Archive for the ‘Procrastination’ Category

Why Tasks Hang On – Three Productivity Traps to Avoid

Gum tree seed pods stick; your tasks don't have to. (photo by M. Lukens)

Take a look at your to-do list. Are there things that have been lurking there for weeks, maybe months? How do you feel when you think of those tenacious tasks? Tired? Discouraged?

You can get rid of those “Velcro jobs” faster if you know how they got to be clinging to your days in the first place.

There are three common reasons that tasks hang on.

1. As my father said, “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done.” Expecting yourself to accomplish everything that enters your mind just isn’t realistic.

To avoid this trap, observe how long various tasks actually take. Try scheduling tasks in your calendar to give yourself a more realistic benchmark. If I have 10 hours of work to do, but only six hours available, something is going to go undone, at least for today. Recognize that on days when your calendar is full of appointments, you probably won’t be able to accomplish a lot of other work. Be realistic in your expectations.

And if a task is non-essential, give it an expiration date. This prevents jobs from dragging on indefinitely.

As the philosopher William James observed, “there is nothing more fatiguing than the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

I find that because I dream up new ideas nearly every day, I often have assigned more jobs to myself than I could ever possibly finish. If I haven’t written that non-essential proposal or made that call within the deadline, I’ve learned to delete it. If it’s really important to me, it will come back again. For now, I’ll actually be more productive if I just let it go.

2. In his book The Procrastinator’s Digest, a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl, PhD defines procrastination as “a needless voluntary delay.” Procrastination is a terrible productivity trap that keeps tasks hanging on, usually the least pleasant ones.

One strategy Dr. Pychyl recommends for moving past procrastination is to understand the costs of our procrastination and the benefits of acting without delay. Each day, do the least palatable job first. Then, the rest of the day looks brighter, and you are unburdened by the costs of procrastination on those unpleasant jobs.

3. If your goals and objectives aren’t clear, there’s no good way to know which tasks are most important. When everything looks like it has equal weight, important things are bound to drag on.

As I teach in my Plan to Thrive workshop, the solution is to make a clear and compelling plan that really suits you and your business.  This will help you sort out the really essential jobs from the “nice-to-have” ones.

Did you know that people routinely over-estimate what they can accomplish in one year, and also wildly under-estimate what they can do in three to five years? Think about it: if you’re like most people, what you’re doing today is something you could hardly have dreamed of just a few years ago. A clear and compelling plan can help you to be both realistic and ambitious about the tasks you really want to accomplish.

What do you want to brush off your task list? Declare it by leaving a comment here.

Humans are natural procrastinators

A wise person does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times.
– Sir John Dalberg-Acton

Hold on, Sir John! Is it possible that delay serves a good purpose? And if, like our appendix, delay has outlived its usefulness, how can we work around it with as little discomfort as possible?

This Thursday I will be speaking to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) San Francisco chapter, and the topic will be “Mastering Follow-Through.” Join this opportunity to network with many of San Francisco’s most dynamic business women by registering at the NAWBO website, or just join us at the door.

Why is it so hard for us to follow through on our plans and make the change we really want to make? It turns out that humans, along with having big brains and the ability to sort lots of choices, have become “natural procrastinators.”

Want to know how to work with our natural tendencies rather than struggle against them? Join us this Thursday at the Omni Hotel, 500 California Street, San Francisco. We’ll share hors d’oeuvres, lots of networking, and some information you can use the very next day to get more done and feel better about it.

I’ll be making a very special offer just for NAWBO attendees for my “Plan to Thrive” coaching program, that will give you the support you need to go from overwhelmed to overjoyed in just six months, by helping you get control of  your time, paper, and projects.

Great networking with the wonderful women of NAWBO, useful information, special offers —  there are so many reasons to be there on Thursday! Hope to see you then!

Are professional organizers perfectly organized?

This recent news from my organizing colleague Margaret Pearson Pinkham, who specializes in working with chronically disorganized clients in Sonoma County, CA:

I went to sign up for the Spring season of NSGCD teleclasses and guess what? I had waited too long and the class on Procrastination was FULL!

Occasionally someone will ask me whether I, a certified professional organizer, am perfectly organized. Does a doctor get the flu? Has a horse trainer ever been bitten? Can good mechanics  suffer an automotive breakdown?

Here’s the truth: we all are sometimes overwhelmed with all the stuff that comes at us. I know what it means to be late, to feel disorganized, to procrastinate, and to lose things — all from personal experience.

In fact, I would beware of any professional who has not faced and conquered their own hurdles. Who is more likely to help me, the personal trainer who has healed from their own tweaky knee or bad back, or the one who has found fitness a breeze from day one?

I am always on the lookout for new and better ways to address the challenges of modern life. First, I form the habits that make organization possible, including making a clear and compelling plan, recognizing what I need to capture and how to let go of the rest, and the discipline of actually doing the work. Then I look for whatever tools can make it easier for me to do the job.

And because there is no one solution that works best for everyone, I also look for whatever tools may help YOU do the job, too.

What organizing, time management, and productivity issues give you a hard time? What hurdles would you most like to get over?

Getting it done without deadlines

There is a certain category of tasks that languish on our lists because they lack a firm deadline. Catching up with filing is one example; everything with a deadline can come before filing. Writing a book or developing a new product can be another example unless you have a publisher and a contract, in which case you’ve got a deadline with teeth.

HPIM0081To effectively follow through on these types of tasks, create a meaningful deadline for yourself. To keep up with filing, schedule a regular meeting in your office. Knowing that respected colleagues are coming creates the incentive to spruce up your space, dealing with  whatever paper piles have accumulated since you last filed. (Of course, schedule 30 minutes to file before they arrive. Merely applogizing for the mess is not allowed!)

Announce your book or other project plans to the world. Add a line to your email signature that says, “Coming, November 2009: 25 Ways to Get It Done Now, a new book by (your name here)” By making your intention public, you have created a deadline where none existed naturally.

If you need help to reach your goal, arrange for accountability with a partner or coach.

Do you have plans that are going nowhere for lack of a deadline? Declare your intention and your deadline here.

Following Through: Just Show Up

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

A lot of people want to write a book. Maybe you are one of them.

I spoke with a would-be author recently. She had begun her first book, determined to produce a sample chapter that would dazzle the publishers, who would waltz her across the dance floor to published bliss. Alas, the publishers had two left feet, trampling her dreams of a coherent book that would serve the people she had in mind.

Her goal was derailed. She felt frustration, sadness, even grief. It seemed impossible to once again find the will to move forward. How could she follow through on her intention to write her book?

One way to be true to whatever is within you is to “just show up”. Do the easy part of whatever it is you need to do, and see how far it takes you. Writer’s block is getting in your way? Fine, just sit at your desk doing nothing during your writing time. Don’t’ write, but don’t do anything else, either. No solitaire, no email. Just write or don’t write.

If exercising is one of your goals but you hate everything about actual physical exertion, fine, just go to the gym and be there for your allotted exercise time. When the time is up, leave. Either exercise or don’t, so long as you’re at the gym.

In order for this follow-up technique to be effective, it must be truly okay for you to go to the gym and not do a single rep. Otherwise, you’re going back on the deal that you made with yourself, and who wants to make deals with a cheater?

If you decide you want to quit and abandon your goal, fine. Make an affirmative decision to set that once-important goal aside and choose another. But if that vision still hooks you, follow it by just showing up. Have you tried this? Tell us about it by leaving your comments here.

Following Through: The Pink Poker Solution

If we as humans are “wired” to forget about non-essential projects as readily as a lizard forgets about her eggs, how will I ever learn Spanish before I arrive in Sevilla or get my taxes done before April 14th?

I must shape my circumstances and surroundings to support my goals, to keep my top objectives squeaking more loudly than anything else. There is an art to devising cures to match the challenge.

One of my goals is to keep my office orderly, emptying my paper inbox and my email inbox regularly. It’s a matter of smooth functioning in my office and, as a professional organizer, also a matter of professional integrity. I want to “walk my talk”. Like most of my clients, however, I am inundated with incoming items. How can I improve follow-through on my empty in-box goal?

When friends or colleagues are coming to my office, which is in my home, I have to clean up the papers or risk public embarrassment. To make this goal squeak loud enough to get my attention, I arranged for a group of friends to meet at my home once a month for girls-only “pink poker”. When I have invited half-dozen women, who are my friends and also respected professionals, to my home the last Monday of every month, I have created a firm deadline by which I really must empty my inbox. Spending time with friends is priceless; a more orderly desk that’s easier to maintain every day of the month is a bonus.

I’ve also opened my office for a monthly mastermind group meeting. Inviting guests creates a deadline for my goal where none existed before.

Do you have goals that would come closer to reality if you applied a “pink poker” solution? Commit them to writing here. And stay tuned for more solutions to different kinds of following-through challenges.

Speaking May 28: Mastering Follow-Through

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Later this month I’ll be speaking to Women In Consulting – San Francisco. Our topic for the evening? “Mastering Follow-Through — how to trick, coax, persuade and support yourself to reach the goals you set.”

For more information, or to register, use this link.

If you’ll be in the San Francisco area, I hope you’ll join me to meet a wonderful group of savvy consultants and pick up some good ideas on following through to move your best plans to reality.

From Intention to Action

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

This afternoon I was jolted out of my seat when my terrier, Ginger, exploded in a fit of barking. What set her off was the daily appearance of the mail carrier. Every day the postal employee approaches the door, Ginger sets up a nerve-torquing bout of barking, the carrier retreats, and Ginger rests easy, knowing that her kibble is once again safe from marauding mail carriers.

Ginger, the wonder dogIt occurred to me that there is just no disconnect for my dog between intention and action. She never looks up and wonders, “Should I go bark at the mail carrier? On the one hand, I resolved when I moved in here to guard the place. I do want to protect my territory. But a sunbeam is hitting the carpet just now. Maybe I’ll bark later.” For her it’s immediate: I intend to bark, I bark.

Life for humans is not so simple. There is plenty of room for slippage between intention and action. In fact, it’s a feature of our brain’s “wiring” that we don’t have a good mechanism for following through on our intentions, for pursuing an intended goal with the tenacity of a terrier.

What we need are some good work-arounds.

One type of work-around is a cueing device. Consider this simple example: let’s say that I intend to stretch periodically while working at my desk. I know that it’s better for my health and concentration. There’s no doubt that I want to do it. Unfortunately, time passes as I’m engrossed in my work and I forget all about my intention. A cueing device is anything that will periodically remind me of my intention, prompting me to act on it.

I might put a stickie note on my monitor that says “stretch!” so that every time I see it, I’m reminded of my intention and can act on it. Or I could set an alarm to alert me twice an hour to stop and change position, take a break, or move.

More complicated intentions require more sophisticated cueing, but there is always a work-around to shorten the distance from intention to action. To dig deeper in this subject, one good resource is Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start by Steve Levinson and Pete Greider.

What do you do to keep your intentions? Are there intentions you’ve been unable to keep over long periods? If you have tried cueing devices, what have you used? I invite you to act now! and record your comments here.

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