Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Karen Leland, author of the new book, Time Management In an Instant.
You know what you need to do. You know why you need to do it. You even know what steps you must take to get it done. But there’s one small problem: you can’t seem to get moving. It’s a common problem. Maybe it’s chronic procrastination or maybe you’re just so overwhelmed that you feel paralyzed. Either way, the task you must complete is just sitting there, gathering metaphorical (or perhaps literal) dust, and growing more ominous by the day.
A recently study by Dr. Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary concluded that procrastination is on the rise. According to Steel’s research, in 1978 about 15 percent of the population were considered moderate procrastinators. Today that number is up to 60 percent, a four-fold increase. While procrastination is to some degree a natural phenomenon and can’t be completely eradicated, you can use the following ten strategies to to get in the habit of getting things done.
1. Take advantage of your power hours. Are you an early riser who tackles your morning to-do list with all the gusto of a bear eating honey? Perhaps you’re a night-owl and crank through your most pressing projects at 11:00 p.m.?
Either way, knowing and taking advantage of your natural energy patterns will help you steer clear of procrastination by using your power times to tackle the projects you find most challenging.
2. Focus for five minutes. The hardest part of overcoming procrastination is often just getting started. For a tedious task that you have been putting off try setting a timer for five-minutes and get to work. When the alarm sounds, if you feel like stopping – don’t be surprised if that first five minutes turns into 10, 15 and 20.
3. Create cues. Write down the item you need to do and place it somewhere where you can see it – your refrigerator door, car dashboard, calender, iphone, bathroom mirror. Posting prompts on items you are procrastinating about in a highly visible place, helps remind you to get them done.
4. Use the clout of your calendar: Do you have a task that has been lingering on your to-do list for days, weeks or even (gulp) months? If so, use the clout of your calendar to move from inertia to action. Open your planner or PDA and schedule a specific date and time period when you promise yourself that you will work on that item – and that item only.
5. Decide on the next action: One reason people procrastinate is they feel intimidated by the task as it is currently stated and can’t figure out what to do next. To overcome overwhelm, figure out the next smallest, easiest and most comfortable action you could take to move forward. By breaking down the bigger less defined item into smaller more specific chunks, you tell your mind “I can do this”!
6. Give yourself credit all along the way: The moment you take any action (no matter how small) – give yourself credit. Don’t wait until the entire to-do is complete before experiencing at least some degree of satisfaction and accomplishment.
7. Tackle the hard ones first: Almost everyone has more focus, energy and attention available at the beginning of their workday than at the end. When you have to do a hard task, get it out of the way and do it first thing in the morning. This way it won’t nag at you all day long.
8. Be decisive: Putting off a decision on what to do with that piece of paper won’t be any easier tomorrow than it is today. Train yourself to categorize every item that comes across your desk as something to do now, delegate, dump, or defer. Defer does not mean placing it back in the pile and pretending it does not exist. That is the pathway to procrastination. It means putting it in a dated tickler file, scheduling a time to do it, or moving it to a someday to-do list – where the guilt and stress of procrastination don’t apply.
9. Enlist encouragement. Tell a close friend what you’re going to accomplish by when and ask them to check in on your progress. Going public can create a self-imposed pressure to shun procrastination and perform. Having a buddy who can celebrate your successes, and help you maintain perspective when you procrastinate is invaluable.
10. Play let’s make a deal. To get yourself moving on a hard to do activity, try a bribe. Make a promise to yourself that when you stop procrastinating and take some action on the item, you get a reward. This can be a piece of chocolate, watching a favorite tv show, spending time with your family – anything that you value and will motivate you to get moving.
Karen leland is the bestselling author of the new book Time Management In an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. Feel free to excerpt any or all of this article but please give credit to Karen Leland and the book. You can read more at her blog, or order a copy of the book and receive a free bonus of The Essential Email online program.