I’ve been thinking about writing about procrastination for some time now, but I keep putting it off. Ha, ha, but it’s true. For some people, this post will seem foreign. You are the ones who tackle every project with gusto and vigor, never pausing until it is finished. You need not read any further. You’re excused.
But if you find your mind wandering, if you waver when you know a deadline is looming, if you have trouble staying on track and following through, this post is for you.
First of all, if you’re a procrastinator, you’re in good company. Many highly successful people procrastinate. I’ve been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bully Pulpit, which is about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the golden age of journalism. I was surprised to learn that Taft was an inveterate procrastinator, yet he served as solicitor general, secretary of war, president and chief justice of the United States. Other famous procrastinators, according to the The Daily Beast, include Bill Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Franz Kafka and St. Augustine.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson took procrastination to new heights. He was assigned to cover the Kentucky Derby in 1970 by Scanlan’s Monthly, and he missed the deadline. With a courier waiting at his hotel room door for his story, he began ripping pages of notes straight out of his notebook and handing them to the courier. He thought his career was over, but his piece won rave reviews.
I do not recommend imitating Thompson’s celebrated work habits or lack thereof.
Mindtools.com has a little test you can take to see if you are a procrastinator. I found that I am a “mild procrastinator.” At least I didn’t slip into the “procrastinator” category, which indicates that you are missing deadlines and wasting a lot of time. That’s time, by the way, that you could be using to get critical tasks completed. If you don’t believe me, take inventory of the cost of dragging your feet. How much business are you losing? How much more could you get done if you closed the gap between what you intend to accomplish and what you actually do?
But how to overcome procrastination? I think we all know intuitively what we should be doing to buckle down, but here are five ideas in case you are hopelessly mired in procrastination. These are good reminders for mild procrastinators, too.
- Keep a schedule of tasks and projects. When are your projects due? How much time will it take to accomplish them? A little trick I learned years ago from my publishing days is to count backwards from the date you want to deliver the finished, printed piece. You not only know when your part is due, but you understand how if you miss your deadline, it could throw off the whole project.
- Divide big projects into smaller pieces. So often we become overwhelmed by the enormity of an assignment. But if we break it down into its logical parts, we can tackle just about anything. It also helps to have an action plan that spells out each milestone and its expected completion date.
- Get other people involved. When you’re part of a team, peer pressure helps to ward off procrastination. You don’t want to let down your team members, and they will hold you responsible for your share of the work. You might also ask someone you trust to hold you accountable for your goals and deadlines. Accountability groups are a good way to do that.
- Tackle your toughest assignments at the beginning of the day. Most time-management experts will tell you that you’re freshest in the morning, and that’s the ideal time to get the hardest chores off your plate. Author Brian Tracy calls it “eating a frog.” If you can get your frogs out of the way first thing, you’ll end the day having accomplished what is really important.
- Reward yourself. If you’ve met your deadline or finished a particularly tough assignment, give yourself a break! Take a little time to relax and do something enjoyable before you take on your next project. The same goes with your team. Reward your organization for a job well done.
How about you? How do you deal with procrastination?