I’m not immune to a bit of procrastination, and neither are my coaching clients, but over the years, experience has shown there are some simple strategies to avoid it. If you find yourself doing distraction activities like hoovering or reorganising your filing system, here are my tips to getting things done:
- Make sure your tasks are clear. Procrastination sometimes happens because we’re unclear about what we need to do. Most projects need to be broken down into tasks. If you’re not sure of what the first step is, try planning backwards. Work back from the final goal – what will you be doing immediately before that to make it happen? And immediately before that? And so on, until you get to the very first step.
- Have a list. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, recommends using lists as ways of removing our ‘cognitive load’. Sometimes we don’t do stuff because we forget, or there’s too much in our heads. Whether you like a written list, or an app, having it written helps us to focus on our priorities.
- Build up momentum with some easy first steps. If the first one is a real challenge, no wonder you’re putting it off. Break it down further into something that’s do-able. For example, if your first step towards your goal of buying a property is to ask for a pay rise, that’s hard for nearly everyone. Instead, think of what you need to do to get yourself in a good position. Add the steps: researching your pay market comparisons; noting down your achievements; rehearsing the conversation with your boss; then having the discussion.
- Notice how you’re feeling about the job in hand. Sometimes, procrastination is our subconscious telling us we’re not that committed to the goal. Give yourself some time to think it through. What would happen if you did nothing? What’s the best that could happen if you achieved your goal? What do you worry might happen while trying to get there or if you did get there? Worst case, best case, most likely case?
- Visualise the end goal and the step/s you’re taking next. When you visualise, make it positive, colourful, full of joy, excitement, action or whatever you find motivating. Replay that visualisation as if it was a video, several times.
- As you complete each task towards getting the job done, reward yourself. This might be a mental pat on the back, or a more tangible reward.
- Use your high-energy phases to do the hard stuff. Many people have times of day when they are most focused, with higher energy. For me, late morning and late evening are my best times (though not many people like me calling at midnight!), whilst first thing in the morning is a zombie haze. Notice your best time for productivity or focus. Save those moments for your challenging tasks and do the easier, routine stuff when you’re lower in energy.
- Lastly, the only thing worth procrastinating is procrastination. Cut yourself some slack if you procrastinated yesterday. Today is a new chance to get something done. If something’s not done by the end of one day, put it to the top of your list for the next day.
Colin Jones-Evans is an executive and performance coach with Two Rivers Coaching. For more information go to www.tworiverscoaching.co.uk