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Making a leap from procrastination to productivity isn’t just a matter of using the right kind of tools, techniques or butt-kicking motivational quotes – it usually requires looking a bit deeper than that. In this post, we’ll explore that depth and help you move from procrastination to productivity…
Step 1: What’s your flavour of procrastination?
Nathaniel Branden wisely noted that “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance” which means that if you’re going to get better at getting stuff done, you need to first be aware of and then accept that you’re not so hot at it currently!
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin
Delving deeper, in order to change what’s currently not working for you – and begin to delete the habits holding you back and embed new, improved ones – you need to know specifically how you currently do what you do…
Do you promise or kid yourself that you’ll write that blog post tomorrow so it’s okay to spend another 20 minute checking out what everyone’s up to on Facebook? Or that it’s kind of ‘marketing’ so it’s fine to while away half a day on Twitter chatting to your tweeps…
Or do you start something with gusto, full of energy, enthusiasm and motivation only for that to peter out about 30% of the way through, reward yourself for achieving that 30% and promise you’ll come back to it soon (which you rarely do)?
Or do you find always constantly busy, feel like you’re always behind and therefore believe you must surely be doing something worthwhile – but you then struggle to see what you actually achieved and how it made a real difference?
There are many, many flavours of procrastination – what’s yours? And what are the activities you turn to when you feel like you should be doing something but you don’t quite feel up to working on THE thing?
What’s Your Current Procrastination Strategy?
A useful approach here is to look at Belbin’s Team Roles…which ones are you?
Each role type has its own particular flavour(s) of procrastination:
- Resource Investigator – you get caught in a loop of never-ending research, checking out the competition and options, and never actually get round to doing anything concrete.
- Teamworker – you can’t seem to decide what to do or work on, and find yourself going down a path which isn’t always right for you but which proves popular with others.
- Co-ordinator – you’re reluctant to knuckle down and do the hard work, preferring instead to see if you can get others to do it for you.
- Plant – you are possibly too busy thinking of creative ideas to ever get round to implementing them.
- Monitor Evaluator – you’re too busy evaluating the options and wanting to choose the ‘right’ one, so you miss opportunities presented because of this lack of speed or urgency.
- Specialist – you obsess about one particular aspect of a project so much that you fail to see the bigger picture to move it forwards in a meaningful way.
- Shaper – your drive and determination to get things done at any cost, means you may pursue a less-than-optimum path and risk the whole project.
- Implementer – your dogged persistence in sticking with one approach means you may miss better opportunities to get something done.
- Completer Finisher – your perfectionist tendencies mean you spend far too long on a project that could already have been done and dusted allowing you to move on to the next thing; not for you, since you’re still busy obsession over the non-important finer details.
Being aware of HOW you procrastinate and DON’T get stuff done is key to understanding how you can actually get stuff done.
When you know your own strategies and tactics for stalling, delaying, faffing and NOT achieving what you set out to, you can begin to put in place things that’ll help you defeat your unproductive self!
Which flavour of procrastination are you?
Step 2: How Do You Get Stuff Done?
So now let’s contrast how you procrastinate with a time when you achieved the holy grail of doing exactly what you planned and said you were going to do, and you did it with the full satisfaction of a job thoroughly well done.
Can you think back to the last time you achieved what you wanted?
It doesn’t need to be business- or career-related…perhaps it was the last time you:
- Baked something
- Cleaned the house
- Finished a book
- Created something by hand
- Wrote a letter or even an email
…the above may seem tiny, trivial tasks but the purpose is to tap into what it is you felt (or didn’t feel) when you were doing these things. Like most of us, ultimately you CAN and DO get things done when that thing is:
- Challenging but not too challenging
- Engaged your body and mind
This is great when you’re facing tasks that tick the above boxes but what if a task isn’t enjoyable, satisfying and it’s overly challenging? What then?
Then, it’s a case of either knuckling down and using one of the techniques I’m about to share with you OR you get someone else to do it…
Techniques & Methods For Getting Things Done
Read through the Productivity Techniques here to understand a number of popular strategies for busting through procrastination habits. Have a go at a few – mix, adapt and tweak if necessary – to find one or more which work for you. Below you’ll find my tips on when to use each technique…
Use these techniques to review and manage what you’re currently doing:
- The Eisenhower/Covey Decision Matrix – excellent to help you identify whether you’re consistently spending your time on the wrong kind of tasks.
- Personal Kanban – ideal as a workflow tool to organise what you currently have on your plate, and see where things are out of balance.
- The Anti To Do list – a handy review tool to celebrate and identify what you get done each day.
Use this technique to help you complete things you’re struggling to complete:
- The Pomodoro Technique – excellent for getting boring tasks done, in manageable chunks.
Use this to establish positive habits:
- Don’t Break The Chain – useful if you want to establish small but high-impact habits.
Use this if you’re struggling to find your flow and nothing so far seems to work:
- The Optimal Biorhythm Cycle – takes things to a different, even more personal level when it comes to hacking your own productivity.
I personally use different approaches for different tasks, projects and periods in my business cycles; the key is to know when you’re procrastinating, break the pattern and choose a different approach instead. There are plenty, so pick your poison!
Exercises & Actions
In summary, to put this advice into practical action here’s what I recommend you do:
- Identify your particular flavours of procrastination. The goal here is to become even more self aware and understand how you typically sabotage your productivity and stop yourself from getting things done. When you know what your techniques are, you can put in place better techniques to use instead.
- Identify a time/task when you find flow and get stuff done with ease – note what was in place to make this happen. The goal here is to identify what conditions you need to work productively, and what you can do to replicate these when you need to.
- Experiment with and choose your preferred method to get things done (see the Productivity Techniques listed here). The goal here is to give you techniques to use when procrastination rears its ugly head; instead of sitting, stuck in a depressing cycle of getting nothing done, you can choose instead to try one of these and kickstart yourself back into a productive cycle.
- Identify your productive trigger – find something that interrupts your procrastinating pattern and nudges you to use a methodology that work; it may be a timer/alarm, asking your other half to ask what you’re working on (if you find yourself responding defensively, that’s usually a sign you’re NOT being as productive as you could be!), or whatever will help you constantly assess whether you’re getting stuff done or NOT getting stuff done.
– a summary list of all the resources mentioned above:
- Belbin’s Team Roles
- The Pomodoro Technique
- The Eisenhower App
- Personal Kanban 101
- Trello (to create a Personal Kanban)
Step 3: How To See Your Productivity Blind Spots
Now you know how you do procrastination and you’ve identified some of the productivity tools and techniques to help you combat this, it’s time for another healthy dose of self-awareness and radical honesty with yourself!
It requires you to take a long hard look at how you spend your time and the internal dialogue you have with yourself about your time, your goals and your dreams…
What Are You Blind To?
It’s a trick question, isn’t it? Because most of the time we don’t know what we don’t know, and a blind spot by its very nature is something we can’t see.
Sometimes however, a blind spot isn’t so much something we can’t see but more something we don’t want to or refuse to see…
- It’s the 3 hours a day you spend on Facebook, in the name of ‘customer research’.
- It’s doing your finances instead of writing that e-course.
- It’s cleaning the kitchen instead of creating your business plan.
- It’s the 30 minutes you take to write a 5-line email, obsessing over the tone and wording of every single sentence.
- It’s the creation of numerous pretty images and quotes to share on social media, in the name of ‘content marketing’.
- It’s always telling yourself that your kids/the dog/your significant other/your job etc. is more important than the thing you’ve always wanted to create.
- It’s clearing your inbox instead of writing that book.
- It’s buying and trying every ebook, ecourse and e-product under the sun, instead of creating your own (again in the name of ‘research’).
- It’s prioritising everything else over and above the creation of your own business/art/book.
- It’s always putting client work first ahead of working on your own business.
- It’s drifting along feeling like you’re working to a plan, when in reality you have no idea where you are, where you’re going or what on earth to do next.
- It’s telling yourself, “I’ve got plenty of time to do this tomorrow”…when tomorrow never comes.
- It’s talking endlessly about what you’re going to do but never actually getting round to doing it.
Your blind spots can also be mistaken beliefs or beliefs that don’t serve you well. A belief that…
- What you’re doing is working.
- What you’re doing isn’t working.
- All you need to do to make things work is work a bit harder.
- Your business/idea isn’t that important; there are far greater priorities in your life.
- Your clients and customers come first.
- You don’t deserve help and support.
- It is more worthy or worthwhile to struggle on, alone.
- It’s cheaper to do everything by yourself.
- It’s not costing you anything to maintain the current status quo.
- You have far more time than money.
- Growing your business doesn’t require anything more than you working harder.
- Asking for support is for weak people.
- You’ll be seen as a failure if you ask for help.
- You’ll manage; you always have.
Why Do You Procrastinate?
Understanding how you procrastinate is useful but knowing why you do it is the real key to overcoming it.
Why do you choose to spend time doing tasks that don’t move your closer to where you want to be, in effect self sabotaging your dreams, goals, and plans?
You may be doing this unconsciously, unaware that you are self sabotaging all your efforts; or perhaps you are fully conscious and aware of what you’re doing but for some reason you’re unable to stop yourself.
The Four Stages of Competence can help you understand where you are on this:
Unconscious Incompetence – in this scenario, you don’t consciously realise that what you’re doing isn’t moving your forwards. You may not even realise that you’re procrastinating because you believe that what you’re doing is actually working. You’re in denial, and need to set better measures to determine what is and isn’t successful and effective.
Conscious Incompetence – in this scenario, you know that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to do what you need to do but you’re choosing not to address this lack of skill and instead fiddle around doing everything but the one thing you need to do that would move you forwards. Why are you refusing to address this?
Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence – in both of these scenarios, where you possess the required skill to make progress, the fact that you’re choosing to procrastinate instead hints at a deeper motivation to NOT make progress.
Usually – like the consciously incompetent – the ‘choice’ to procrastinate and self sabotage comes from fear…
What Do You Fear?
The reason why many people sabotage their own success through procrastination in any form often boils down to fear.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fear of judgement
- Fear of not fitting in
- Fear of not standing out
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of knowing what you’ll face
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of being right
- Fear of change
- Fear of staying the same
- Fear of winning
- Fear of losing
- Fear of dying
- Fear of living
…as you read through the list above, which elicits the strongest response in you? Whatever your fear, there’s only one true way to overcome it…face it.
You can deny it, bury it, ignore it and run from it but I wonder how that’s been working out for you so far?
One effective technique to face a fear of any kind is to stare down the barrel of it; to imagine the worst case scenario and then think about how you’d cope, what you’d do and how it’d feel.
When you face it, it’s no longer the unknown and when you face it and consider how you’d cope on an emotional and practical level, you activate a more positive response in yourself – a solutions-based approach – versus a motionless, uncontrollable fear.
When you address your procrastination at this deeper level – getting to the core of ‘why’ you procrastinate – it means you can adapt your procrastination-busting approach to be multi-pronged; you can work at all levels – both surface and deep –using the techniques, tools and approaches we’re sharing to get stuff done.
What Blind Spots Can You Now See That You Couldn’t Before?
Step 4: Practical Tools To Eliminate Blind Spots
Now we’ve dug deep into why you procrastinate and you’ve seen your productivity blind spots, let’s move back to the surface and look at some common trouble spots which seem to attract procrastination all by themselves.
If you recall the Eisenhower/Covey Matrix, you may remember that ‘Interruptions’ featured in Quadrant 3 (Urgent But Not Important)…
Many of us use interruptions to procrastinate without realising it; we allow ourselves to be distracted and interrupted by things which may be urgent and appear important but which often aren’t.
Below you’ll find a number of tools to help you minimise or even eliminate these interruptions and distractions to allow you to get on with the most important work…
If you’re already dragged down by a heaving inbox, use Unroll.me to manage all your subscriptions and newsletter emails. It is one of my *must have* tools to keep on top of my own inbox and can instantly help you stem the tide.
To process emails languishing in your inbox, try the Email Game. It makes the process of dealing with your email that tiny bit more fun and leaves you little time to faff.
If all else fails, declare email bankruptcy. If deleting everything feels a bit too radical for you, create a separate folder or label, mark all remaining email as ‘read’, and then file/archive every single email currently in your inbox, to leave you with a completely blank slate. Ahhhhh, now that feels good, doesn’t it?
Once your inbox is under control, then ensure you use Unroll.me to keep it that way, as well as filters, canned responses and, most importantly, establishing good email processing habits.
How to use filters: Filters can be used to automatically process certain emails that you don’t necessarily need to read/process manually. Useful filters for Gmail/Google Apps users include:
- Process payment receipts from Paypal: Identify emails that come from firstname.lastname@example.org (check the email address you usually receive payment receipts from) > Mark as read > Skip the inbox > Apply the label e.g. “Receipts”.
- Delete notifications you don’t need to see: Identify emails that come from address notifications > Delete it.
- Prioritise and label emails from certain clients: Identify emails that come from specific client addresses > Apply the label > Always mark it as important.
How to use canned responses: If you find yourself frequently sending the same kind of responses and answers to emails, it can be useful to create “Canned responses” which enable you to instantly paste in a pre-typed response and hit send. This can save you a massive amount of time. You’ll find this setting in the Labs section of your Gmail/Google Apps settings.
Good email habits: Regularly declaring email bankruptcy is not a good email habit 😉 Better habits to cultivate* include:
- Scheduling a daily processing time to manage your emails and sticking to it. Many productivity gurus will tell you NOT to process your emails first thing in the morning. I do! But I do it with boundaries so that I do not get sucked into dealing with them all day. I spend 20-30 minutes processing emails that I’ve marked/starred for that day and then leave the rest for another time. It means that I can carry on with my other work knowing I’ve dealt with anything that feels like it’s hanging over my head, without being sucked into dealing with non-urgent/newly received emails.
- Get into the habit of unsubscribing from emails you never read.
Unroll.me is good for this and is a more positively karmic** way than marking something as SPAM, especially if you did actually sign up for it in the first place.
- Find a system that works for you with Labels/Folders.
I use labels to help prioritise emails to process; it’s a little bit like creating a Personal Kanban flow in my inbox – I have a label for emails that need processing in the next few days, priority emails that need processing within 24 hours and reference emails that I need to keep for reference at a later date but that don’t need processing right now. I then combine this with the Multiple Inbox feature in Gmail to give me a customised view.
- Explore other tools that automatically help you keep emails to a minimum.
Check out tools like Slack and HipChat to communicate internally with a team, or even specific clients. It keeps all conversations in one place and means you’re not overwhelmed with hundreds of emails when needing a lot of back and forth about a project or task. I have internal HipChat rooms as well as specific private rooms for clients – and the online Office we use for this course is also a HipChat room.
* The “Don’t break the chain” technique is a good technique to use for this.
** When you practice email marketing for your own business, you’ll know how frustrating it is when people mark your emails as SPAM even though they signed up for them. It’s lazy and bad practice; please respect your fellow entrepreneurs and unsubscribe instead of marking them as SPAM. By all means mark something as SPAM, if you don’t ever recall subscribing to it however.
Managing phone calls requires YOU to change your mindset and behaviour around them. While you can use services that reroute all calls to a mobile so you don’t need to be tied to an office, the goal here is to NOT let yourself be interrupted or distracted by unscheduled calls that you are not expecting.
My own rules include:
- I NEVER pick up the phone if I don’t recognise the number; if it’s important or urgent, they’ll leave a message.
- I NEVER pick up the phone if a number is withheld; if it’s important or urgent, they’ll leave a message.
- I SOMETIMES pick up the phone from friends and family if they call at unarranged times. Again, if it’s important I know they’ll leave a message and I can call them straight back.
- I ALWAYS pick up the phone from certain people – like my partner, ex-husband and a small number of friends.
I also take measures to prevent unscheduled and unwanted phone calls, including:
- I RARELY give out my mobile phone number.
- If I *have* to share a number but don’t want to give my mobile number, I share a SkypeIn number.
- I frequently tell people that I rarely use my phone for phone calls and that email is typically the best way to reach me.
All of the above mean that I am almost never interrupted by unexpected phone calls.
You have far more control over this when you run your own business and my rule of thumb is don’t organise or attend them unless you absolutely can’t avoid them.
Tools such as HipChat and Slack can drastically reduce the need for meetings, and help everyone communicate efficiently no matter where you/they are.
Web Surfing, Social Media & Other Distractions
If your self control is lacking and you need to focus for a sustained period of time – a Pomodoro, perhaps! – use a tool such as Freedom, Self Control App (Mac) or Cold Turkey (Windows) to block apps, programmes and websites.
– a summary list of the resources mentioned above:
- Email Game
- Self Control App (Mac)
- Cold Turkey (Windows)
With a healthy dose of self awareness, honesty, and some action-taking mojo, you too can move from procrastination to productivity in one big leap 🙂