment. First put a check mark beside all the work that gets measured and really counts (empowers staff, increases sales, delivers the goods, gives direction.) Next, make an estimate of the percent of time in your day that you dedicate to that work, as opposed to the rest of your list. If you don’t have 70-80% of your time available and allotted to that work you might have a problem. Either you aren’t delegating lower-value work to others, or you simply need to drop or defer some tasks. Changing your pattern of time allocation can have a huge impact everyday to your effectiveness. It’s either that or put in more hours – the choice is yours.
Trick your brain.
When I return to my hotel room, after delivering a speech, I am spent. I’ve had a long day, given it my all on stage, spent time talking to dozens of people, and I just want to crash in front of the television and ‘veg out’. But I know that what I really need is a walk outside or 30 minutes in the gym.
So I trick my brain to choose the workout instead of a Dragon’s Den rerun. Here’s what I do.
Before leaving my room I layout my workout gear on the bed. When I return I see my gear, remember my commitment, and head off to the gym. I’m going to be active anyway, so I might as well be active on the right thing.
Here’s how you can apply this trick at work. Before you leave for a meeting clear your desk and just leave out the project you want to focus on when you return. Or, when you want to focus, close your Outlook email browser and put your phone on airplane mode so you aren’t tempted away from what you are working on.
I use the same trick to get the most from my early morning hours. I make a short list before I head to bed of what I want to work on first thing in the morning and my plan for exercise. This simple routine has led to hundreds of pages of writing for my blog postings, e-books, and articles as well as hundreds of hours for my health. Pretty good results from a simple sticky note!
Copyright (c) 2013 Marathon Communications Inc. All rights reserved. (Used with permission)
Hugh Culver created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), started five companies, and consults to leading companies like Telus, Shoppers Drug Mart, Red Cross, and Bell. He is the author of Give Me a Break-the art of making time work for you.
Discover more tips on working smarter and living better in the age of distraction at http://www.hughculver.com
Article Source: Stop Procrastination Today
Come back on Wednesday for the final part of this great article on procrastination. Let me know what you think of the article, do leave a comment. Others reading the blog would also benefit from your perspective. DRM
Daniel R. Murphy
Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.