Photo via Bigstock

We procrastinate for a variety of reasons.  Fear.  Intimidation.  Laziness.  Distractions.  All reasonable obstacles.  But if you’re prioritized your tasks and projects correctly, the work still needs to get done.

I’ve found that procrastination can be the single-largest hurdle keeping individuals at all levels from being more productive and getting more done.

It’s a silent killer, easy to justify in the moment, until that high-potential time has passed and you still aren’t done.

Everybody I know who has a proactive strategy to fight procrastination still suffers from it regularly, but there are several tricks and best practices that can help you win the fight far more often than you lose it.  Here are seven tips to get you started:

1.     Break what you’re doing into smaller tasks

The project at hand can seem too large and intimidating.  So instead of tackling it all at once, break it down to individual tasks.  If you’re writing a column like this, for example, start with a brainstorm of ideas or an outline.  That’s likely the first step of the project anyway, and getting that done gives you both progress and momentum.

2.     Use the 10-minute rule to get started

Get projects started in 10 minutes. Photo: Alan Cleaver

No matter how big or intimidating the task in front of you, giving yourself a limit of just 10 minutes to get it started often feels far more manageable and something you could get rolling on immediately.  Most of the time, you’ll get through that 10 minutes quickly but also feel like you’re already on a roll and will want to continue.  Sometimes all it takes is getting started to break through the procrastination.  Worst case, you stop after 10 minutes but already, mentally, have a far better picture of what it’ll take to finish (which, in turn, will make future procrastination for that specific project far less likely).

3.     Put a reward at the finish line

What do you get when you finish?  What do you NOT get until you finish?  Make it something fun and motivational – a coffee run, a piece of chocolate, 15 minutes reading your favorite blogs, something enjoyable that will further motivate you to get off your duff and get started already.

4.    Eliminate distractions

Matt Heinz

It’s way too easy to entertain distractions when you’d prefer to do almost anything but the job in front of you.  It’s hard enough not to sift through email, the stack of papers on your desk, or click the RSS feed tab on your browser.  When it’s really time to work, turn off as many distractions as possible.  Close your email and your browser if possible, close your office door or put on headphones (even if there’s nothing coming through them), and put your phone on forward.  Eliminate anything and everything that could be a distraction (especially for those critical first 10 minutes you need to gain some momentum with the project).

5.     Shorten your to-do list

Sometimes procrastination rears its ugly head when you have too many things to choose from.  If your to-do list is too long, that alone could be intimidating enough to draw your attention elsewhere.  What’s the most important thing to do on that list?  What things can you explicitly put on an “optional” list, or even just a list that can be tackled tomorrow, so that today’s list is both prioritized and manageable?  Getting through 2-3 critical tasks is much easier than staring at 8-10 on your list.

6.     Create uninterrupted time to focus

Much has been written about how massively distracting it is to start and stop projects all day.  Eliminating distractions around you will help, but try to set up longer periods of time to focus and execute.  Brad Feld recently talked about this in his blog, referring to one of his portfolio company’s desire to be a “monastic startup” – meaning they focus on giving their developers as much long, uninterrupted time to work as possible.  When you have something important to get done, block your calendar and give yourself the time you need to mentally and fully engage.

7.     Cancel unimportant commitments on your calendar

I’m sure your calendar is full, but is that next meeting really that important?  Is it more important than getting today’s most important project or task completed?  Attending optional or less-important meetings is a form of procrastination.  Cancelling, delegating or deferring non-critical meetings not only eliminates this particular procrastination excuse, but allow for more of the “monastic” time you need to get things done.

These are all easier said than done, and (if you’re like me) you’ll still suffer from occasional bouts of procrastination.  This column, after all, was supposed to be written yesterday.

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs. 

Procrastination photo via Bigstock.

 

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Comments

  • http://www.elliotvolkman.com Elliot S. Volkman

    Second paragraph -> *being

    • johnhcook

      Thanks Elliot. I should have caught that. Just made the change. 

  • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

    Excellent suggestions!

  • Dweller

    good suggestions for those who hate their jobs?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasongrimes Jason Grimes

    Great article Matt – I loved the title, Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastination – sucked me right in. I’m definitely a little biased, but RescueTime is an excellent productivity improvement tool. Hit me up if you want to see it work. Jason at rescuetime dot com.

  • Manov rao

    Good tricks to increase productivity.

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