The shadows are getting longer and you suddenly feel ravenously hungry and exhausted. You glance at the time, shocked to find out it’s closing 6pm! You have no idea where the day escaped while you've been crazy busy, and yet all you’ve accomplished is bouncing from one distraction to another. Instead of ticking things off your to-do-list with a big fat marker, you answered random ‘urgent’ emails, got involved in a Facebook group debate about whether it's cool when clients post your images with ugly filters applied, watched cat videos on Youtube (or snuggled with cats demanding attention), opened and closed InDesign/Photoshop/Lightroom/Word several times, meaning to knock out that layout or blog post or finish an edit, but then you weren't quite ‘feeling’ it, or the phone rang, or you decided you need to do more research at a vague undefined time in the future first.
Any of this sound familiar?
Let’s see if we can nip all that time-sucking procrastination in the bud with these 10 simple steps.
1 – When you get an idea, do something about it right then.
You know how those ideas for a new technique to try, a new product to offer, a new post to write, or a new colour scheme for your new branding pop into your head, and you think, ‘I must see if this idea has wings, I’ll do it when I have proper time to sit down and play with it’. And then, if you’re good you write the idea down, if you’re in full-on procrastination mode you might decide to write it down later, but what you absolutely won’t do is to act on it until you’ve had time to think about it properly.
What about if instead of getting an idea and just sitting on it until it fizzes out, you begin right then. Right when you get the idea, act on it. It might not work, it might not be perfect, but you have at least made a proactive start. Things can always be refined later, but if you want to see your ideas come to fruition, act on them right when you get them.
2 – Let go of the idea of ‘perfect’
Being a perfectionist is what stops most of us from acting on so many things that could have turned out to be real game-changers. Here's the thing, you don’t need to get everything done, and you don’t even need to get it done that well, what matters is that you get over the idea of perfect and instead just get it done.
3 – Commit publicly
When I started swimming again after 20 years of excuses for not doing it, I announced it on Instagram & Twitter, just to have that bit of public accountability. I’m pretty sure no-one would actually call me out on it, but I would know if I let myself, and everyone I shared with, down. If sharing your intentions with thousands is a bit too intimidating, at the very least share it with a friend, just as long as you feel accountable to someone (which, really, is yourself). And you know what, since I announced my swimming intentions, I have been going twice a week. Every week. (You are free to congratulate me now.)
4 – You have more time than you think
We all feel like there are just not enough hours in the day. But actually, if you added all the tiny windows of time you deem too short to start something new, they would probably add up to a fair bit of time. You don’t have to complete everything in one go, it doesn’t take away from your accomplishment if you do something 10 minutes at a time. You will still make a lot more progress on your project than killing that 10 minutes with a cat video…
5 – Set specific daily goals
Not having specific goals rarely works. ‘I need to catch up on my emails’ is the equivalent of saying ‘I'm going to sort out world peace’. You can’t save the whole world at once, much like you can’t wade through your whole inbox in one go, especially as the ratio of emails pinging back at you seems to always be higher than those leaving the nest. Which emails are the most urgent, and how long are you going to dedicate to dealing with them? How will you manage distractions so you can concentrate fully on your task? Set a goal of replying to 10 urgent emails within one hour, while ignoring everything else, including your phone and your Twitter client.
6 – Don’t consider how you feel about it
This is a tough one, especially for us creative types. We depend heavily on being in the right frame of mind when it comes to tasks that require that tingling of inspiration, and we know we need to allow for space and time for a new ideas to form. But it’s too easy to take this same thinking into tasks that simply need executing (the stuff I call ‘grunt work’), which is where we fall down.
If we’re completely honest, most things we want to get done, don’t get done because we decide we don’t ‘feel’ like doing them. This is why schedules and workflows are so important. Set your schedule the day before, and have specific workflows for each task, and it’s harder to trick yourself into not ‘feeling’ like it when it comes to tasks that need to get done in order for things to move forward.
7 – Do less
Sometimes you genuinely don’t have enough hours for it all. If that’s you, you probably have too many projects on the go. You need to prioritise and focus only on the stuff you feel most pulled towards. You can’t do it all. Trust me, I talk from experience.
8 – Make it the first thing you do + Single-Task
Make the icky things you resist but really need to get done, like sorting your tax return, a priority. Do it first. Schedule two hours for it first thing in the morning, and don’t let it eat out your mental capacity for the rest of the day.
It's also super important to try to concentrate on one thing at a time. This is so much easier said than done, but it is probably the one thing that will make you more productive than anything else. Multi-tasking (much like perfectionism) is rated way too highly in my opinion.
9 – Avoid procrastination-inducing activities
There are so many things that can infect your whole day and suck it away one minute at a time. Being reactive with email, checking your web stats, checking Facebook, getting overly involved in forum debates, all these activities can suck away a whole day of good intentions. Define a time for each activity, when it’s not their time, ignore them.
10 – Use technology
There are apps that can come to your aide for steps 8 and 9. Mac Freedom will turn off all your internet activity for however long chunks of time you need to avoid web-distraction. Rescue Time keeps a track of how you use your computer, and provides you with concrete evidence about where you spend your time. It helps you to be accountable to yourself, and gives you a great idea how to best schedule your day.
Also, don't forget to check out this post on our favourite productivity apps of 2014!