I’ve struggle nearly all my life with procrastination: most of us do. Because I work at an agency, procrastination is even more damaging as missing client deadlines causes reverberative struggle. It can drive down overall account satisfaction, tarnish our brand, and make growing more difficult.
I looked to various project management tools to help stay on track. Sometimes these helped collect thoughts, but they usually fell apart quickly as I leaned too much on the tool itself to manage projects. Next, I tried adding new activities and workshops to projects. These process changes only helped so much because the activities themselves didn’t actually address the problem.
This is usually the part where you expect me to proudly exclaim to the world that I had been ignoring the fact that I was the problem. I think most of us realize we’re procrastinating which, if anything, starts the feedback loop from hell. Our awareness that we’re procrastinating causes further self-doubt and anxiety. Let’s stop that whole cycle from the get go.
First, I’ve found that it’s best to assume that you don’t know and don’t have the answers for whatever you’re procrastinating about. Whether it’s how to start an essay, how to connect two disparate parts of a proposal, or how to dive into a new app, don’t expect to KNOW what you need to do. Take a massive step back.
Consider objectives: where do you want to be at the end of this? For the salesperson, this might be relating a client need with a particular solution. For the developer, this might be understanding how a class or script works. Get in touch with this minute goal.
Document your brain: literally write or type (I find the former more helpful, but believe me: I hate paper and usually throw my scribbles away after transferring them to Google Docs) your objectives and what you already know. Thinking it in your head isn’t enough. Form something that resembles a sentence. Bullets are fine, but if your bullets don’t even make sense no one will have a chance of helping with your task, and your ability to communicate clearly will help distill your thoughts.
I’m a believer that a lot of procrastination occurs when we don’t fully grasp what we actually have to do. Which is great! It means we actually don’t suck at the task: we just don’t understand what it is. Modularizing a task into smaller pieces can help.
For some people, this manifests as a bulleted list, post-its on a whiteboard, scribbles on a tablet, or paper pinned to a cork board. This is where the discovery occurs. What helps you modularize the nebulous tasks that are thrown our way?
When you brainstorm the items of a task, don’t worry about the order they’re listed. In fact, don’t even worry about listing everything in one go. Taking a couple sessions or randomly noting things to your list throughout the day is totally acceptable. I use the notes app on my iPhone incessantly to dump ideas and items into notes throughout the day.
This might seem like more time than just doing the task, and it might be, but if we’re not doing the task this is a place to start. Over time, you’ll understand the most effective form of modularization for you and learn how to use it more intrinsically.
Learning HOW to complete tasks is worth as much as actually completing the task because when we know more about ourselves, it pays dividends.