I’m a procrastinator. Please help!
How to manage your time? That’s easy. Just don’t procrastinate!
Whenever someone says that to me, I feel like clapping them on the back and saying, “Thank you so much! You just solved all my problems. I will never procrastinate again!”
If only it were that simple!
The reality is, that there are many things going on in the mind and heart of a procrastinator. A lack of focus, poor organization, and sometimes just overwhelming anxiety about failing. This can cause someone to leave a project to the last minute, even with the best of intentions.
How about some real help for you procrastinators out there?
Here are some secrets to mastering those projects and accomplishing your goals.
1. Create a Master Task List
A master task list comprises those things that you were hired to do but somehow never quite get to. For most of my career, I worked as an English teacher. The work of planning lessons, instructing, and grading took up so much time that it was easy for me to forget about some of the other things that I had been hired to do.
If I knew about the master task list, mine would have looked something like this:
- Effectively integrate technology in the classroom
- Build a World Language program in the lower grades
- Vertically align with other World Language teachers
- Advocate for the World Language program in my school
The next step is to take each of these headings and break them down into smaller tasks.
Effectively integrate technology in the classroom:
- Attend relevant workshops and conferences
- Schedule meetings with the school’s Technology Integrator
- Get involved with online forums and discussion groups about the use of technology in the classroom
As you can see, none of these tasks are particularly urgent. However, they are important because they are directly tied to the job description.
Over time, I was so bogged down in urgent, day-to-day demands that most of these important tasks got postponed until Never. A master task list would have been a huge help to avoid that mistake.
2. Make a To-Do List
Like most abstract random procrastinators out there, I tend to be skeptical of the old-fashioned to-do list. How is it going to help me to write down what I need to, “Finish Procrastination Article?”
I already know that I need to finish it, as well as wash the car and go grocery shopping. Do I really need to write that down?
One thing that I have learned over time is that a carefully constructed to-do list makes a huge difference to the ability to set goals and accomplish them.
For most of my life, my to-do lists looked something like this:
Now, there are several problems with the list. First of all, the article needs to be done today but it’s the third item, after “clean house,” which is so vague that it could potentially mean spending five hours going through my son’s old school papers.
Also if I was supposed to text a friend about plans to get together that day, it’s not going to work really well if 5 PM rolls around and I am still only on the third item on the list.
I have found that procrastinating often translates into being a bad friend who either doesn’t show up or cancels plans at the last minute.
Instead, try some different things the next time you create a to-do list to make it more effective. For one thing, make sure that no task on your list will take you more than an hour or two to complete. If it is a huge task (like cleaning the house), break it down into smaller ones (such as “dust the living room” or “clean the bathroom sink.”).
Then, prioritize each of the tasks on your list based on their level of urgency. If it is absolutely crucial that this task is completed today, prioritize it as near the top. It is a very important but slightly less crucial task, put it in the middle.
It can also help to assign the different priorities of tasks a letter of the alphabet (A-D, with A being the most important). Then go through your list in the order of importance.
To make your to-do list even more effective, make not just one list, but several – ideally three. Make one list of long-term goals (such as becoming healthier, getting my Master’s degree, etc.). Keep a second list of weekly projects. Your third list should be a high-impact task list – things that absolutely must get done that day.
Make sure the list is reasonable. If it is ridiculously long, cut it in half and put the other tasks on a different list instead. Be careful to accurately estimate the amount of time that it will take you to accomplish each task.
Make the tasks very specific (“Make an appointment with a career counselor”) rather than vague (“Figure out how to find a new career”). And definitely write that phone number right there on your to-do list, so you can power through your tasks without having to waste any time searching for it.
Start afresh with a new to-do list every day. But keep a list of tasks that you already completed for that well-earned sense of accomplishment. And don’t forget, you really will have to schedule some time each day for all this list-making; otherwise, it won’t get done!
3. Remove Yourself from Time-Suckers
Very often, the moment everyone in my house goes to bed is the time that I rush to open my laptop so I can get work done. Especially when I was teaching, this was the only time that I had for grading, a task which was necessary but which I loathed to the core of my being.
It’s amazing how many distractions and time-wasters just magically come your way when you are confronted with a task that you’re not very excited about. Even though we had just had dinner a little while ago, I wanted a snack. I needed to go to the bathroom. I needed some tea. I needed some wine. Oh, whoops, now it’s too late at night. I’m too tired to do this anyway!
If you are serious about focusing on the task at hand, set aside a space where you can work without distractions. Office space of some kind is ideal, either in your house or in somewhere else. That space needs to be kept free from food, noise, television, or other things that will divert your attention.
Much harder to do is to turn off the distraction and noise of social media. I still remember how impossible it was to finish writing comments on report cards when just a click away was my Facebook tab, where I could check on what all my friends might be doing.
I would tell myself that I was just taking a short break but would end up wasting hours of time scrolling through and reacting to updates.
Instead, you may use some time-saving apps such as Buffer for your social media accounts.
When faced with a daunting task, sign out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your friend’s blog, the newest online dating site, everything. You will accomplish a lot more work that is meant much more quickly, and then you can always promise yourself the small reward of a designated amount of time checking Facebook once you have finished your work.
4. Get off the Treadmill
I don’t know about you, but I find that I sometimes have very unrealistic ideas about the length of time it’s going to take me to complete a task.
For example, I will not even think twice about throwing a graduation party for my son on the same weekend that I have to write an article and finish my grades.
In my head, it goes something like this:
- I will just do my grades tonight while the kids are in bed.
- It will take me a couple of hours to write an article. I can do that while they watch a movie on Saturday night.
- It will only take me an hour or so to cook food and clean the house for the party.
Easy, right? No problem!
Except that the time allotted to these tasks is completely unrealistic. It also doesn’t allow for any unforeseen circumstances, such as a friend unexpectedly dropping by on Saturday night or having to run to the store because I forgot to buy salsa for the party.
So remember to plan your time realistically! Take into account everything you have to do within the same time frame, and make sure you are not agreeing to do something impossible.
And sometimes if you have a lot of things on your plate at one time, all of which are very important, you may have to sacrifice some other activity to make sure that you can get it all done.
5. Break Big Projects into Smaller Tasks
Am I the only one out there who has had “Write a novel” on my to-do list for the past ten years?
Weirdly, I keep putting it there, but it never quite gets done.
Well, that’s an extreme example, but it just goes to show you that the larger and more overwhelming the project, the more reasons you can find to procrastinate.
Perhaps if I wrote one specific task each day, like, “Write a dialogue about the fight between X and Y.” And on another day, “Write back story of new character Z.”
Now if I had assigned myself a small task like that every day for the last ten years, the results would be very different. As it is, I become daunted and lose interest because I have no idea exactly where to start or what to do next.
It is always the biggest task that we tend to procrastinate the most. Unfortunately, this pattern only makes our plight worse because a project becomes even more overwhelming when you are faced with completing the entire thing, all at once, at the last minute. Instead, deal with the stress immediately by analyzing the task and breaking the task into smaller parts. This will help you feel that you can manage it better.
Here are some helpful guidelines for time management:
- Start by looking at your end goal; make sure you understand what needs to be done to get there.
- Analyze every part of the task and figure out each small step that needs to be done.• Put these steps into a logical sequence. (What needs to be done first? What needs to be done second?”)
- Give yourself a realistic but firm deadline for each individual task.
- Schedule the time that you need to accomplish these tasks, and make sure you stick with that schedule.
- Aim to complete your task early so that you can review and check it.
6. Use Eisenhower’s Principle
Eisenhower never stood out in my mind for any particular reason. He was not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, nor did he bring America out of the Great Depression. I couldn’t imagine what he might have done to have a “principle” named after him. But it turns out that he once famously stated, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
List all of your tasks and activities, and put each into one of the following categories:
- Important and urgent.
- Important but not urgent.
- Not important but urgent.
- Not important and not urgent.
Then complete the tasks in their order of priority, with “important and urgent” tasks first.
7. Allow Others to Help
Ask for help? Anything but that!
I can’t tell you how many times I have been up to my neck in impossible tasks. I would never have wanted anyone to I was struggling! How embarrassing. I was supposed to be able to handle this single-mom, working-parent thing all on my own.
The truth is, no matter how things might appear on the outside, we all have moments in life when we need to ask for help with something. That’s just part of being human and of being a wise leader who can delegate tasks. You should learn how to delegate your tasks for time management.
Turning to a coworker, friend, or family member in times of need will help build strong connections and relationships. There are emotional and spiritual benefits to helping others. By giving those around you the opportunity to support you, you are actually helping them by letting them help you.
Okay, I Think I Can Do This!
Procrastination is a very complex problem that encompasses many of our deeper feelings of fear and motivation. But as you can see, there are very practical steps you can take to conquer it. In the long run, overcoming procrastination will make you a happier and stronger person.
Have you tried any of these tips? How did they work for you?
What Are Some of Your Own Procrastination Secrets?
If you have ideas about procrastination that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!
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