“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” – Napoleon Hill
We know it — you have a to-do list that just isn’t getting done. It’s much more interesting spending time looking at TikTok, doing other tasks or maybe even just thinking “it can wait until later” for any project you are looking to tackle. More often than not, the task is something you are dreading; perhaps it is tedious or time-consuming; it might even be something short that you feel isn’t necessary or sidetracks you from other things you are trying to accomplish.
Procrastinating in business can lead to frustrations and delays down the road, especially when procrastination means missing important deadlines or suddenly finding yourself up against an incredibly tight timeline with little (or no!) time to complete a required task.
While a little procrastination can be a good thing — There’s even a National Procrastination Week this month (or whenever they decide to hold it!); Daydreaming instead of completing an item might lead to a new approach or idea — however, too much procrastination often leads to stress at all levels.
So how can you be better at checking off your to-do list? Below are six tips that might help you get things done:
1. Prioritize your to-do list based on deadlines: It may sound simple, but often when you are faced with several items competing for your attention, the best first step is to prioritize based on deadlines. If your most pressing item is your most dreaded, it becomes even easier to push it to ‘later.’ Commit to tackling at least the most time-sensitive issue to remove some of the stress that comes with an overwhelming series of tasks.
2. Go for low hanging fruit: Within that to-do list, go for the quickest and easiest elements first. Being able to cross a few things off your list will boost your energy and sense of accomplishment. If you have three things to do that take a combined one hour to complete and another item that might take half a day, look to complete the three quick tasks first; looking at your Slack or Teams assigned items and seeing three things now off your plate mentally encourages you to keep going.
3. Use a timer when taking breaks: Every workday needs breaks; you can’t go from back to back meetings and zooms all day or continually plow through assignments without stopping. Breaks are essential for recharging the brain and refreshing you for the next chunk of your day. It is completely fine to spend break time doing something totally unrelated to your to-do list and can actually be beneficial if you ‘turn off’ your work brain for a bit — Go for a short walk, play Candy Crush or cruise your Instagram feed — Just set a timer for the amount of time you would like to spend to get you back on track and avoid procrastinating during other parts of your day.
4. Figure out if someone else can assist: Too often we believe we are the ‘only’ ones who have the skills to get something done. Especially for those managers hesitant to let go of things they may have always been in charge of, now is the time to see if you can either delegate work to others or bring a collaborator in to help piece out a large project. Feeling as if you are the only person who can accomplish an item will lead to you potentially not getting something done at all or missing a deadline. Scratch items off your list by giving things to someone else.
5. Give your self rewards and milestones: It may sound silly but just the way you may reward your child for doing something they don’t like (french fry payments for vegetable consumption, anyone?), set up rewards when you get something done. Finished the toughest or most time consuming task for the day? Reward yourself with a fancy coffee break. Set goals in your head such as “once I complete my quarterly report I am going to walk down to the park with the dog for 20 minutes.” Knowing that you have something good to look forward too after something dreaded will make the time go faster.
6. Use avoidance time in a productive way: Some have called this approach ‘structured procrastination’ — Meaning that if you are going to avoid doing something you have to do with something you want to do, make it somewhat productive. For example, if you are putting off completing your time sheets, spend that time doing something somewhat productive, such as an ordinary everyday task like cleaning up your work area, updating your calendar or even doing a quick coffee meet up with other team members or colleagues. This way you won’t be quite as stressed about what you aren’t doing because you have at least used the time for something generally beneficial.