There is a name for the act of putting off work that we don’t like doing, or work that we find difficult or tedious, or just work that we perceive as lacking in urgency, that don’t really need our attention immediately: Procrastination.
It is the mother of all bad habits, one that often leads to problems in managing one’s workflow and time.
According to Kerry Gleeson, founder of PEPWorldwide and author of “The Personal Efficiency Program- How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Win Back Control of Your Work”, this can be overcome by this one simple principle: “Be as clever about completing things as you’ve been about putting them off.”
He observed that people are generally very good at coming up with seemingly valid reasons for not completing a task as soon as it lands on your desk. “Oh, so and so hasn’t emailed me what I need yet” or “Well, this is only really due in three weeks, so I don’t need to start it today” or even “I have other urgent work that I need to complete” are just some of the reasons that employees regularly think of when faced with a new task.
Therefore, what is needed is a shift in perspective; people need to apply that same frame of mind, that same ingenuity for procrastination, towards thinking of ways to complete something as quickly as possible!
Here are just some ideas you can use to overcome the habit of procrastination.
1. Do It Now!
If the task that you have been procrastinating can be completed in fifteen minutes or less, then we heavily encourage you to apply the most basic of our PEP principles; Do It Now! Don’t think too much about whether there is some ideal time in the future where you can squeeze in what might seem like a simple task. This frame of mind is the root cause of inertia for many procrastinators. Some workers have a habit of putting things off precisely because they seem small, or unimportant, or can be done quickly, only to find that the same task never seem to get done!
PEPWorldwide Asia’s experience helping workers be more productive has taught us that these seemingly small, quick tasks often accumulate quickly, and often end up weighing down our clients psychologically, distracting their attention from the more important tasks.
So if you need to give a short reply to one or two emails, pass a file to a colleague, or print something out, do these small tasks now! Do them now precisely because you can get them done within the next few moments, after which you will never have to get back to them again! This will also help to clear your schedule for bigger, more important or time-consuming tasks!
Break down items on your tasklist into small, bite-sized actions. This will make the task seem less overwhelming and much more doable. Instead of writing something like “Organise Work Desk” on your tasklist, break it down into step-by-step actions like “File reports”, “Clear unused paper from drawer”, “clear away broken stationery”, and “Wipe table with disinfectant”.
This method is especially great for people who tend to procrastinate work because they seem too tedious or time-consuming. Another boon you get from using this method is that you get to feel as if you’re accomplishing multiple goals rather than just one!
3. Focus On the Outcome
Some work only seem worth doing because they promise high returns or sizeable rewards, such as writing a proposal that could land a new project or a business deal. In other cases, not doing something could result in highly negative consequences, such as not paying your electrical bills on time.
Either way, if you find yourself procrastinating on tasks that has potentially big ramifications for your future, focus on what will happen if you do or don’t do it by a certain time. Think about the best outcome you could achieve and work towards accomplishing that ideal outcome. Chances are, you will feel motivated to start working.
This is especially pertinent for tasks with inflexible deadlines like paying bills, submission of financial reports, or preparing for a meeting! Not only does this method encourage you to get started on the task right away, it also incentivizes you to perform it as well as you can!
4. Celebrate Milestones
For tasks or work that occupy longer time spans or multiple phases to complete, celebrate each milestone to keep your motivation up! Whether it’s a celebratory lunch with teammates or a quick snack with your other colleagues, just remember to congratulate yourself on achieveing what you have so far.
Marking the smaller milestones after the completion of key stages or phases is a form of positive reinforcement, which helps to solidify a sense of progress and achievement that can help motivate you to push through to the next phase of your project or plan. This will also sustain you psychologically and support your drive to see your project or task to its successful end!
5. Do the Worst First!
Of course, if you’re an executive with multiple responsibilities, you might be procrastinating precisely because your tasklist is full of important, time-consuming tasks. Instead of tackling them head on, you might find that you’re occupying yourself with minor tasks like clearing your desk drawer, or stockpiling on snacks, or listing an inventory of your stationery, all to delay yourself from investing your time, energy, and intellect into a list of difficult work.
In this case, tackling the hardest task on your list might actually be the best way to go. If all the items on your list are time-consuming and difficult, clearing and completing the hardest, most time-consuming one will help to boost your morale and free up your time for the other things on your list.
You’re also likely to perform better; the hardest task should be reserved for when you are at your best, after all! If you “work your way up” to the hardest task on your list, as some people tend to do, you might find yourself too tired or too drained when the time comes for you to clear it, which would actually tempt you into procrastinating again!
If you need help on how to actually tackle the hardest task on your list first, refer to tip number 1!
6. Find an “Unreasonable Buddy”!
Sometimes, what we need to overcome procrastination is just a little bit of teamwork! Ask someone at work you’re close or comfortable with to help monitor your work management. Ideally, this person should be comfortable giving you a talking to when you’re not on task. You should also ensure that whoever you choose is someone you respect enough to listen to or who has the ability to make you listen, to spur you into starting and completing the items on your To-Do list.
Then, share with them your targets and tasklist. Let them know when it is you’re aiming to complete your tasks by. Finally, ask them if they’re willing to keep track of your progress and reprimand you, harshly if necessary, if you’re procrastinating. Some people call this the “Unreasonable Buddy” technique; they’re there to ensure that you don’t get to reason yourself into procrastinating again!
This technique is especially ideal for those who often work in teams or who have close relationships with their colleagues.
7. Public Declaration
Despite this last method’s name, it does not actually require you to make grand declarations in front of a crowd. It does, however, require you to declare, whether to your colleagues, your teammates, or even your superiors–people who matter professionally–that you will get something done by a certain time.
Of course, you have to remember to give yourself an achievable goal as well as a reasonable timeline.
Some might shy away from this method, thinking about the risk that it carries. However, provided that you’ve given yourself enough time to complete a task, the bigger risk is that you don’t stamp out your habit of procrastination, and that it would continue to plague you, potentially for the rest of your career.
This method might also signal to others around you that you’re working on improving yourself, that you are attempting to change for the better. Who knows? They might actually be able to support you better in your endeavor or feel inspired to do the same!
Procrastination is a challenge that many people struggle with, even at the very highest levels of management. However, tackling procrastination doesn’t require rocket science. It mostly boils down to identifying your habits and, depending on the factors that keep enabling you to keep on procrastination, finding the right solutions for yourself! The methods on this list are just some of the many way we at PEPWorldwide Asia deal with procrastination.
Now, you can too!
About the Contributor: