Putting things off is career hampering, stressful and bad for your health. Here's how to get working.
You have a project to do, but it's big and complex and overwhelming. Or maybe you've done a task so many times before that the thought of repeating it for the umpteenth time turns your stomach. Or it could be that your to-do list is so long you honestly believe you will never ever finish it.
The common denominator here is dread, and it usually directly precedes procrastination.
Why People Procrastinate
Lots of theories exist for why people put off until later things they could be doing right now:
Fear of failure: Feelings of insecurity can be paralyzing.
Believing that the best work is done under pressure: In practice this might work for some people, but the idea you can't do good work until you have a deadline breathing down your neck is a cop-out and excuse for lollygagging.
Perfectionism: Some people balk if the prospect of doing flawless work is in question.
Disorganization: A big problem when it comes to checking off a to-do list is not having one.
Depression: Feelings such as hopelessness and fatigue--hallmarks of depression--are demotivating, to say the least.
Whatever your reasons for procrastinating, it's a good idea to figure out why you're doing it and then change your modus operandi. In addition to hampering your success on the job, it acts as a stressor that can cause all sorts of physiological problems.
Tricks to Stay on Task
Change your scenery.
I don't know about you, but my desk is covered with distractions--comforts such as hand lotion and a cup of steaming herbal tea, not to mention vitamins, bills, books I'm supposed to be reading, papers my kids need signed for school--scads of things just begging for my attention. What works beautifully for me when I need to get a ton of work done is to pick up my laptop and camp out somewhere else. You might try working in an empty cube or conference room or even somewhere completely out of your element, like a library.
Get rid of your Internet.
Online distractions are the bane of anyone who wants to actually get anything done. Here's what my Inc. colleague, John Brandon, says he does: "Sometimes I unplug my router, bring it upstairs, and put it in a closet. Then I go back to my computer. I can't browse the Web or do anything else, so I just work. It's a pain to go get the router back so I don't just reconnect."
Quit waffling between projects.
Sometimes I'll be working on several projects at once but instead of just cranking them out one at a time, I'll work on one for a while, then flip over to another, and so on. As a result, all of them take seemingly forever to complete. Prioritize what needs to get done first, then just do it. If none of your projects are urgent, pick the most difficult one and get it over with. The easier ones that follow will seem like cake in comparison.
Instead of putting a huge, month-long project down as one line item on your list, break it down into action items you can check off frequently. And this is important: Update your to-do list at least once every day--if you don't the whole exercise is just more wasted time.
Figure out which tasks you don't like doing and why.
Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of the Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network, says thinking about the reasons you're putting things off is particularly effective. "When you actually write it down it helps to almost get it out like a confessional type of thing, like therapy," he says. "Then you can try and look and find help for how to overcome that."
Don't expect perfection.
Obviously, if the task is something a client will see, this doesn't apply, but for mundane things getting something 80 percent done is better than not at all. "It's very similar to saying you want to run a mile, but the fact of the matter is running a half a mile is better than not running at all," Gimbel says.
Tell someone you respect when you'll finish.
A high-achieving software designer I know uses this one. He says it will make you look bad if you don't come through, and you don't want that.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish