Kicking procrastination

I’ll wager that most of our mothers and fathers taught us not to put off until tomorrow what could be done quickly and easily today? There’s a difference between procrastination and planning to do something later on. When we’re avoiding something that must be done now, that’s procrastination.

Procrastination in business may not be a good thing, but almost everyone does it at one time or another. Sometimes a task can seem too big and too time consuming, which adds to the “overwhelmed” feeling many business folks experience today. Sometimes we just overestimate or underestimate the time needed to get it done, and time gets away from us. I asked one of my time-management guru friends what to do about procrastination and she shared these ideas:

  • The first tool for working on a project is getting it on the schedule. The second tool is to let others know about the importance of completing the project so they can field interruptions.
  • Start a “dreaded” project with clear, measurable, and achievable goals with time limits.
  • Break the project into “bite size” pieces (eat the elephant one bite at a time).
  • Put aside 15 minutes to get things started and then just do it. When the 15 minutes is up you can decide whether to continue or whether to set aside another time slot to finish the task. Getting started can break the inertia and get one into a “zone” for completion.

John Perry, professor emeritus at Stanford University, who wrote The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing, says, “Procrastination means not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Structured procrastination means you don’t waste your time. When you’re avoiding another task, you do something else instead.” Perry admits that waiting until the last minute is a funny way of working efficiently, but he thinks it is a good idea if you properly weigh your priorities.

Even with all the e-tools at our disposal, the business day can become a runaway, hectic list of tasks that all need attention — now. Putting things off in business has other dimensions.

Sometimes we can’t move ahead on a project because we’re waiting on information from another source. This can be solved by providing early deadlines for other project participants, who themselves may also be procrastinating.

My time management expert also offers these suggestions:

  • Think about the kinds of things you typically put off.
  • Think about and list the effects procrastination would have on the business.
  • Be disciplined about the things you choose to spend your time on.
  • Prioritize and plan for the day, the week, and the month.
  • Get rid of unimportant and unessential tasks.
  • Work on self-management and time management.
  • Break big tasks into manageable pieces.

Perry says the biggest mistake procrastinators make is minimizing their commitments in their attempt to quit putting things off. “If you only have one thing to do, you won’t get anything else done … you’ll probably just lie on the couch to avoid it,” he notes.

That sounds like a plan. I’m going to get right to it.

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