How to Stop Procrastinating and Stay Focused

John Tabita
John Tabita

I’ve been writing about taking control of your “to-do” list and managing projects. But what if the root of your problem is that you just can’t seem to get started? Last week, I gave you three tips to help you stop procrastinating. I suggested that you [1] clean off your desk, [2] commit to 25 minutes at a time, and [3] use a timer to keep you on task. Here are four more things to ensure your success.

Use a Pen and Paper

If you’ve been using a digital to-do list to keep track of tasks, now’s the time to turn the technology off. As you prepare to get to work, identify two or three “must do” items from your list and write them down. Then close down your software.

This will accomplish two things. First, it makes your list tangible. Second, it eliminates the temptation to add another item to your digital list while you’re supposed to be working. And while you’re at it, close your browser, email, Facebook, and any other programs you don’t need. Pen and paper will also help with the next step.

Eliminate Distractions and Minimize Interruptions

You’ve eliminated some potential online distractions, but what about external distractions from others? If possible, you can minimize interruptions by letting others know you don’t want to be disturbed for a set amount of time. If it’s not possible to completely shut yourself off, here’s a plan to handle interruptions as they come.

Remember that pen and paper I said you’d need? Assuming you’ve listed your two or three “must do” tasks at the top, leave room at the bottom for low priority items, then get to work. Here’s what will happen: someone will interrupt you. No problem. Tell them you’re right in the middle of something important and you’ll get back to them. Then write that task in the ‘low priority’ section of your list and get back to work. A few minutes later, you realize that you forgot to call your mom back last night. Put it on your list and get back to work.

I’ve found that I interrupt myself far more frequently than others do. The first time I used this technique, only one person interrupted me, but I thought of eight different things I needed to do. Each time one popped into my head, I simply added it to the bottom of my list and continued working.

Turn on Some Music

This is really just my way of tricking myself into thinking that I’m not really cleaning the garage, I’m listening to music. Cleaning the garage becomes something I just happen to be doing while enjoying some tunes. I find this works best with repetitious tasks, like snow shoveling, or with jobs that don’t require much thought, like yard work. If the task at hand demands greater concentration and the music becomes more of a distraction than a help, be sure to turn it off.

Reward Yourself

Last week, I talked about short-term rewards, like taking a 5-10 minute break every 25-minute block. For longer projects, try rewarding yourself for putting in some hours; say a half-hour break every three or four time blocks. How about rewarding yourself once the job’s completed?

So what should you reward yourself with? How about the very things you did to avoid the task or project in the first place? Make a list of things you enjoy and things you find yourself doing to avoid doing the things you don’t. My boys like their iPods and their video games, but those are privileges that must be earned by doing their homework, getting good grades, and completing chores. If that seems juvenile, consider this: you’ve been acting like a child, maybe you need to treat yourself like one for a while.

There are my “best practices” to get unstuck and defeat procrastination. What about you? Post your comments today … not tomorrow.

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