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I’ve Been Putting Off Writing This Post on Procrastination

By: Guest | March 21, 2011 | 
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Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC, which coaches communication leaders.

Ok, that’s not completely true, but I hope that headline got your attention, and perhaps you saw a little of yourself in it.  If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of people are habitual and chronic procrastinators.

In full transparency, procrastination was a frequent visitor for years, much like John Belushi’s “Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave” character from SNL.

But it’s no laughing matter. According to an article in The Guardian, the impact of procrastination is serious, possibly leading to such serious issues as depression, lowered self-esteem, and insomnia.

I decided to do some research into, and common sense thinking about, the best strategies and tactics to combat this unwelcome guest.  These six approaches have helped me combat procrastination; I hope they help you too.  (And please let me know if they do, or if you have others.)

  1. JUST DO SOMETHING: While there are many tools to combat procrastination, one that’s guaranteed not to work is wishing it away. Whatever is causing you not to write that blog post, research that article or prepare that presentation will still be there in 30 minutes, an hour, or at the end of the day.  And the dread of a looming deadline may actually cause you to freeze, driving further procrastination.
    The first step in ending the cycle?:  Acknowledge that you must take action.
  2. GO DEEP OR GO HOME: There are a variety of issues that can drive procrastination.  If you want to combat it, you must “go deep” to try to understand what’s causing your work block. Fear of failure?   A lack of information, or perhaps motivation? Unclear what success looks like?  Determining the answers to these types of questions are critical to start a project you’ve been delaying.  Whatever the underlying issue is, know that you must fix it before attempting to dive back into the work.  If not, you’re just setting yourself up for failure and further frustration.
  3. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION NOT TO COMPLETE THE TASK: You may be thinking “WTF?” but hear me out:  Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, we can’t even get started. Fine: Give yourself permission not to complete the task. Now break the overwhelming job into manageable chunks and commit to completing just Step One. You’ll get such satisfaction from that preliminary step—particularly after the pain of procrastination– that you’ll be raring to go to Step Two, and so on.  Here’s how it works in real life:  If you’re daunted by the task of painting the house, don’t do it. Just pick the color.  After that’s done, give yourself a pat on the back…and buy the paint. Now paint the living room’s back wall. Next, finish the room.  This technique can be successful when you have a work-related “paint the entire house” business project.
  4. HAVE A PIECE OF SWISS: Staring at a blank computer screen doesn’t help, but visualization can be a powerful anti-procrastination tool; here’s one for my foodies like Gini Dietrich. Imagine the project as a large, solid piece of cheese, let’s say Cheddar. Your goal? Turn it into a piece of Swiss, by doing small tasks that make “holes” in the larger assignment.  As you do so, you’ll get a boost of confidence and energy that will drive you to assignment completion.
  5. THE 15-MINUTE METHOD: It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes we procrastinate because we’ve given ourselves too much time to do a project.  If that’s you, try this:  Give yourself 15 minutes—not a minute more—on a hated task.  No interruptions, email, or phone calls. Give yourself a hard-stop by starting at a “quarter-till-lunch.”  Use that time to break the task down into a series of sub-tasks. Then book 15 minutes after lunch to start on or even complete sub-task one. Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll graduate to 30-minute blocks and greater task completion.
  6. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS do tough, complicated assignments before easy ones. Ban the words, “Let me just get my simple stuff out of the way.”  The problem with that approach is you do all your simple, unimportant stuff, and then your energy is down, and you have a sense of non-completion/inertia.By doing some tougher stuff first, you:

a)    Well, have gotten some tough stuff done when you’re most alert;
b)    You can get the simple stuff done when you don’t really need your brain power
c)    Getting tough stuff done, and feeling good about it, might encourage you go get more tough stuff done.

For other tips, take a look at the article “Time Management From the Core” by Astrid Baumgartner.

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC, which helps public relations and communications firm leaders with three critical issues: 1) Growing and managing business; 2) Improving client service; and 3) Enhancing staff performance, motivation and retention.  It does so via training, consulting and coaching.  He’d love to hear from you.

16 comments
JackVincent
JackVincent

Great post, Ken. I think there's at least one lesson in there for everyone, even if they are productive. The one that impacted me the most was Number 3, give yourself permission not to complete the task. Think I'll get to work on my book now!

KensViews
KensViews

Hi Kris. I like your time box method, particularly starting with least fun/most tough first. With respect, I might re-consider the idea of assigning 90 minutes to all. Some might need two hours to do and do well; in addition, one wouldn't want to give oneself permission to stretch to 90 minutes tasks that can be completed effectively in 60, 45 or even 30 minutes. I only raise this point because procrastinators--and believe me, I've been there--are like accordion players when it comes to stretching out a task beyond what it should take!

KrisSchindler
KrisSchindler

One method I have found helpful is to "time box." I make my list of priorities (least fun/most tough first) at the beginning of the day and assign 90-minutes to each one. If I finish early, I get to "play" by engaging in the activities that generally distract me or wrap up something that I didn't finish earlier (see Ken's #3). When the alarm goes off, I move on to the next task on the list, ready or not, like it or not.

RogerFriedensen
RogerFriedensen

Brilliant post, Ken. Would that I will remember and heed your advice tomorrow. One of the main challenges I'm having in running my own firm now is setting and then sticking to work priorities. Obviously the firm's financial status and client work (correction: billable client work) should and must come first. Closely on the heels of those suckers should be business development activities (proposals, research, follow-up communications, etc.) first for existing clients and then prospective clients. Once all that's done, general promotional activities such as blog posts, Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook posts, guest columns, presentations, etc. probably should be next in line. and then comes networking and professional development (research and reading). And while I've been doing this for some 26 years now, my attention and energy get pulled off track nearly every day by some flare-up or just plain procrastination.

<sigh>

Maybe the cheese analogy will help.

Marketing Gal
Marketing Gal

Only 20%? I would have tagged that as 50%! Seriously, loved the cheese analogy. I find if I break tasks up, none prove to be all that difficult, and I am left wondering why I put it off so long. Thanks for sharing your list.

bdorman264
bdorman264

And I have been putting off responding to this..................:)

Sometimes you need to have the attitude of the Nike slogan, 'Just Do It'. Big, small, pleasant, unpleasant, just do something.

If it's writing, once you get started and put something down on paper, it will help the flow. Like runners, sometimes the hardest step is that first one; once you get out on the road and make that first step it is much easier to get in a rhythm. You can start slow, you can even walk, but just get moving.

If you have several tasks in front of you and some are unpleasant, it is human nature to do the easy ones first. Sometimes that's ok if it will get you moving, but more times than not if you knock off the unpleasant one first completing the rest of the tasks will be a breeze.

In my work life I am surrounded by a good team and we hold each other accountable for completing the set tasks for a given day or week; accountability works wonders on procrastination too. I certainly don't want to let my team down.

Of course, everyone will read this title so you might not get responses until several weeks from now because they figure they will get to it later.....................good article.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

Ken,

Interesting stuff. I've found procrastination not to be as evil as it is made out to be. When I'm procrastinating there's usually a reason. Most often it's because I've made an obligation, but I'm not committed. So I've learned to listen to my procrastination as an early warning system that maybe I'm trying to force myself to pursue something, that I'd be far better off not not pursuing.

Just a thought.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Dear Ken, did you really suggest to your foodie friend to make Swiss cheese out of cheddar cheese?! Love, Gini

KensViews
KensViews

@JackVincent Thanks, Jack. I've found that even the most productive people--(which knowing you for a decade--or three!--I'm guessing you are), are sometimes challenged by procrastination from time to time. Allowing oneself to not finish a task is often all one needs to start a task--and that, ironically, speeds up its completion.

KensViews
KensViews

@RogerFriedensen Roger, sounds like you're a master time manager and juggler. I think one of the keys is working on what's important, not just what's "urgent," and spending enough time in planning. All that said, procrastination can affect the best time manager. It's essential to always be on the look-out for it, recognize it when it's happening, and have an arsenal of tools at your disposal to deal with it when it does.

KensViews
KensViews

@Marketing Gal I'm glad you liked the cheese analogy. Visuals do help many people with this issue. Breaking tasks up absolutely make them feel less daunting. And do savor that "Why did I put this off?" moment. Bringing up that feeling the next time you're procrastinating may just give you the courage to begin a project that just doesn't want to get started.

KensViews
KensViews

@bdorman264 You're so right...the first step is often the toughest one and sometimes we must trick ourselves into taking it. And that's OK. In my experience, getting the easy stuff out of the way is tempting, but it's a temptation one should resist. It's not only a time-waster, but it often uses the AM, when most folks are at their best mentally, and can make one disappointed and unfulfilled, and that makes it much harder to tackle a tough assignment.

KensViews
KensViews

@Doug_Davidoff Doug: Thanks for your comment. It's a very good observation, and I think we're actually in agreement: Take a step back and explore why you're procrastinating, and then determine and take the appropriate action. The key is to not simply delay and ignore, but to take a good, deep look at the cause of the procrastination or ambivalence. It's not always easy, but it's well worth it.

KensViews
KensViews

@ginidietrich Gini, I did indeed. While it might not be your favorite flavor, the visual is much more appealing when you're fighting "The Big P"!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KensViews LOL! I'm taking your advice and doing one thing today that isn't due until later this week. I'll let you know how I feel after not procrastinating.

KensViews
KensViews

@ginidietrich Please do! Procrastinators should turn to former, sometime and fellow procrastinators (who are fighting the urge) for support and suggestions when they fall off the wagon. Only those who've "been there, done that" can understand what a tough battle this can be.

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