Note: this blog originally published in April 2011.
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’m funny about it, though. If I have a tough work assignment, and I’m putting it off, I won’t do something fun; I’ll do something just one notch down on the un-fun to-do list, like vacuuming or paying bills. That way, I get to feel productive even though I’m not doing what I should be doing.
Tick, tick, tick. Time flies when you’re procrastinating. Suddenly, under the gun, I’m able to focus like a chess master and complete the task well enough, sometimes even really well, in the just the amount of time available. Often, to the minute. Which feels great. Problem is, the stress is probably taking years off my life. And one of these days, it will backfire. Uh-oh.
I’m working on getting better, and you can too. Here are some tricks and tips for just doing it instead of putting if off.
Break it down
Every task, no matter how gigantic, is a series of steps. (Building pyramid: step one – find a brick). So break it down to a granular level. Making a phone call can be step. Writing a title can be a step. Huge projects feel overwhelming; baby steps feel doable.
Break it up
The hardest part is always—trust me—getting started. Once you let yourself get involved, you will feel some momentum. So: decide on an amount of time, an hour, half hour, even 15 minutes, and set a timer. Allow yourself to dive in, knowing the agony will last only as long as the time allowed. Then you can move on, guilt-free, for a period of time. Repeat as needed.
Unhinge your brain
(If your task does not involve thinking in any way, this may not apply.) Let your thoughts wander around the topic. Get out paper and pen and draw. Play random-association games. Books on creativity may be helpful too.
Change your setting
Can you work somewhere other than your desk? If so, go to a library, a coffee shop, or someplace where nothing is familiar. This can be freeing.
Talk it out
Find someone who can be a sounding board, and talk about the task: the challenges, the steps, the hoped-for outcome, whatever. This can spark ideas, so consider recording your talk or keeping a notebook with you to jot down ideas or breakthroughs.
Reward your progress
Give each of the steps in your breakdown a check box, and enjoy making those checks as a step is completed. Milestones get bigger rewards. Then you’re done. Ta da!