Procrastinating is familiar to most people. I’ve struggled with it all my life. Along the way I convinced myself that I needed the last minute pressure to produce good work. As a business owner, it is a sure way to lackluster performance and lots of guilt when you can’t deliver. Maybe our lizard brain figures if we lay low and it will magically disappear somehow. Truth is that we all have reasons to procrastinate, but giving in to it leaves us stuck in a big way. So how do you get unstuck? Let’s break this down and get on with the work we need to do. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:
Turn The Hulk into David Banner
Would you ever try to reason with The Incredible Hulk? He isn’t listening at all. He’s thinking, “Hulk SMASH!” Well, if you focus on the BIG project, then all you’re going to see is how difficult, massive and out of control everything feels. Now let’s try this with David Banner. He’s logical, calm and reasonable. You can approach him with your plan and he’ll listen. You’ll be able to take a small step and get closer to completing your goal. The key is to take the task you’re procrastinating about and break it down in to smaller steps. Once you do this, it’s easy to see that there is actually a process in play with steps that need to be carried out in order. Now you’ll know exactly where to start first. For example, if I procrastinate on creating an email newsletter it would help if I can step back and break this down into smaller steps. First, I need to gather the information I want to include. Do I have an article? Photos? Events to promote? Then I can worry about how to lay it out, which list to send it to, schedule it and then check the reports after. Not so bad once I look at the individual pieces. Daunting if I just see it “The Big Hairy Newsletter”.
Milestones Are Not Just for Project Managers
All big, complicated tasks have many milestones and intermediate deadlines. These can be brought down to the level of daily tasks that give the satisfaction of crossing off on a to-do list. If you identify a milestone as a point of progress after a set of tasks are done, you’ll feel better knowing that you are getting closer to finishing your Big Task. Every step takes you forward even if it feels like you’re sliding from side to side. Milestones help you see that progress and give you a quiet win on your way to completion.
Honey, I Shrunk the Tasks But They’re Still Scary
Ok so you took a big task and broke it down into smaller activities and you’re still stuck? If you’re still procrastinating chances are you need to chip away at those tasks some more. If you can take a task and see individual activities in it, then it isn’t small enough. A task that takes two minutes is much easier to handle than something that takes an hour. You’re more likely to be motivated to take on the smaller task for the reward of feeling the ‘swoosh’ when you cross it off the list. Your tasks can never be too small.
You Say Tomato, I Say Pomodoro
One of the best things I stumbled on was the Pomodoro Method. It helps me focus and it can help when I’m truly procrastinating on a big project. Pomodoro breaks up activities into 25 minute chunks with a 5 minute break after each cycle. These time limits let me know that even if the task isn’t exactly fun, it’s only going to last less than half an hour. Plus I get a breather right after. I find it easy to focus on something for a short amount of time even if I have to put it away unfinished. By working on a bigger project in smaller time slots, I can make steady progress versus procrastinating for days and then staying up all night to meet a deadline. Giving yourself a time limit allows you to work on other tasks so you don’t feel trapped in one activity. Just remember to come back to the unfinished work. Use Project Management software like Asana for reminders or just put it in your calendar for the next day.
Write Your Plan with a Pencil
Now don’t go making a super detailed plan that is so over-planned it includes how much time you spend in the Powder Room. You need to be flexible. I’m always telling myself to write my life with a pencil, well that applies here too. You can’t possibly predict every scenario and if there’s one thing I know for sure… life will throw me a curve ball just when I get comfortable. Don’t worry about creating a big complicated spreadsheet with minutia. Just make a plan for the first few steps and start working on those. Then you can plan for the next few as you hit your milestone. Now if you need to make a change you don’t have to change a bunch of lists. It’s well known that over-planning in itself can be another way to procrastinate. Take it from me, you can get really good at Excel but it won’t help when work doesn’t get completed.
Ready? Break Down the Next Three Steps and Get Crackin’
So let’s go! What big task are you putting off lately? Write down the next three steps and get on it. Once you’re done with those celebrate with a nice cool drink and plan your next three moves. Doesn’t that sound better than pulling an all-nighter? You may not totally eliminate procrastination from your life, but you will do it less and get more done in the process.