Robyn Pearce: Too much to do? Learn to procrastinate

3 comments
There is such a thing as 'good procrastination'. Photo / Thinkstock
There is such a thing as 'good procrastination'. Photo / Thinkstock

Would a time management specialist encourage you to procrastinate? You bet! There's a time and a place for everything.

I'd just returned to my office after having been on the road in two countries for five weeks. You can imagine the pile of paper ready to grab me by the throat!

Everything screamed 'Do me now'. I also had two major projects to attend to - a chapter for someone's book and another key task that required quite a bit of phoning.

Despite the huge backlog waiting, through 'good' procrastination I was able to enjoy the major project work and still catch up with the most important items, all within a few days.

Next time you come back from holidays or a business trip, start by taking 10 minutes out. Sweep the clutter on your desk into one pile. Now quickly sort everything into two heaps - the 'must-be-done' and the 'nice-to-do' - and have a rubbish bin handy.

Be realistic. You can't immediately get to the 'nice-to-do' pile. This bundle is the one you can procrastinate about with minimal consequences. Take the guilt off your mind - put it out of sight.

I recommend a drawer, a shelf slightly away from your desk, or a Quefile on your desk but placed out of eye range if possible. A Quefile is superb for storing paper items upright if the pile's not too big. Because items are stored on their edge they're easy to grab. (Here's an example - they're a brilliant on-desk upright filing device designed by one of my clients.)

There are two keys:

1. That quick sort out will stop your brain's internal somersaults, worrying about what 'might' be lurking.

2. If you're afraid you'll forget something, set a diary note or alert on your digital device or calendar.

Now, what's left? Many people struggle their way through the 'must-be-done' pile one thing at a time. Don't. As if you're playing a game of cards, sort it into categories - phone calls, action (i.e. letters or similar), internet action, other people, and reading. You're applying a powerful principle - putting like with like. If you have a large number of items sort into clear A4 plastic pockets, putting the most urgent items at the top.

You now have two possibilities. Perhaps there's a major matter to attend to. Is this day to be spent focused on the activity or activities that will make a real difference to your business, or is it more useful to have a catch-up day, ready for a clean sweep tomorrow? If it is a 'major project' day, only leave out the most important thing to work on, and put the now-sorted folders in the Quefile or somewhere else - out of your distraction zone.

If it's a 'catch-up' day, allocate a realistic amount of time for each category. Perhaps 30 minutes for calls, 1 hour for action. Limit how much email time you'll allow - that one function alone can gobble up the entire day. Put out of eye range all but the folder you're working on, and stay focused until the time is up.

Then put that task away and go to the next most important activity. By sorting into categories you don't waste time or head space playing dodgems with your 'to-do' list. You'll also achieve much more. (Of course, the same process works just as well on a day-to-day basis.)

These days the email is often more of a challenge than physical paper. Try these two simple tips.

1. You probably have several threads of mail, contributed to by others in your absence. Click on Subject or From in the top bar of the Inbox and you'll group everything with the same subject line or from the same person. Most of it will now be irrelevant. Or, if you're using Outlook 10 - View, Show as Conversations.

Instead of a paper sort we're just doing an electronic sort. The procrastination philosophy still works - leave the mails that aren't obviously top priority. They're not going anywhere until you're ready!

2. Drag an entire email into other Outlook folders - Tasks if you want an electronic reminder, or Calendar if something needs to be done on a particular day and should or could become an appointment, even an appointment with yourself. You'll never again rewrite the information. And yes, it also remains in the relevant Mail folder..


By (1) chunking your tasks and (2) procrastinating on less important things you focus on what matters - one thing at a time.

Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips at www.gettingagrip.com

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 26 Jul 2014 08:53:45 Processing Time: 660ms