Leading Edge: Limitless Transformation – Defeating Procrastination

Limitless Transformation from Aegis Learning and Tim Schneider

To eliminate procrastination, begin (as in now, not next week) to do the following:

1. Set and Adhere to Deadlines
Please refer to the Overthinking Section for more on creating and working with deadlines.

The only additional consideration for procrastinators to is move deadlines forward from the actual deadline. So, if the report is due on Friday, create and document a Wednesday deadline for yourself. If your friend needs to hear about the dinner plans by Monday, create and document a Saturday (the prior one, not the later one) deadline.

2. Create Increments
Because we often work with large tasks and projects, it is often necessary, and extremely helpful for procrastinators, to break them down into smaller incremental pieces. If budget projections are due at the end of the month, break each category like income, payroll, fixed expenses, variable expenses, and miscellaneous items into individual tasks and spread them out weekly. At the end of the month, the sum of the incremental tasks is the budget is done and on time.

Likewise, if you need to clean the garage by the end of the month, separate the elements out like yard equipment, tools, storage items, and attack each weekly until the garage is clean. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

3. Create Priorities
Procrastinators must learn to devote their time and energy to where it has the highest impact and importance. The first step in creating and adhering to a priority-based system is to inventory what you must do, what you have going on. Often a procrastinator will use a last-in, first-out methodology in dealing with tasks and projects. So, no matter how important or unimportant something is, if it is the first on the stack (or top of the email inbox), it gets the attention. This approach is fatally flawed and will continue with the cycle of missed opportunities.

We always advocate for a simple, but elegant, prioritization system. After you have identified everything you need to do, assign a priority of either one, two, or three. Anything much more complicated than this will end up being more bother than utility. Priority one should be if it impacts a customer or makes or saves money. Priority two is if it is a team member’s need or issue and finally, priority three is anything else of organizational value.

From a personal perspective, priority one would be if it is for your spouse, significant other, or kids. Priority two would be for another family member or friend and priority three would be the general good of the household.

This priority system begs a question about what is not a one, two, or three. This will test both the procrastinators and the perfectionists. So, if it is not categorized as a priority, the short answer is it should get none of your time and attention and should be removed from any inbox or task list. That’s right. Gone. Bye. Kaput. For leaders, they will always have the option of delegating these types of things to others but that should only be done after analysis of legitimate value to someone or the organization. For everyone else, we need to let go and consciously note that we have no regret or second thought about doing them.

Another challenge of a priority system is what to do with those things we like to do but are not high priorities or no priority at all. I enjoy mowing the yard but comparing that to other priorities, it is meaningless especially when I have the option of outsourcing that chore. Simply said, if it is no priority, you have no business devoting time to it, even if you like it.

One, two, three, or no priority and no action. That simple.

The final part of using a prioritization system is using it. That means devoting the plurality of your time and energy to the high priorities (ones) while taking care of the twos and threes as time allows and never in conflict with a higher priority. Never.

4. Develop Risk Tolerance
A shared characteristic of perfectionists and procrastinators is a lack of risk tolerance. This must be developed if you are going to leave the self-defeat of procrastination.

Everyday when you hop on the freeway, you are taking a risk. You risk the behavior and consideration of other drivers. You risk the design quality of the road engineers. You risk a lot. There are those people that are paralyzed by this proposition but most of us willing jump into our cars and make the needed trek.

What separates this risk from others that we face at work or home is the degree of scrutiny from others. When we push a decision or action quickly, we risk the critique from others. When we procrastinate the same decision or action, some of that is mitigated. For people who share overthinking and procrastination, this phenomenon is especially true.

Use a simple little bit of math to help yourself with risk tolerance. Look at what the real chances are of a negative event. And please note that on unknow events, the chances are exactly equal of a positive outcome and a negative outcome.

5. Time and Task Planning
One of the reasons that procrastinators procrastinate or proclaim failure with all tries to stop procrastination is that they have poor time management skills and practices.

To reduce procrastination, you must balance your “to dos” with the available time that you have and avoid dumping everything going on into one giant task list. Consider listing seven tasks needed today and your calendar is packed from the start of the day to the end of the day. You have no chance of accomplishing those and it is discouraging folly to even list them for the day.

A more thoughtful approach and one with a significantly higher chance of success is to spread your tasks out based on available capacity. Look at your calendar and see where you have the capacity and map out your tasks where the time allows. Also avoid a master task list (or honey do list) at all costs. These can become discouraging based on the shear volume of items and so overwhelming to the procrastinator that nothing gets done or even started.

6. Prioritize the Unpleasant
One of the most frequently procrastinated items are those things that are unpleasant or that we don’t want to do. Ugly stuff. That difficult conversation. Reconciling the account that you’ve ignored for three years. Cleaning the hall closet. Whatever your unpleasant is, make it an early priority during the day, absolutely first thing. Using this approach, you are devoting the highest energy you have to a difficult or undesired task and thus getting it done quicker but the greatest benefit is in that it will be out of the way early and pave the way for a great rest of the day.

7. Use the 25 – 5 Rule
This may be more of a productivity enhancer, but it will help procrastinators break up larger projects that they are delaying or otherwise ignoring. Work on a task or project for 25 minutes, take five minutes off to clear your mind, get fresh coffee or whatever. Then shift to another task or project for 25 minutes with the five-minute break repeated and then move back to the first project and repeat until completed. This keeps your mind fresh and gives you a break to avoid the diminishing returns of trying to power through a four-hour project or task. Give this a try and you will be amazed at the spike in productivity and the loss of drag from working on one thing for a long period of time.

Please note that in some cases, procrastination can be caused by underlying psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. If you believe that may be the case, please contact a counselling or therapy professional.

Procrastination Frequency:
Often __________
Occasionally __________
Never __________

Procrastination Impact:

High ____________________
Moderate ____________________
Low ____________________

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