by Josh Millar
You’ve probably heard the proverb, ‘‘tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week”. And if you’re a busy professional, perhaps it rings true. It’s not typically due to a lack of motivation or drive. Instead, it’s because our lives are demanding, and there are only so many hours in the day. Without strong time-management skills and intentional effort, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. I’ve always prioritized organization and efficiency, but from time to time, especially when things got particularly hectic, I’d find a tendency to procrastinate creeping in. Here are the strategies I’ve used avoid procrastination and stay in control of how I use and manage my time.
The more organized I am, the less likely I am to procrastinate. When I have a solid schedule and an organized to-do list, I find that I accomplish more and am less stressed by the end of the day. Give yourself a framework. Sometimes we push tasks off simply because we have too much going on in our brains. When you have everything written down in front of you (or clearly organized in an app on your smartphone), all those tasks start to feel a bit more real. It will help you know how much you can reasonably expect to accomplish in a day. When you schedule out your week this way, Monday feels a lot less overwhelming, and Friday doesn’t have the frustration of all the things you couldn’t get to.
Identify the smallest actions possible
When creating that schedule and to-do list, I find it most helpful to think small. If I have a larger project and make a note to work on it, it almost always gets pushed to the bottom of my list, with more specific tasks taking the lead. Break those larger tasks and long-term projects into specific actions. When there’s an item on your to-do list you can check off within an hour, there’s often much less resistance to starting it.
Use time to your advantage
Deadlines can be really useful if you stick to them. For me, this means I need to make them realistic. When you give yourself too many deadlines and too small a timeframe, this strategy can backfire. So, set yourself up for success by identifying a few key tasks that could benefit from being completed by a certain date, and puzzle them into your schedule. That small amount of pressure can create just enough urgency to prevent you from postponing the tasks. Timers are another great strategy. I’ll often use a timer if I have a large project I’m chipping away at or a task with a less-clear endpoint. For example, putting in 45 minutes of time to work on something like a website redesign will ensure that I’m making progress every day, even though I may not complete it for a while.
Get rid of distractions
Think about how you procrastinate. When you put something off, what else are you doing in that time frame? If you have the feeling that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, check in with possible distractions that are sucking your time. Identify the most common distractions in your day, and make sure that these aren’t taking the place of a more important tasks. It seems obvious, but these distractions can sneakily eat up hours of your day if left unchecked.
Set up rewards
Another simple tip, but one that can be surprisingly useful. This one goes without much explanation, but setting up some rewards for completing tasks, especially those you’re most likely to put off, is a great way to boost your motivation to tackle them.
As someone who often works from home, I don’t have that office community of fellow workers around me. Whether it’s a friend, family member, coworker, or mentor, making the effort to build a relationship that will help hold you accountable to making progress can be a great way to keep yourself on track.
If you’re still feeling the urge to procrastinate…
Here’s the backup plan. If you’re going to procrastinate, make it advantageous. If you’re going to delay sending those work emails until after lunch, use that time to do something else you know you’re putting off, like tidying up your desk. Sometimes we’re just craving a different type of task, and our energy might be best directed elsewhere. I wouldn’t use this one all the time, but when you can’t help but delay something until later in the day or week, put that time to good use with something else that might have gotten delayed. Sometimes, you’ll find it’s simpler to just finish the original task you were going to put off.
Procrastination can become a deep-rooted habit if you allow it to become your norm. That’s why I try to avoid it whenever possible. I do my best work and am most happy when I feel in control of my time. Procrastinating causes me to give up some of that control, and it tends to cause more stress down the line. These strategies have really helped me keep procrastination from sabotaging my other time-management efforts. Does procrastination ever get in your way? What strategies do you use to combat it? I’d love to hear what you think!