Procrastination – don’t wait for it to stall you!

I have a book at home called “How to overcome Procrastination”, but I’ve never got around to reading it!

Procrastination usually involves putting things off even though we know it will have a negative impact. If we leave things until the last minute then generally stress levels go up, flexibility goes down and often the quality of the work is not as good as it could be.

In a recent presentation that I heard by Dermot Crowley, an adviser from “Adapt Productivity”, he shared some interesting ideas about minimising procrastination that I thought I would share with you.

Crowley advised that making a “to do” list is only the first step to minimising procrastination.  He recommended taking that to another level and scheduling forward the items on the “to do” list into your calendar or diary. Essentially converting procrastination into prioritisation.

He pointed out that procrastination is, by definition, putting things forward until tomorrow. Prioritisation is also putting things off to a future time, but includes scheduling appropriate time in the future to address and complete the tasks. Prioritisation includes an additional level of organisation and planning.

We will never get rid of procrastination, but we can reduce its impact by firstly, recognising that it is happening and then calling ourselves out on it for what it is. Secondly, we need to work out why we are procrastinating. Sometimes we put things off because the task is complex, difficult, or because we don’t like it, or because it’s going to take us a long time. If you can work out why you’re procrastinating, then you can do something about it.

One solution that he recommends for a complex or difficult task that we are putting off, is to take a few minutes and create a “thumbnail sketch” of the complex task, breaking it down into smaller components. Then it’s easier to start working on one of the smaller components and then another and another, compared to thinking about the whole task and finding it all too difficult to even start.

Often people are very good at planning at an organisation or team level, but to overcome procrastination, Crowley recommends planning at a personal level. That involves connecting between your actions and your outcomes, essentially making sure you are working on the right work. He recommends taking time out to plan on a monthly, weekly and daily basis.

At the start of the month he sets aside about an hour to work out what are his top 10 priorities for the month ahead. By setting these priorities, it helps him keep focus on the important issues, in amongst all of the other matters that arise throughout the month. This monthly planning helps him keep perspective on the day to day activities and hopefully enforces him to create some space to get the tasks completed.

On a weekly basis, he spends about 30 minutes planning his week. He does this on a Friday morning because it enables him to be a step ahead on Monday morning. On a Friday, he is more aware of the next week priorities, based on what has happened in the current week. Part of this weekly planning also involves looking forward several weeks to plan ahead for upcoming tasks.

On a daily basis he spends about 10 minutes, early in the day, planning out his priorities. That is all about focus, scheduling in meetings and must do events and then honing in on what are the six or eight things that he really wants to get done today.

At the end of the day, your plans are always going to come unstuck because emergencies and interruptions will always arise that will mess things up. However, because you have been through the planning process, it will help you decide your best course of action as those interruptions come in. Essentially, the plan is the starting point and it will change and that’s OK. But if you’ve been through a planning process, you are likely to ask yourself, is this interruption more important than what I had planned to do? You will then make more informed decisions about your activities and be less likely to just react to whatever comes along during the day, even if it seems urgent!

My take on all of this is that it’s worth a try. If we keep doing the same things, we can’t expect a different outcome. If we can keep improving by one percent by trying new things then, over time, if we look back, we’ll have come along way.

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