I have been experimenting with a new strategy for combatting procrastination and it seems to be working! It’s nothing so genius; it’s actually a very simple idea — which might explain why it has proved effective.
I started using a stopwatch.
When staring down a day’s to do list it is difficult sometimes to motivate yourself to do some of the more daunting tasks. Catching up on emails, recording expenses or ordering office supplies sometimes get pushed down on the list since we would rather be doing more creative tasks… or looking at photos from last weekend’s shenanigans on Facebook.
I have started using time limits as a motivator and it works! Not only does it cause me to be more focused on the task at hand, but by limiting a task to a short time frame the very idea of doing it seems more manageable. Looking at the action item of recording last weeks business receipts sounds awful, but when I say “spend five minutes recording business expenses,” that doesn’t sound that bad — it’s just five minutes, right?
Often with a very short timeline (like five minutes), I find that I get focused in on the task and either finish it within the time limit or when my alarm sounds. Yet I am so close to finishing the entire project and so “in the zone”, that I stay the course and finish it with little to no trouble. Getting started on these types of tasks is usually the larger barrier for us; once they are near completion, the reward of having them done is now motivation enough to finish up!
So here’s how you do it…
1. Write out each task…specifically.
You can’t use this method for vague goals or huge projects. An action item like “write a blog post” or “build a website” doesn’t work with this strategy. Try something like “write an outline for a blog post about the best blogs for funny cat photos.” This is a specific task — and you can likely assign a short time limit to it.
2. Assign a time limit to each quick task.
This isn’t The Price Is Right. There’s no risk if you’re not spot on — just go with your gut! Avoid assigning time slots longer than a half an hour. The point of this practice is to make tasks seem less daunting and to motivate you to focus on them. Assigning yourself 45 minutes to respond to the ten emails in your inbox will just give you license to putz around for most of that time, because you know you have 45 minutes. Try something like ,“I’ll clear the ten emails from my inbox in five minutes!”
3. Don’t watch the clock.
I regularly use this KuKuKlok.com site to set alarms for myself on tasks. I open the site in a browser tab and then hide it so that I cannot see the time as it ticks by. The point is not to focus on the time but just to know… soon, that alarm will sound and you want to be done when it does!
You could also use the stopwatch app on your phone — or if you want to go “old school” you can use an egg timer.
4. When the alarm sounds…
You gave yourself fifteen minutes to write that outline for your blog post about the best cat blogs on the internet, your alarm has sounded and you’re about three-quarters of the way done. What do you do? Stop? NO! You’re on a roll! You’re in the zone — jump back to step two and move ahead. If your gut says, “I could finish this up in two more minutes,” then do it!
You know, it’s not that the tasks are that unmanageable or even difficult to complete — it’s getting started on them that keeps us in that cycle of avoidance. By telling ourselves that we only have to endure this task for a few short minutes, it makes the whole things seem easier to jump into — and you’ll find that once you’re in it… it’s not so bad.
Now, there’s no time like the present. You’re done reading this post, so it’s the perfect time to spend the next five minutes tackling that pesky task you just can’t get off your to-do list. C’mon, it’s only five minutes…
(Image courtesy of wwarby under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license)
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