The spreadsheet is 9,287 lines long and it’s laughing at me. I hesitate on line 1 as I prepare to scroll through it, top to bottom, looking for duplicate phone numbers to eliminate. Even though I’ve used an Excel function to highlight the duplicates and make them easier to spot, I know I’m still going to spend the next two or three hours on a mind-numbing search and destroy mission. (Did I mention it’s a balmy 78 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky?) Maybe I’ll just check my email first …
In my past two articles, I’ve written about conquering your “to-do” list and managing projects. Yet all the list-tackling, project-handling advice or software in the world won’t help a bit if you can’t even get started. I’m sure there are many reasons why we procrastinate, but “someone-please-take-a-gun-to-my-head-and-put-me-out-of-my-misery” type of boring tops my list. Here are some others. Feel free to check all that apply.
- I’m not good at the task and I know it will be an exercise in frustration (home repairs come to mind).
- I’d rather fail from lack of trying than have others see me fail and think I’m incompetent.
- I’ll avoiding making a decision because it absolves me of responsibility for the outcome.
- I know I can’t do it perfectly, so I avoid doing it at all.
- I’m passive-aggressive and it’s my way of pissing you off.
Then there’s “re-crastinating” (yeah, I just made that one up), where you procrastinate even more as a result of someone else’s anger or displeasure at the procrastinating you did in the first place:
- I’m already behind schedule, so I procrastinate further to avoid dealing with the stress (which, of course, produces more stress, so I procrastinate more to keep avoiding it …).
- Someone’s mad at me because it’s not done, so rather than springing into action, I become paralyzed with fear.
- There’s no longer a reward or payoff for getting it done. Completing the task won’t even make the other person happy—just relieved. Instead of “Thanks, good job,” the highest praise I’ll ever hear is, “Thank God. It’s about time.”
Regardless of why we procrastinate, the end result is always the same—a broken commitment. With so much at stake in our jobs and our relationships, it ought to be something we strive to overcome. If you’re someone who has never struggled with procrastination, let me suggest a different article of mine to read instead … or perhaps a career as a personal life coach. But if you do struggle, here are a few tips from a still-trying-to-recover, self-professed procrastinator.
Clean Off Your Desk
It’s amazing what a clean desk can do for your frame of mind. If you’re already stressed because you’ve been procrastinating, then sitting down at a desk overflowing with clutter certainly won’t make you feel any better.
Notice I said, “clean off your desk,” not “clean your desk.” That’s because, if your desk looks anything like mine, cleaning it is a project in itself. You need to get some work done ASAP, and the last thing you need is to start cleaning your desk as an excuse to procrastinate even more. I suggest you temporarily remove the clutter from your workspace, even if it means shoving it into a desk drawer or cardboard box (or cargo container) for the time being. Just be sure “clean desk” makes it to your to-do list.
Commit to 25 Minutes
You can do anything for 25 minutes. Sometimes the first step is simply getting started. If the task is so frustrating, overwhelming, or boring that even 25 minutes is more than you can take, then start with 15 minutes, or 5 minutes. Just start, already!
Use a Timer
Regardless of which time block you choose, use a timer to keep on task. Don’t rush—the idea is to work at a normal but focused pace. I start off with a 25 minute time block and take a short break after each.
The first time I tried this, I found myself rushing to get done before the timer sounded. If you find yourself doing the same, take a breath and slow down. The objective is not beat the clock but to defeat the temptation to jump to something else when the task gets tedious. The timer should be something in the back of your mind, keeping you on task, but it also reminds you there’s a 5 or 10 minute break just around the corner …
Start Today, not Tomorrow …
Have a project you loathe hanging over your head? A few unpaid bills that need attention? A hundred images to resize for that client’s photo gallery? Try these three things right now to jump start yourself and get out of procrastination mode.