“It’s the job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish. ” Sam said in The Fellowship of the Ring.
I think that summarizes procrastination pretty well, which is the second way towards productivity: stop procrastinating.
In the previous post I wrote about setting up a system to get organized. Being organized doesn’t help much if you procrastinate though.
So, why do people procrastinate?
Some reasons why people procrastinate are personal: maybe they’re going through a rough patch, maybe they are about to move.
Usually these causes are temporary. Perhaps you can continue working efficiently in the meantime. Other times you – and your surroundings – need to accept that you’re a bit off.
Other reasons are related to the work itself. Having an excessive workload can cause paralysis.
When tasks are too big you might not know where to start and start procrastinating instead. The same is true when you get stuck on a task.
The environment affects the ability to focus. Noise and constant interruptions are good examples.
TRY IT! Think about why you procrastinate. Are there times when you are more effective? What are the preconditions for that to happen? What kind of tasks are you working on then?
How To Stop Procrastinating
How to stop procrastinating is tackled differently by productivity methods, and relates to what causes are targeted.
This is an excellent way to come to terms with many work related issues.
By splitting tasks into smaller more manageable chunks work does not seem so overwhelming and it is easier to see where to start.
In GTD (Getting Things Done) the resulting smaller tasks are called next actions. Each action should be something you can finish without dependencies (otherwise it wouldn’t be the next action, would it?)
As an example, consider writing a report. This might at a first glance seem like a daunting task. If you treat it as a number of smaller tasks, it becomes much more manageable. “Write a draft outline.” “Write an introduction.” “Come up with a title.” and so on.
Focused Work in Iterations
This approach helps to avoid both external interruptions and when your mind wanders.
The first thing to do is to define goals, the things to work on. For example, you can start by setting up daily goals.
The workday is then split into short iterations with subsequent short breaks.
In each iteration, the goal is to concentrate on one of the tasks planned for that day.
The Pomodoro Technique is one method centered around this approach. It comprises strategies to deal with both lack of focus and interruptions.
To focus, and to get things done, you have to create a supportive working environment.
You need the right tools to do the work well and not get distracted by annoyances or delays caused by, for example, non-functioning software.
Examples of other distractions are unacceptable noise levels and interruptions by other people.
TRY IT! Think about if any of the strategies mentioned above might help you concentrate more and become more productive.
Method of Choice
The method of choice depends on the type of work.
If you mostly do large complex tasks that consist of many small steps and interactions, for example coordinating a workshop or managing a project, GTD might work better.
If you work continuously on something, for example reviewing or writing reports, or developing software, the Pomodoro Technique might be preferable.
A common question related to GTD seems to be how to handle a bigger coherent task, for example reading a book. My answer is to divide the workday into short iterations (Pomodoros if you like) and dedicate some to the task list (next actions, processing email, or whatever) and others to coding, reading and other longer tasks you need to do.
Let me know if you think there are other reasons why people procrastinate, and other strategies to stop procrastinating. Drop a comment below!
This was the second post of three in a series about how to attain productivity bliss. Next time I’ll sum up the series and share some further tips and ideas.