Even though I don’t think New Year’s resolutions work, I’m still a sucker for the kinds of self-improvement lists popping up everywhere this time of year. “Five foods you should never eat!” “The only three exercises you’ll ever need!” “The ten best breakfasts for fat burn!” Even my own recommendations for modifying a morning routine turned up in the latest issue of Working Mother Magazine condensed by the journalist who interviewed me into three ways to “Change a Habit, Change Your Day.”
I’m clearly not the only one irresistably drawn to quick fixes. So here’s another list.
My Five Favorite Tips for Becoming More Productive
1) Don’t wait for motivation to strike.
You don’t have to feel motivated to start. Momentum builds from action, so do something. Anything. Once you take the first step, it gets easier.
2) Stop fooling yourself.
Think you’ll do it later? Think again. Get started now because it will never happen later.
3) Make a daily To Do list.
And then cut it by two-thirds. There’s nothing more daunting than a long list of tasks you’ll never finish. Pick a few items you know you can complete in one day. You can always add more if you have time.
4) Do the hard stuff first.
It’s tempting to get started on the easy, mindless tasks but by the time you get around to the more difficult ones, you’ll have run out of steam (see #2). Motivation researchers have shown we have limited stores of willpower. So jump in and tackle the big challenges first, before your willpower dwindles.
5) Reward yourself.
You may think your day is already front-loaded with too many pleasurable activities (watching cute kitty videos on YouTube, playing Candy Crush Saga, searching home design sites for the perfect ottoman, reading political blogs, making Fantasy Football trades, sneaking in an episode of your favorite TV series). But you’re probably using those as distractions, not rewards. Do the time-wasters after you’ve finished a task and they’ll become motivators instead of sources of guilt. You’ll either enjoy them more or discover the limitations of their appeal, thereby freeing up time to explore new (and possibly more meaningful) leisure pursuits.
So test out my suggestions. If they work, you may never need to make another New Year’s resolution again.
As I said in my last post, procrastination isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem. It can result from many factors, but laziness usually isn’t one of them.
In fact, many highly conscientious, driven, guilt-ridden, achievement-oriented people are procrastinators. They may spend countless hours plodding away on a project or building up to it without actually getting started. They’re not averse to hard work.
If you set unrelenting, high standards for yourself and never feel satisfied with your accomplishments, you may be what I call a “problem perfectionist.” You might think the label doesn’t apply to you because your extreme efforts don’t achieve the results you want so badly. You may even think of yourself as an underachiever.
But perfectionism isn’t about actually attaining perfection. It has much more to do with how you behave in your quest towards your goals than in the product of your efforts.
Problem perfectionists often take extreme measures to avoid failure, risk, and uncertainty about their performance. And that’s where procrastination plays a role.
Putting off starting a difficult project and waiting until the time feels “right” to undertake a big task are two common ways problem perfectionists manage their anxiety about performance. Unfortunately, these tactics usually backfire, leading to paralyzing stress when deadlines approach.
You’d think problem perfectionists would learn that putting off challenging tasks hinders their performance. After all, when you’re anxious and short on time, you can’t possibly do your best. But problem perfectionists become chronic procrastinators due to a phenomenon called “self-handicapping.” Procrastination helps them rationalize a mediocre work product (“I would have done better if I’d had more time.”) and save face with themselves and others.
If this sounds like you, consider trying a different tactic the next time you find yourself putting off a project. First, decide if the task warrants an A+ effort (and be honest with yourself in assessing its degree of importance). If you think an 85% would suffice, set that as your goal before you even start instead of sabotaging yourself by procrastinating. In the end,you’ll end up with the same result—possibly a better one, even—minus the emotional costs.
If you struggle with procrastination, you’ve probably tried to figure out why you put off doing things. And when you get really fed up, you probably berate yourself for being “lazy.”
Well, take heart. People procrastinate for many reasons but laziness is rarely one of them.
First let’s look at what being “lazy” really means. A Google search of the word lazy generates synonyms such as “idle,” “slothful,” “shiftless, “indolent,” “sluggish,” and “inactive.” Laziness is defined as “resistant to work or exertion.” All of these descriptions convey a very negative—and when invoked to explain procrastination—inaccurate impression of what’s really going on inside a procrastinator’s head.
Sure, we all have lazy days when we don’t feel like doing much and don’t get much done. And from the outside, a chronic procrastinator’s wheel spinning might look like sloth, indifference, or irresponsibility. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a far more complex picture.
Does just thinking about tackling a big project make your head spin? If so, you might procrastinate because organization is a challenge for you. You may find it hard to break a large assignment into smaller, more manageable steps. So you avoid getting started because you don’t even know where to begin.
Do you typically underestimate how long it will take to complete a task? If you have problems managing your time, you might put off a project because you fool yourself into believing you’ll have ample room in your schedule to get it done. Then, when the deadline looms and you can’t avoid it any longer, you panic.
Do you drag your feet on logging expenses, documenting billable hours, writing reports, and paying bills but love going after new business or coming up with innovative, big picture ideas? You might thrive on stimulation and procrastinate because you have trouble following through with boring, routine tasks.
Poor organizational skills, difficulties with time management, and problems with attention all can cause procrastination. There’s also another very common, but often unrecognized, reason behind procrastination in people who’d never be considered lazy. I’ll tell you about it in my next post.
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