“Often just by taking action,
by doing something about the situation can
relieve the stress and help correct the situation.”
~ Catherine Pulsifer
As you move through your days with all that is happening around you right now, procrastination has probably popped up and it’s quite possible this is something you are wrestling with frequently. This is something I’ve found challenging, and so have many of my clients.
You may wonder why it’s so hard to get things done, especially right now. There are many things contributing to procrastination. For example, feeling overwhelmed, uncertain, fear, perfectionism, exhaustion…the reasons are as unique as you and me.
Since our world is in such turmoil, be kind to yourself when you find you’ve been procrastinating. Sometimes, it may feel like you’re slogging through a thick fog and can only really handle getting one or two things off your plate. Celebrate those little wins, even though you know you have a gazillion other things to get done.
You may also want to look at the type of tasks you’re putting off. For example, are they tasks that require you to learn something new? According to David Rock in his book “Your Brain at Work” (see the Resources section for a link to this book), when we learn something new, it takes a lot of brain power. Just like the rest of your physical body, if you attempt to work on something new when you’re exhausted, you will most likely get frustrated and distracted, thus derailing your progress. This can be a common cause of procrastination.
Or perhaps you tend to procrastinate when you’ve got a BIG deadline that is complicated or has many components. When you try to tackle this project as one big task, you’re potentially setting yourself up for failure. There have been scientific studies showing our brain is incapable of holding large quantities of items in our mind. One research study was done in 2001 by Nelson Cowan, at the University of Missouri – Columbia (page 21 – “Your Brain at Work”). The study found the maximum number of items you can hold in your mind is FOUR. And, that number is less if it’s something that is a new concept or unfamiliar to you. Wow! You can only hold four or less items in your mind at one time. No wonder you procrastinate when you’re attempting to work on the whole LARGE project at once, your brain gets too full!
What can you do to bust through procrastination?
Take time to define and ideally WRITE DOWN your top three priorities for the day. This can be a great tool to keep you focused, which will minimize procrastination.
One of the questions I use when making my list of 3 is “What needs to be done right now?” Keep your top three priority list where you can see it (I like to use small Post-It Notes) can also be important. Also, refer to this list often to keep your priorities top of mind and to keep you on track, especially after you’ve been interrupted.
Tackle Your project at the Right Time of Day
Do you know when you work best? For example, are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you start to drag at about 3pm? Pay attention to when you do your best work. Then use your schedule to block your peak performance time for complicated or new initiative projects. This approach can help you to get more accomplished with less procrastinating.
Also, if you’re going to continue working on one project for an extended period of time, be sure to give yourself a break. I have found that setting a timer when I take my break (e.g., 5 minutes) prevents me from getting distracted with something else.
Here are some great things to do during your break:
- physically move (e.g., walk around, step outside)
- get some water or some other fluids to stay hydrated
- eat something (e.g., an apple, nuts).
Chunk Your Project into Smaller Tasks
Big projects can be overwhelming. Even though you may be raring to go on a project, you may get stuck on deciding what to work on first. A great tool to help you with this is called “Chunking”. Chunking is taking a project and breaking it down into smaller more manageable tasks or chunks. By focusing your efforts on completing the chunks, you minimize or stop the overwhelming feeling often associated with trying to tackle the entire project all at once. Another benefit of chunking a large project is you can use the chunks to easily determine your priorities (see number one above).
You may have noticed a common theme with these three ways to bust through procrastination is focus! However, focusing on any old thing won’t work. Your focus must be associated with the project or deadline that is your top priority. Learning how to focus on the right things at the right time will make procrastination a thing of the past for you!