Feb 072011

Procrastination is really a beast to overcome. We have all struggled with the beast, but I have found a couple of tricks that really work well.

1) Break big tasks into super small micro-pieces:

When you are facing a difficult task that is daunting, its usually because the task will take lots of the hours to complete.  Unfortunately, its all too natural to put it off.  The trick is to chop these big tasks into smaller pieces – but sometime, the chopping itself is not obvious and seems impossible.

Perhaps you have a thirty page paper due, or you must respond to a hundred question RFI questionnaire.  These tasks are huge, guaranteed to take 20 or more hours to complete.  The task itself seems to be broken to its smallest part – write the paper or answer the RFI – what more subdivision is possible?

That’s the trick.  Put a smaller measure and little milestones on the task that seems to refuse reduction. Change your thinking from “write the paper” to “write page one”, “write page two”, “write page three” or “write section 1, 2, 3”.  If the project is answer the RFI, split it into “answer question 1, 2, 3” and so forth.  As soon as the work is split into smaller sections, take that first step – start on page one!

Voilà! The task becomes more palatable right away.

Your brain plays tricks. With the tiny steps perspective, you have a sense of accomplishment as soon as you get page 1 and 2 done before lunch.  It becomes easy to pen page 3 before you meet Jim for dinner, and page 4 later that evening. Tiny steps changes the dread of the ‘no way I’ll finish this…’ into ‘I made sparkling progress today!’ You now come home happy, which is priceless to getting along well with the spouse and kids.

Most people have motivation vs. action backwards.  Motivation comes after starting, not the other way around.  Starting is the biggest step toward being motivated. Accomplishment fuels more motivation. The dreaded task starts flying toward completion, a bit at a time. Which brings me to trick #2…

2) Dedicate Small Highly-Focused Bursts of Time:

Recently, I found the Pomodoro Technique, a simple method to make progress and reduce procrastination.  It was first created by Francesco Cirillo in 1992.  The essence is to use a countdown timer to put everything else aside and work on only the task at hand for 25 minutes at a time.

This works! Twenty-five minutes is a palatable amount of time to not look at email, to not listen to your voice mail, to not answer your phone. The result is that it becomes easier to start, and starting is the key to eliminating procrastination and getting motivated. The Pomodoro Technique makes daily progress easier when you decide to write that book, paper, or RFI response.  Decide to put in (2) x 25 minute sessions per day and don’t go to bed until the sessions are done.  Progress happens!

I think the short burst of time – 25 minutes – is magical.  Its just short enough that you are willing to give it a go, yet long enough to make some real progress on the task at hand.  Francesco offers his e-book as a free download on his website.

By the way, in my opinion, hearing the tick tick of a mechanical timer is valuable. I find it easier to get distracted if a silent timer is running, but the tick tick tick helps keep you focused for the entire 25 minutes.

Beat the nasty procrastination habit and you will become more optimistic and productive.

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