How to stop procrastinating

Peter Crush

Monday 6 March 2017

Is falling productivity explained by a rise in procrastination? And, if so, what are the best ways to avoid it? We look at what to do to make sure things get done.

Procrastination is the enemy of business. Putting off till tomorrow what can be done today sees more and more items stack up, which then either fail to get done properly, or fail to get done at all.

But according to those who far better at this than most – successful C-suite members – combating procrastination doesn’t necessarily require a total personality re-boot, it just needs sticking to some tried and tested rules.

A key rule certainly comes from a better understanding of the ‘why?’ in all this. Procrastination often occurs not because people are lazy, but actually because they’re perfectionists. Perfectionists often refuse to decide what to tackle, and then over-commit to what they eventually choose. According to Nancy MacKay, founder of Mackay CEO Forums, workers must instead use the ‘80% Rule’ – only putting in 80% of what they would ideally commit to a task, time-wise. Why? Simply because, after that point, they should really apply questions like ‘Will anyone notice any extra effort I put in?’ and ‘Is the rise in quality greater than the time lost?’

Just doing this will release more time to get more done. But time gained shouldn’t then be wasted, and procrastinators could do worse than adopt what’s become known as the ‘Seinfeld Strategy.’ At the start of each year, comedian Jerry Seinfeld would hang a huge calendar on his wall and task himself to complete a block of writing, every day. If he did it, he marked the day with a large cross. His aim was to create the longest chain of X’s, without any breaks.

This is what management gurus will call setting goals each day and ticking them off. What’s significant about the Seinfeld Strategy is that there is no mention of quality. His goal was more about consistency of production, and this is the measure of top CEOs; they turn up and get things done, day after day, while everyone else gets bogged down. As Richard Branson’s famously puts it in his favourite motto: “Screw it – just do it!”

The worst procrastinators are ‘arousal procrastinators’: people who wait until the last minute for the euphoric rush. Beating this requires the acknowledgement that this is dangerous, and then breaking tasks down into types – i.e. ones that can be delegated, leaving a smaller, more manageable pile. Michael Hyatt, author of the course 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever, has analysed CEOs and claims the best avoid procrastination by tackling the most difficult task first. They also divide larger tasks into smaller ones, so that they can commit to completing at least some of it each day; and they set a midday alarm, so that they can reschedule their afternoons accordingly if need be.

In essence, these tips are geared towards being organised, and also being flexible and adaptable. They’re simple tools but which can yield terrific results. So… if you’ve got things stacking up now… what are you waiting for?

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