August 1, 2012
Three techniques to beat procrastination (now!)
I'm a classic procrastinator. I've been a procrastinator since I was a kid and my mom would give me an hour to clean my room. I'd play happily for 55 minutes and then, keeping careful watch on the light-up Care Bear clock on my nightstand, I'd spring into action for the last five minutes, whipping toys into bins and speed-organizing my desk. It looked great, but not before the second hand hit 60 minutes exactly.
Not much has changed. I actually believe, in part, that procrastination has helped me. I can be super-focused when necessary, and I manage my time well.
The problem for me is that procrastination leads to high levels of stress. Because there's always the chance that you'll run out of time, that you won't make the deadline. Old habits die hard, but they can be changed.
Do you procrastinate? Do you wish you were one of those organized people who are ahead of the game and always prepared, and who even have the bandwidth for extra credit because they got going on their assignment early?
Here are three techniques to beat procrastination:
Time boxing. The premise of this technique is that you can push yourself into productivity by creating a box of time for work, followed by a rewarding period of free time to recharge. Steps:
1. Identify your task(s)
2. Set a timer (have a special timer just for this purpose, one that is separate from your computer or phone so you cannot ignore or hide it) for 25 minutes
3. Work on only that task until the timer is done
4. Take a five-minute break in which you do something enjoying or rewarding (coffee or snack, walk or stretch, game, social networking, etc.)
5. Start another time box
6. After a set number of timed sessions (try four), take a longer break.
Learn more about time boxing here.
Solar flaring. The idea here is to start off with something very small, a task that is easy to do and not very intimidating, and then use your forward momentum to get more work done.
The reason this works so well for some people despite being so simple is that many of us actually become demoralized by our own procrastination. The longer we wait, the less we have done, the worse we feel about ourselves and the more energy we begin to put toward worrying that we can never get the work done.
This is the technique that works best for me. I tell myself that I am only going to do a series of small, simple tasks. I do a few, and suddenly my conscience begins to feel a little clearer. The mountain of work suddenly seems more scalable. And then I'm off and working.
Some real-world examples that illustrate the way this works on the mind:
• You don't want to work out. Fine, just put on your gym clothes and go for 10 minutes. But once you do those 10 minutes, you're in it and you've got the momentum you need. You won't want to stop.
• You can't deal with all the email replies you need to get to. Fine, just go to your inbox and scan the scope of it. And then most of the time, once you're in there, you'd rather tackle it then and there than walk away.
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle. In 1906, an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered that 20 percent of the Italian population owned 80 percent of the nation's wealth. Further studies revealed that the Pareto principle, as it became known, affects us all. The common thinking in business and productivity is that 20 percent of your efforts or tasks produce 80 percent of your results. And that is where you need to focus most of your energy.
Begin by making a list of all your tasks, jobs and responsibilities. Order the list from most important to least important, keeping in mind which tasks are going to produce the biggest results. Then focus the bulk of your energy on the tasks at the top of the list.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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