I have a confession to make: I didn't feel like writing this column, so I was tempted to put it off. My day started with a challenging meeting. Then I was faced with a difficult situation involving a team member, and then I got the bad news that a client was not renewing his contract.

So, even if I didn't duck out of the office to visit a bar, I was tempted to spend my afternoon on busy work rather than tackling a tough task like writing this.

But I am powering through. Why? Because I learned a long time ago that procrastinating doesn't pay. 

I used to be really good at procrastinating, taking comfort in the fact that I was among the 25 percent of chronic procrastinators. And I bought into all the usual BS about procrastination: The pressure makes you more creative. It's actually more efficient than dragging tasks out. And the quality of your work doesn't suffer just because you rush to get it done.

Um, wrong. But since I was such an idiot about procrastination, what finally made me quit? I hit a tipping point. My company had grown to more than 20 people. I was transitioning from practitioner to leader. And I realized that almost everything I worked on affected the ability of one of my team members to do his or her job.

In other words, every time I procrastinated, I made people's work lives much, much harder.

So one day, without saying anything, I just quit. Here's how you can quit procrastinating and become more productive:

1. Make a to-do list limited to one to three items.

These are the most important things you need to accomplish today or this week. These should be the game changers, the essentials, the make-it-or-break-it items that really, really matter. And schedule enough time to get those things done, blocking your calendar, locking your door, forcing yourself not to get distracted by all the little tasks that clutter up your day.

2. Approach every project backwards.

Walk back from the deadline to today. Then figure out what you need to do right now to get to the finish line. 

3. Set priorities based on what you owe team members.

For example, when I am leading a workshop, I know I need help from my design team to create the slides. So I create content and brief the designer well ahead of time so she won't have to rush to do her job.

4. Decide when you are most productive and set aside time to tackle difficult problems.

For me, that's early morning. So I wall off time--avoiding meetings before 10 a.m.--and get to work during those periods.

5. Know the difference between "percolation" and "procrastination."

I definitely need a buffer between when I receive information and when I can solve the problem. That means allowing time for ideas to brew. But that doesn't mean I have to wait until the eve of when something is due. Usually one or two days creates enough time to allow my subconscious to work things through.

6. Approach your work like salami and cheese.

This tip comes from Brian Tracy in his book Master Your Time, Master Your Life. Sometimes the best way to complete a major project is to take a small slice (like salami) and complete just that one piece. Or practice the Swiss-cheese technique, treating your task like a block of cheese--"Punch holes in it, selecting a five-minute part of the job," writes Tracy--and getting that done.

7. Trick yourself.

If the deadline is weeks or even months from now, create targets you have to hit. For example, a colleague and I are going to lead a staff workshop in March. So I just invited him to a meeting at the beginning of February to discuss what we're going to cover. That creates a deadline for me, signaling that I need to give the topic some thought before the preliminary meeting.

Published on: Jan 14, 2020
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