The end of the calendar year (and for some of us, the fiscal year) is staring us down. If you’re reflecting on what you didn’t accomplish in 2017, this post is for you. If you’re procrastinating and thinking, “It’s the new year. I’ll start accomplishing my goals soon,” then this post is for you, as well.
Do you always accomplish everything? Then share this post with your procrastinator friends and add “helped others be productive” to your list of accomplishments… you overachiever.
Procrastinators, you’re not alone. Research shows we lose an average of 218 minutes per day (55 work days per year) procrastinating. And that’s an average, which means some people procrastinate even more. And that doesn’t even factor in the procrastinators who waited so long they missed the deadline to participate in the study.
Imagine what you could accomplish if you didn’t spend almost an entire quarter thinking about doing things and instead got s#$% done. As the saying goes, sometimes done is better than perfect.
I’ve created a framework to stop procrastinating based on research and experience that can help you start your new year now – the year of you getting s#$% done and moving your life forward.
First, begin by busting myths about yourself and molding your mindset for action.
Myth: I work better under pressure
Some people work really well under the gun. The adrenaline of a crisis (whether it’s real or created by procrastination) can seem to help them hyper-focus on their work. But that’s a myth. Sure, they may work well under pressure, but not better. If that’s the only time you actually do work, then yes, it will seem like it’s your best work.
You can do your best work anytime. Don’t buy into that myth.
Myth: My Willpower Will Kick In (Any Minute Now)
You either have willpower or you don’t. It’s not a matter of waiting for it to kick in. If you don’t have it, reframe your expectations and understand that discipline is necessary to accomplish what you want.
Myth: My Self-Imposed Deadlines Will Keep Me on Track
How have those deadlines worked for you in the past? Yeah, you probably ended up in the crisis mode I mentioned above before you realized your own deadlines aren’t doing it for you.
External deadlines with your client or coworker will keep you on track. If you’re working on something for yourself (perhaps you’re a solopreneur working on a new service offering but no one else cares when you finish), have an accountability partner or coach check in on you and your deadlines.
Next, lay a groundwork of either pain or pleasure for finishing the task at hand. We’re motivated both by pleasure and avoidance of pain. If you finish your sales calls, could you possibly get to go on the sales trip to Mexico? If you finish the memo, could you avoid having to meet with someone who gets on your nerves? Think ahead to the good results or lack of bad results that could occur if you just do the work.
Now, clarify your goals and the meaning or purpose of the task at hand. A muddy reason to do something means you won’t get your hands dirty anytime soon.
Finally, forgive yourself. From my experience coaching and managing people over the last few decades, some of you procrastinators spend more time dwelling on how late you were on your last project than you do planning ahead for the next one. That’s not productive or emotionally healthy.
Forgive yourself for procrastinating last time. Or the last 20. You’ve got work to do. Save your energy.
Get to Know the Future You
In a study, people had as much emotional connection to random celebrities as they did their future selves in 10 years; we struggle to imagine what we’ll be like in the future. Despite that human truth, it’s important to picture a procrastination-free version of yourself.
Imagine yourself after you’ve already finished the project, enjoying a weekend on the boat instead of a weekend in the office scrambling to meet a deadline. Emotionally connect to your future, more successful self, enjoying life and the pleasures of finishing your work.
Get Dialed In
What makes procrastinators sometimes succeed when working last-minute is that the impending deadline helps them focus on the task. So, how can you focus at all other times (versus just-in-time times)?
Start by ditching distractions. Does your messy desk distract you? Clean it. Are you in an open office with a coworker who never stops talking? Bring earbuds. Are you actively writing emails? If the answer is no, close your email. Consider whether all of your Slack desktop notifications are necessary. Could you get by checking them hourly? Also, put your phone in your pocket and leave it there unless you get an emergency call from the kids’ school, or you’re waiting for the cable guy to finally give you an arrival window.
Then, beware the busywork. What can only you do? Prioritize those tasks and delegate or give back the others as much as you can. Don’t use busywork as an excuse to put off real work.
Just get started, already. If we can manage to start a task, we are more likely to finish it and remember to do it. In fact, if you never start, you’re sure to never finish! Just do it.
You can start the macro project and the overall deadline – and then break them down into small, manageable and measurable steps (making sure you have deadlines accountable to someone other than you). Then, tackle the worst part first.
Get it over with and enjoy being finished. Channel the energy you saved into your other tasks. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of time staring into space worrying about doing the worst task. That’s time you could spend finishing the work you enjoy.
Finally, sync with your body’s natural rhythms. Research shows we respond best to working in larger chunks of time (some say 90 minutes) and then taking short breaks. A short break is a reward you can look forward to. Have trouble visualizing yourself ten years from now? Start visualizing yourself at least 90 minutes into the future enjoying reading up on your favorite team’s recruit prospects or savoring a holiday drink from your favorite coffee shop.
Follow this framework, stop procrastinating, and you’ll find the finish line isn’t as distant as you thought.
Now, get back to work!