Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. ~Don Marquis
Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday. ~Author Unknown
Every duty which is bidden to wait returns with seven fresh duties at its back. ~Charles Kingsley
The sooner I fall behind, the more time I have to catch up. ~Author Unknown
If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done. ~Author Unknown
Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. ~Robert Benchley
There are a million ways to lose a work day, but not even a single way to get one back. ~Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
The trick is to work out the exact reason why you're afraid of failing.
Often, you'll realise that there is some technical reason you don't want to attempt the task - that is, you just don't have the knowledge or skills required to do it. The answer is to be straight up about it with both yourself and others. Either you have to learn the skill to the point where you can do the task (in which case, you'll find that the task becomes rewarding once you are competent at it, rather than a driver for procrastination), or you have to delegate or abandon the task. Don't just leave it! We all know where that leads - a bad place of bad consequences in your life, and just more stress.
Sometimes, there is nothing physically stopping you from doing the task, but the problem is all in your head. What are you afraid of? Perhaps it's looking like a fool if you fail, being embarrassed. Perhaps you don't want to fail for yourself - you feel like you just can't live with yourself if you fail. Perhaps you have a parent, spouse or co-worker who will censure and criticize you if you fail. Regardless, you have to realistically think to yourself, "What's the worst that can happen?" In 99% of cases, the worst case scenario is some hurt feelings - and even that can be alleviated by teaching yourself to be a little more thick skinned. In any case, it's got to be better to have tried and failed than to not have tried at all - think of that enormous stress you have to carry around when you don't even attempt the thing you're procrastinating about in the first place!
The main lesson to take away is that failure is a natural part of life. Just because you fail once at a particular task doesn't mean that you yourself are a failure. The guy who doesn't try at all is the real loser, who doesn't have the courage to at least try once, and lives his life crippled by his fear and doubt. The guy who tries, fails, then picks himself, learns from his mistakes and tries again until he succeeds is the real winner - that takes real guts! But you'll find that the rewards and the boost to your self esteem far outweigh the pain of any purely temporary setbacks.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Admitting that you have a problem - admitting that you procrastinate!
You actually have to acknowledge that you procrastinate and that it's a real problem for you. You have to acknowledge on a tangible level that you put things off that you need to be doing and that this habit is having real, concrete negative effects on your life - robbing you of time, making you do a last minute, inadequate rush job on important tasks, and adding massive amounts of stress to your life. Procrastination is a very real problem in many people's lives and, much like other psychological issues like drug and alcohol addiction, the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Once the problem is out in the open, you can start making real steps towards change. Don't blame yourself, or beat yourself because you procrastinate - it doesn't mean you're a bad or worthless person! It just means you have a few mental blocks that need to be removed so you can get on with getting things done. So don't put your head in the sand about your procrastination and keep letting it silently ruin your life - admit you have a problem, then start doing something about it!
Sunday, September 30, 2007
2) Make a list of reasons that you'll benefit when you achieve your goal.
3) Make a commitment as to when you're going to work on your task - schedule the time into your diary.
4) Break large challenging tasks into smaller incremental tasks that are easier to manage.
5) It's sometimes easier to start a large task by getting the shorter, easier task done first.
6) Ask for help if you need it - don't wallow and procrastinate if you get stuck!
7) Try looking at your task in terms of the long term benefits to your life, or the role of the task in the big picture.
8) Try to minimize the personal problems which distract you from your important goals.
9) Relish your successes and don't beat yourself up about your failures - instead learn from them so you don't repeat your own mistakes!
10) Reward yourself when you finish something difficult or achieve a goal, no matter how small - and relax and have the occasional blowout after you've accomplished something major!
If the goals you set don't have a deadline, then there's no impetus pushing you forward to get you to act. It's much easier to procrastinate if you don't have a set deadline looming over you. It's also much easier to procrastinate if you don't have any set goal you want to accomplish! Obviously the first step in taking action is deciding what that action should be - which means breaking down your overall goal into manageable steps, and then working out how you're going to accomplish each step and your time frame for doing it. If you can make a good plan like this, then you'll find that the work pretty much falls into place. Especially if every day you're going to be doing this, then this, then this, then it's much easier to just get your materials together and get going, rather than mucking around all day and procrastinating because you don't even really know what you're supposed to be doing. It's also a really great feeling to just focus on doing the work you've set for yourself today, and know that if you do this stuff today, you're building on what you did yesterday, and setting yourself up for success tomorrow. With a good plan and good goals you know that you can achieve your aim in the time required, doing a good a job and not getting too stressed out about it or working long hours - because you made your plan and got to it without fluffing around.
All procrastination is a form of self sabotage. Most of the time, if you actually just do the things that you’re putting off, your life would be measurably improved, both from having the tangible end result achieved and the release of the stress and pressure you’ve accumulated from not doing the task. The ever-increasing stress of NOT doing your work can grow to totally dominate your life and be very debilitating if left unchecked. The thing is that no one actually sets out to sabotage their own lives - it’s just the accumulation of habits, decisions and micro-actions that cause you to leave things undone.
It’s especially difficult to force yourself to do something you don’t really want to be doing when there’s no one breathing down your neck. It’s a sunny day outside and you can’t really be bothered writing that boring report, and you’ve got one more day to do it, or you could do it tonight - so you put it off and go to the beach. All that time you’re at the beach, however, you can’t really seem to relax - because you know you’ve got work to do and that you don’t really have a firm plan for doing it.
Here are some strategies to help you both relax and get your stuff done in these kinds of situations:
1) Make a plan
Even if you do end up going to the beach (and you might have a good reason to), make a detailed, concrete plan of how you’re going to get the rest of your project done in the time you have - for example, by working on it tonight and the following day. Just whack out a reasonable plan, make sure you haven’t left anything out, then store it on top of your notes in your work area or stick it to the front of the fridge. The plan will be processing in the back of your mind throughout the day, so when you actually start working you’ll have a real head start. Knowing that you have a decent plan for getting everything done means you can relax at the beach and not consciously stress about it all day. Perhaps after you made your plan you will see that you actually have more work than you thought, and that you can’t actually afford to take the day off today - if this is the case, then good! Realism is your friend, and seeing that you have a tight deadline will help motivate you to get started right away. Sometimes you just have to do what you’ve got to do.
2) Pretend you have an external boss
Sometimes you sabotage yourself by not deciding on a concrete plan of action and you just meander around, flitting from task to task and never really getting anything substantial done. One way around this is to pretend that you have a boss. Not the kind of boss you hate, but a boss who is strict but fair, and who wants to get the job done but for everyone to be happy while they work. Ask yourself, what would the boss want me to do if I had one? A good manager would determine what the concrete desired end outcome is and create a fixed goal, and a set of requirements to determine when the goal is met, along with a deadline for achieving it. Then he’d break down the goal into step by step components along with deadlines and requirements for each step, and motivate the troops to get going. For the planning process, it’s useful to pretend that you are the boss and that you have to present a concrete plan to your superiors in the morning. This forces you create a realistic plan with concrete goals and deadlines - not just waffle that would only be half way to accomplishing the task at hand. Then when you come to actually work your plan, pretend you have this tough-but-fair boss telling you what needs to be done, and what your next task is. If you have a good plan, you can just get down to it and focus on that small component of the overall job, without thinking too much about the size or complexity of the plan as a whole.
Here are three things you can do which will help you overcome the inertia of just getting started:
1) Clear the calculator
Motivation expert Brian Tracy talks about “clearing the calculator” before you start. This means taking a moment to clear everything extraneous off your desk, and sitting back in your chair, closing your eyes, and just focusing on the task at hand. Run through the steps you need to take in your mind, focusing on the benefits of completing the task and how great you’re going to feel once you’ve got it off your plate. Get everything out of your mind except for the task at hand. It’s like pressing the “Clear All” button on a calculator - all that messy stuff from the day up until now just slides away, and you’re clear, focused and ready to go.
2) Make a list
If you’re like me, sometimes you just flounder around with no direction when you’re trying to work, doing a little on this thing, a little on something else, and by the end of the day you feel like you’ve got nothing done. The solution is to make and work from a good list. Make a list of all the main jobs you have to do today, or in this work session, then make bullet points of all the subtasks to complete each job. Once you start, you whack through them start to finish, always building on the work you’ve just done and getting everything done in a fraction of the time, with no wasted energy. Your productivity will soar once you start consistently working from a list, and you’ll feel fantastic about the way you’re churning through your to-do list.
3) Prepare everything you need before you start
Before you start, assemble everything you need in one place - all your notes, resource materials, pens and scrap paper, water bottle etc. Make sure your desk is clear and organized, with only the stuff you need laid out exactly where you need it. This means you can just come in, sit down and get started. This one works even better if you do it the night before, and especially well if you write your to-do list the night before too - your brain will be working subconsciously on the list over night, and you’ll find yourself just nailing that to-do list like never before.