The Procrastination Solution

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A little while back I wrote a piece for my blog about embracing your procrastination habit. Then I wrote a little bit about the reasons why we get into this habit in the first place.

I happen to think you’re halfway there to solving a problem if you can acknowledge that you have one, and the reasons why you do. The other half, of course, is figuring out a solution.

Changing the way we do our work and the environment in which we do it are both helpful ways to combat procrastination because they force us to examine the external realities in our lives and the ways in which they affect our productivity. Learning how to design our workflow to fit our schedules, eliminating distractions and interruptions and breaking down projects into smaller pieces can help to control these outside factors so they’re not controlling us.

But what about those moments where it’s just you: alone in a room at a desk, completely organized and distraction-free, trying to figure out how a whole hour went by and the page before you is still blank?

What if the real problem is you?

Look, some people thrive under pressure and that’s great. Maybe you’re under a lot of pressure too. It’s normal and (in some cases) necessary. But at the root of that pressure is the underlying feeling of fear. Maybe you’re not capable of getting the project done on time. Maybe you’re not capable of completing the project. Maybe you’re not capable of anything at all.

(You are, by the way. You’re awesome)

The fear, unfortunately, might always be there. We’re conditioned from an age to want to meet other people’s expectations, and the expectations we have of ourselves. But there are ways of tricking it so it no longer prevents us from getting things done.

For example, if you just can’t seem to get started on a project you may want to try hammering out a fast and sloppy version, just to get something down on paper. Give yourself a time limit and you’ll be surprised to see how fast the time actually goes.

Giving yourself time limits on difficult tasks as well can help you from feeling overwhelmed by a project’s breadth or scope. Or you may want to try things a little backwards and select a smaller, or easier project-related task to get the ball going.

If you’re procrastinating on finishing a project that’s particularly long and arduous it’s a good idea to give yourself some breathing space to focus on why you’re really working on that project in the first place. It’s easy to feel like the end is nowhere in sight, but reminding yourself of your past successes can give you the confidence you need to complete the task at hand.

And combating procrastination is a task and a half!

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I procrastinated on writing this post so don’t make the same mistake that I did when commenting below or writing me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. I always love to hear from you, and I’d love to hear more about what’s helped you with your procrastination habit.

If you like what you read, I’m serving up two other pieces of the procrastination pie here and here. Want more ways to get your workflow organized? Feast your eyes on these posts here and here.

Maximum Productivity

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Here it is: a quick and dirty list of some of the ways in which I have found that I have achieved “maximum productivity”. It’s a state that some people tease me sounds a lot like “maximum overdrive” and in a way it kind of is- I love the feeling of looking up from my desk and seeing that the time has flown by while I’ve been absorbed by a project. Even better is the feeling you get from looking at a to-do list with all its items completed. At least, that’s my idea of a good time. Here’s how I’ve accomplished it.

I have this natural talent for taking on big, complicated projects so I’ve learned that breaking down these behemoths into smaller tasks has done wonders for my productivity, my self-esteem and my procrastination habit. I’ve got tips on how to do this here.

I tend to get easily distracted, so establishing a quiet time for myself with no phone or internet access was a key factor in helping me control my workflow. Sometimes I love this silence so much that it’s tempting to do nothing at all, but it’s still a great way of forcing myself to stay productive. I borrowed the idea from personal organizing guru Julie Morgenstern, whose books I chat about here.

I mentioned briefly in this post about procrastination about how adapting your workflow to coordinate with your energy cycles throughout the day can help prevent putting things off. It took me a lot of time to figure out when I was at my best and it took longer still to assign which tasks to which times of day, but in the end it was worth it because it made a big difference. Those of you who work from home or in another flexible work environment should definitely give it a try.

Incidentally, this practice has also helped me to have a better handle on what my threshold of concentration is, so I know ahead of time to anticipate breaks or shifts in workflow and schedule them accordingly.

Of course, it can become pretty difficult to complete a task (not to mention inefficient) if you’re constantly ill-prepared, are unable to access supplies, or are forcing yourself to work in an environment that’s counter-productive. I’ve got a list of basic needs for any great office here.

And the simplest, dirtiest trick that I could give you? Time yourself on how long it takes to really complete a task, and schedule yourself that exact amount of time to complete it. There are so many things that we put off or ignore because we overestimate the amount of time it will take us, and if you set aside an hour to do something that would normally take you five minutes, you better believe it’s going to take that full hour.

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Ready, set, go! I want to hear about all the things that make you productive and I want to hear them now! Comment below or write to me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com.

And if you still feel like you’re lacking in productivity smarts, I suggest you visit this page immediately! Even if you’re a super-organized professional like myself (mostly), you may still find some good tips and tricks. Productivity is one of the many things that I love to write about!

How to Make Up For Lost Time

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Life happens. Interruptions occur. Things get in the way. Despite our best intentions, most of us have had to deal with backlog in one way or another, but once you have a case of backlog it can start spreading like the plague. The more time you spend trying to catch up on the work that you’ve missed means you’re missing out on even more new work coming your way or worse; you’re so caught up with tasks that need your constant attention that you let your older projects slide until it becomes a bigger problem- you miss a deadline, you let down a colleague, or even lose a client.

The key to dealing with any kind of back log is to figure out a way to deal with your workload as efficiently as possible without getting overwhelmed.

At the beginning of any project, I recommend writing down all the tasks that are involved. The same can be applied to your backlog. Make a list of all your projects that are on your plate.

Working on a project is fruitless if you do not have all the materials or information needed for its completion. Organize all the necessary paperwork, gather your materials, and contact those involved for any additional information you don’t have. It’s better to know exactly what you’re dealing with then discover you’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle while in the middle of a project. If you’re waiting for other people to get back to you on something, accept that this task is temporarily out of your hands and focus on the things that only you control.

Now that you have a better picture of the things you need to work on, prioritize what you need to work on based on urgency. Is a project or colleague at risk if you don’t deliver something on time? Have you made a commitment to something you cannot back out of? Are you responsible for another person’s health, safety or well-being? All of these tasks need your attention first.

Next, see what you can juggle.  Are there tasks that you can delegate to others, such as personal assistants, subordinates, caregivers or secretaries? Is there a co-worker who can pick up that shift or take on that extra work for you? If there’s anything on your list that no longer holds your interest, has no direct benefit to you personally or professionally, or is a commitment that is bigger than you are willing and/or able to take on, consider deleting it.

Finally, decide what you can put off. This is officially your back-log and can only be processed once your other, more urgent tasks are completed. Even if it still seems enormous, you can forge ahead with the confidence that the most important aspects of your life are under control.

Like any other large project, it’s always best to break it down into small chunks. Try breaking down tasks based on category, or action (like “Meeting Notes to Type” or “Reports to Review”). Make room in your schedule for dedicated back-log processing time, paying attention to energy levels throughout the day. If you find yourself procrastinating, make your processing time a special date with yourself and take your work to a coffee shop, or reward yourself with a small gift or special treat. If you’re having trouble finding the time, try and find hidden chunks of time in your schedule to catch up on reading or other easily portable tasks, such as commuting or waiting for a flight.

Making up for lost time and getting down to dealing with your backlog is a task that’s often overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember I did it, and I was the girl who was accused of running a law firm out of her tiny apartment. I shudder to think about the months I spent dealing with all of that backlog, but the sheer amount of space I gained (and the peace of mind it gave me) was well worth the battle.

KBwB-BFlower-50Want more advice on how to deal with workflow? I make it my life’s work to figure out other people work. I share all my ideas on productivity, scheduling and organizing all in the Busy section of my blog.

Do you need to catch up on your clutter? Find out all about how I purged my apartment here, and all the papers I would not recommend getting rid of here. Cleaning out your closet? I did that too.

Still having trouble breaking down your enormous to-do list? Read my suggestions on how to best tackle it here. Or read this post to find out how I re-organized my to-do lists so I could actually get things done.