I used to get A grades in procrastination. And from the comments of participants at my speeches and time management courses over the last 20 years, many others struggle with the same issue.
So what is procrastination? I believe a significant issue for many is a lack of clarity about what's important and when to deal with those important items - in other words, a lack of clear goals. With every group I work with, we discuss goals - and the value of expressing them in some way - writing them down or creating pictures.
Typically about 5 per cent of the room will have any written goals (apart from some business ones. (See Why Should People Set Goals for a comprehensive guide to setting goals.)
Why discuss goals when we're talking about procrastination?
Think of it this way. Picture a very rainy day and a house with blocked guttering. It can't cope with the deluge and water is everywhere - spilling over the gutters, flooding the paths and gardens. However, if we clear the spouting, very quickly the water drains away.
I see our brain working the same way. Too often we feel overwhelmed with too many choices. It's seems we're punching cotton wool. Result - overload, confusion, lack of focus, no clarity, indecision and procrastination. Our mental drains are blocked. The fastest way to unblock them is to pick up a writing stick, (otherwise known as a pen or your fast-flashing keyboard fingers) and jot down everything currently rattling around in that necktop computer of yours.
As soon as things are down on paper (or the electronic equivalent) the flood of ideas is channelled and easy to manage. There is an immediate reduction of pressure (stress) and we're in control.
People are usually reasonable at doing planning the small things in life. But a close analysis of the bigger objectives in our lives often get pushed back - it seems too hard, not enough time, don't want to fail ...
But perhaps you're saying, 'it's not to do with planning and goals - I really am a procrastinator'.
Eat your vegetables first! Do the hard thing first and the rest is a breeze.
Think of the last time you dragged the chain on a tricky task, put off something unpleasant, deferred deadlines, used side-stepping avoidance techniques that would make a football player envious?
How did you feel? Heavy, lethargic, guilty sometimes, generally less than top class?
And conversely, ever noticed the rush of adrenalin when you finally tackle a task that's been hanging over your head for ages?
By doing the most important thing, or sometimes the hardest thing, first thing in the day, we experience more job satisfaction and a reduction of stress. Often we'll also do a better job.
Learn to actively seek the feelings of success by taking action quickly. It releases endorphins: they make us feel more energetic and able to move faster, and we actually get more done.
Beware of majoring in minor things
The easy tasks can very easily seduce us into wasting time.
Sometimes we find ourselves doing low priority low value activities just to have a break. Or we've moved up the ladder of our industry but enjoy doing some of these routine activities and don't really want to let go. Or, it may be that we're a business owner who hasn't yet learnt how to delegate and train effectively.
If we ask ourselves, 'What hourly rate is this work worth?' and 'What else could I do if this task was delegated?' it often helps us find ways to share lower-value work (and maybe create another job). If we're doing work that's worth a lesser amount, we're effectively earning that lower figure (or we become a very expensive resource to our organisation).
Would you like to join Robyn for breakfast? If you're quick you could win one of 5 free places at one of her GettingAGrip Breakfast Club seminars (valued at $95) in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Palmerston North - 7am - 9am.
Email email@example.com with 'Breakfast Club - NZ Herald online article' in the subject line. Please advise preferred location. More information here.