Whether it's putting off answering emails or waiting until the last possible minute to submit a project before its deadline, we've all procrastinated. For some of us, however, procrastination is a constant struggle--one that can have a detrimental impact on a business if it isn't addressed.
As the co-founder and managing partner of a content marketing company, there is seemingly no end to my to-do list--and I'll admit that I can be prone to procrastinating on certain types of projects. But over the years, I've picked up a few tips and found a few tools that have helped me better manage my time and stay productive.
Here are five tricks chronic procrastinators can use to become organized, hold themselves accountable--and finally get their work done once and for all.
1. Be realistic about your bandwidth.
A common reason we procrastinate is that there are just too many things on our plates. For instance, you know you have a big presentation coming up at the end of the month, but your day-to-day becomes occupied by smaller tasks (in part because it's easier to focus on them and check them off). The next thing you know, that presentation is only a couple of days away and you haven't even started it.
To reduce the number of tasks that prevent you from getting your work done, be realistic about your capacity to take on more work. Determine which responsibilities can be delegated, shifted, or put on hold to better prioritize the larger (and more pressing) project that's coming up.
2. Break up large projects or deadlines into small tasks.
There's nothing more overwhelming than seeing a major deadline on your calendar and treating it as though it's a single task to check off your list. With so many elements that go into these large projects, it only makes sense (and is a lot more satisfying) to break them up into smaller, more manageable to-dos.
As you break down your projects, invest in a project management tool to help you organize and prioritize tasks by month, week, and even day. We employ Basecamp at my content marketing company. I often organize my to-do list for the week, but only let myself schedule -- and visually see -- four or five tasks max in a day. That number is manageable and encourages me to dive in rather than feel overwhelmed.
3. Put time blocking into action.
Studies have found that we can focus for only 90 minutes before we need a break--and I can only assume that our attention spans are even shorter now thanks to our digital devices.
Instead of fighting that attention span, use it to your advantage by working in short sprints through a technique known as time blocking. I like to block off specific times in my calendar to complete tasks -- let's say answering emails, for instance -- and I turn off all of my notifications when executing them.
You can also try a method like the Pomodoro technique to get focused work done. This system (which requires a timer) encourages you to work on a single task with zero distractions for 25 minutes before taking a five-minute break.
4. Eliminate distractions -- or at least put them on pause.
Whether you work from home or you're back in the office, there will always be distractions -- from chatty co-workers to interruptions from family members or roommates, not to mention all of those devices vying for your attention.
Though you may not be able to control the external factors that interrupt your workflow, you can do something about those pesky digital distractions. Turn off your email and messaging notifications to eliminate the constant pings. Or, take it a step further by leaving your phone in another room.
5. Reward yourself in small ways.
Nearly all of us are motivated by positive reinforcement -- kudos and small rewards for a job well done. Don't wait for your client or team to give them to you. If you have a challenging task ahead, tell yourself that you'll treat yourself to something (it can be as small as a 10-minute walk around the block or a specialty latte--or both) for tackling and completing that challenge.
Procrastination is bound to sneak up on you at some point, but you can definitely control how much it affects your workday. Put these techniques into action to keep you on track when you're feeling less than focused.