Procrastination is frustrating but not always unnecessary. Sometimes we need to stop and process what we’re doing in order to see the bigger picture, or simply sit in quiet reflection to give our brains a break. But if you find yourself constantly putting off tasks and it’s having a negative impact on your working day, there are some simple ways to find and keep the focus you need.
Break down tasks into achievable goals
If your to-do list contains major tasks, getting started is usually the hardest part. Look at what you have to do and break it down. ‘Write strategy’ is a daunting prospect, but ‘plan outline’, ‘identify stakeholders’ and ‘establish timeline’ are all necessary but much more achievable goals.
Make a list of those goals, prioritise them and tackle them one at a time. Each small achievement will be a boost to tackle the next task.
It may sound counter-productive, but regular breaks are important. Use your break times to eat, stretch your legs and do other tasks that aren’t related to the work that you’re doing.
Have a clear plan for your day with a list of deliverables and stick to it as far as possible. Don’t be tempted to stop for five minutes to put the washer on or make a snack. Do those things during your breaks and have clear boundaries.
Blurring the lines between work and play means you do neither well.
Identify what’s urgent and important, and what’s important but not necessarily urgent. Is there a chain? Is someone waiting for you to deliver so they can pick up the next stage of the task?
Remember that people email and call you when they want something, but you don’t have to fall in with their schedule. Think quickly and assess whether the task is truly necessary right now, or whether it can wait.
Talk to someone
Verbalising things makes them real. Often, something that seems impossible isn’t so bad when you talk about it. Speak to a colleague to discuss what needs to be done and how you can complete it. Ask how they would approach the task, or if they’ve done something similar and have any advice to offer.
As well as breaking the cycle of procrastination, you may also get some inspiration.
Stop and take stock
If you’ve lost half the day and feel you have nothing to show for it, stop and assess where you are.
It may be that you’ve achieved more than you think – have you been responding to emails, or on a call? It could be that you’re overloaded and it’s impossible to complete everything expected of you. If that’s the case, then it’s a resourcing issue that needs to be flagged with a manager.
But even if you have spent hours staring into space, all is not lost. Be honest with yourself and be realistic. If the time you have left isn’t enough to deliver what you promised, work out what you can complete and do it.
Shorten your time span
Whether you’re overloaded, don’t have enough work to do, or simply don’t like the job you’re doing, the thought of a long day stretching a head of you can be overwhelming. Break it down into hours and focus on what you can achieve an hour at a time.
By the end of the day you’ve achieved lots of small goals, instead of getting to the end of the day and feeling frustrated that you didn’t do anything.