I apologize for the tongue-twister title of today’s blog; I love a good alliteration! It’s been a while since my last blog post because I had trouble coming up with a topic. I value your time and do not want to send something irrelevant.
Last week, I confessed to some close friends that I felt stuck and was procrastinating on sending a post, and they gave me the great idea of writing about procrastination! So here I am….back at it.
So you may be wondering about the title. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a theme with some clients who tend towards perfectionism. While perfectionism sometimes has a negative connotation, for this article’s purposes, let’s define it as a desire to do one’s best work and not share or submit something where you are not proud of the quality.
The paradox lies in these two diverging views:
- If I start early, this project will take up whatever time I give it until the due date. As a result, I will likely spend more time on it than I should.
- If I procrastinate and allow less time, I can blame it on not allocating enough time if the project is not well-received. If it is well-received, then I spent the right amount of time on it.
Many of my clients are high achievers. They have done well in school, attended top universities, and are considered high potential employees. Those who identify as procrastinators sometimes believe that there is no harm in procrastinating if they still perform well.
Typically, we procrastinate when it’s a task we dislike or something seems like a huge undertaking or is too difficult. Sometimes, it’s the fear of failing that keeps us from ever getting started. According to Dr. Timothy Pychyl at Carlton University in Ottawa, the real reason we procrastinate is to avoid negative emotions. Check out this NY Times article to learn more.
It is easier to tackle easier, mindless tasks and put off (procrastinate) the harder ones. The harder ones can lead to possible failure, self-doubt, and insecurity. We can avoid these negative emotions (or, so we think) by delaying. Of course, in the future, you will still need to tackle the tasks.
Trying to get yourself to work on complex tasks after a long day or when you are tired is even more challenging.
So what can you do when you are tempted to procrastinate?
HERE ARE FIVE STEPS TO BEAT PROCRASTINATION
1. Break large projects into small, doable tasks. You know the joke: “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Accomplishing small pieces of the larger task will empower and encourage you to keep going. Small tasks reduce the feeling of overwhelm associated with a daunting project and enable you to build on successes.
2. Each evening, look at what needs to get done. For every task on your list, estimate how long you think it will take to complete. Be sure to over-estimate. Things usually take a little longer than we expect. Distractions, interruptions, and technology issues seem to creep in and take up more time than we intend. Assign a degree of difficulty to each item on your list. You can create your own scale or simply use 1 to represent easy, 2 for medium, and 3 for hard.
3. Schedule specific times to get work done. On your calendar, fill in meetings and other fixed obligations. Then, prioritize the items on your to-do list. Making appointments in your calendar to do specific work will enable you to get tasks done more efficiently. You will also find that scheduling your day makes you realize that there is plenty of time to do things you enjoy (reading, dinner with the family, watching a movie, etc.) Your calendar is a great tool and will serve as your road map each day.
4. Consider the times during the day when you are most alert and attentive. Everyone has windows of peak performance. Simply put, it’s the time of day when you find it easiest to focus and get your most challenging work done. Schedule your more arduous tasks during these times but be sure to allow for regular breaks. If you find yourself tired and sluggish in the late afternoon, be sure to plan easier work to be done during that time.
5. The Pomodoro method. This method of time management was created in Italy in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique suggests using a timer set for 25 minutes of concentration followed by 5 minutes of relaxation. You can use this as a guide or adjust the 25 to 20 minutes if that’s your optimal working time. Other recent research suggests that the optimal mix is 52 minutes of deep work followed by 17 minutes of rest.
Instead of trying to tackle everything at once or jumping right into a monstrous project, next time, take the time to plan. Breaking large assignments into smaller tasks will enable you to have a series of small successes upon which you can build. It also significantly reduces the anxiety that grows when we think we are running out of time or are doomed to fail. The first step is always the hardest so tackle something small and manageable.
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