I am a world-class procrastinator. In fact, maybe the only thing I’m better at than procrastinating is getting distracted. I like to think of it as sort of A.D.D. mixed with insatiable curiosity. That makes it sound cuter, right?
Helpful for life success? Not very.
Due to these special personality traits and my desire to live a successful and productive existence, I’ve developed strategies and coping techniques to help me accomplish my goals. Here are a few things that work for me, five tips to stop procrastinating and complete any project:
1. Break it Down
I’m not talking about a dance break, but that is also fun, fellow Octonauts. Break the task down into small, bite-sized pieces. One of my biggest productivity blockers is finding a large project on my to-do list. I ran into this a few weeks when I wrote “Build Wood Storage” on my list. This is a huge, overwhelming project to build a storage shed for all the firewood I had delivered recently.
I put it off week after week after week.
So, then I broke it down into its steps. When I see “measure the space” or “research online” on my list, those things feel doable. It will still take me a while to complete the project but I continually make progress toward completion because the steps seem manageable.
2. Set a Timer
Sometimes a project looms heavy in your mind and you find yourself postponing it again and again. Choose a reasonable amount of time you’re be willing to work on it and set a timer. Promise yourself that even if it’s not complete, you can stop when the timer beeps.
I’ve been putting off updating my family’s 72-hour kits for ten years. I buy things periodically to add to the kits. I pile the stuff up in the garage and then walk away. Then, last fall I felt a sense of urgency that I needed to complete this project. But I was still overwhelmed. I knew I had to buy food. I didn’t know what to buy. I’d been reading books and checking lists online for years. I’d attended a couple of classes and came home with more information and less desire to execute because I wasn’t sure I’d do it right.
So, one afternoon this fall, I decided to take two hours to evaluate what I had and work on the kits. Two hours. I ran to the grocery store and threw a bunch of high protein foods in to my cart, no lists, just non-perishable protein, carbs, and fruit preserves that happened to be on sale. I came home, dumped everything out on my table and got to work sorting it. At the end of two hours, I had nearly complete kits for all five members of my family with a short list of things I needed to get to complete each kit.
10 years of procrastinating for a project that took me two hours. I never dreamed I could complete it in that amount of time but I thought, “At least I’ll be two hours further along.” Set a timer and you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.
3. Treat Yourself
Plan rewards for yourself when you reach certain project milestones. When you work for two hours on the 72-hour-kits, you can read a book for an hour. After you finish polishing your resume, you can watch 2 episodes of Parks and Recreation before writing your cover letter.
If you’ve got young kids at home, you may have to be more creative with your rewards. If I do something productive during his morning nap, I can do something fun during his afternoon nap.
4. Schedule It
Calculate how long it will actually take to accomplish your task or the bite-sized pieces of your task. Then find a place where it will actually fit on your daily schedule. I found that I continually beat myself up for not completing everything on my to-do list. But when I started scheduling to-do items by estimated completion time, I felt liberated. If I can’t technically fit a project into the waking hours of my life, then I can’t possibly feel bad about my failure.
Scheduling things like this really puts your life in perspective. Then, if you find yourself frequently unable to fit important tasks into your day, it may be time to reconsider the things currently filling up your time. This leads us to tip number 5.
5. Scale Back
Sometimes the best way to accomplish a project is to either dial the project down to a more manageable size, or scale back on other things you’re doing.
For example, one place I’ve really found it helpful to simplify is in my holiday celebrations. Really think about what matters to you during the major holidays. At Christmas, focus on making time to be with people you love. For Thanksgiving, focus on gratitude and limit your meal to a few well-prepared dishes or delegate.
For minor holidays, decide if you need to celebrate at all. If you do, keep it simple. So, for Valentine’s Day every year I hang up a heart wreath and make pink heart pancakes for breakfast. For Saint Patrick’s Day I dye the milk green and buy Lucky Charms. Boom. Done.
And this isn’t just for holidays. What are you doing that’s getting in the way of the things that are actually important to you? Stop doing those things.
There’s almost nothing you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it. The problem is – strong desire isn’t always enough. Sometimes you really need to focus and plan and even trick yourself into getting started. What’s one thing you want to stop procrastinating this week?
We love sharing organizational tips and tricks that might just help save your sanity like it has ours. Check out a few more great ideas for staying on top of things: