Nike had the right idea: Just do it.
The sportswear brand was focused on play, of course, but the tagline could serve as a mantra against procrastination. Procrastination not only kills productivity and accomplishment, but it also affects relationships with colleagues – the people who pick up the slack as the deadline gets closer. Co-workers never appreciate added pressure, and they could become downright resentful. Then, as it appears that a deadline could be missed, they can start to get worried, and anxiety can cause more resentment.
So, not only won’t the project get done, the fear and loathing could be palpable. And that, as we all know, isn’t good.
What can be done to ensure that procrastination does not impede the workflow? There are five simple tips that you can slip to the procrastinator or, well… yourself.
Obviously, you could “step over the line” in one step, but procrastinators have already stepped over the line… just in reverse. So, since you already know the destination, you just have to plot the route, one street and one turn at a time.
The first thing to do might be to figure out what input will be needed: what information, which tools, and whose assistance. Then calculate exactly when it will be needed and work out a timetable. By doing that, a seemingly overwhelming task is suddenly a roadmap of small ones. And to make the process of doing that analysis sweeter, build in rewards for accomplishment (though, obviously, those rewards will be gifts people give to themselves).
If working from home isn’t actually possible because of a company’s policies, people can work from the coffee shop next door or the park across the street or anywhere away from the pressure of the office. That alone can take away the burden that procrastination breeds.
A change of venue away from phone calls and email and colleagues’ interruptions can clear a person’s head enough to let them gain focus. And, maybe, it can sweep away the sources of anxiety that get in the way: the manager who always pops up with something new to be done (which provides an excuse to let the project be put off), the guy (or gal) who wants to talk about The Simpsons or a new boutique and provides another reason not to work on The Thing That Should Be Worked On.
When procrastinators surround themselves with doers they admire, they may feel the desire to emulate those people. Those highly efficient individuals offer inspiration by association and can even become willing coaches.
A simple question about how someone successfully planned and completed a big project can provide valuable insights about how to proceed on a current one. An action-oriented person might even be enlisted as a mentor or coach – if they’re asked to offer advice and not a helping hand. That is the sort of thing that online tools like Brosix can help facilitate through private communications and screen sharing – an easy way to get input and feedback.
Yet, if a procrastinator tries to move his or her own obligations onto somebody else (in addition to those resentful co-workers), the results could further tarnish the procrastinator’s own reputation. In that situation, the procrastinator goes from passive avoidance to active shirking. It may have worked for Tom Sawyer, but it will not work in most business relationships.
Einstein said that everything should be as simple as possible but not simpler. And Antoine de Saint Exupéry, who wrote the classic children’s book The Little Prince, believed that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away.
Procrastination tends to involve adding complications that make things seem more daunting. And putting off the items on today’s roadmap creates detours on tomorrow’s and each day after that. So it’s vital to strip away everything that isn’t essential. If someone says they have to meet, but that meeting will throw the day’s task list off course, it’s essential to say “no” diplomatically. “I’ve got a deadline that has to be met, and I’m already slightly behind. I’ll have to get back to you later.” (If the other person is insistent or the boss, it might be time to negotiate an extension of the deadline, but that’s a different subject altogether.)
The surest anti-procrastination technique is to just do it. And people who don’t think that’s possible aren’t really being honest. If they made it into the office despite the looming deadline, then the fact that they got out of bed, into clothes, out the door, across town, and into the office was something they just did. If they spent an evening with their significant other’s obnoxious friend, despite wanting to be somewhere, anywhere else, they just did it.
The procrastinator’s mantra, though, is usually just don’t do it. Yet, in the end, they’ll have to do it anyway. And, according to various psychological studies, some people find the adrenaline rush of last minute activity quite exhilarating (though others are seized by morbid, inexplicable fear or want to avoid having to make a decision; those conditions are, on a psychological level, deeper problems, ones that may require professional assistance).
If someone’s struggling with how to get started or with how to avoid not getting started at all, then in the tradition of taking a bite of something new (as in the classic Life cereal commercial), dig in. It’s surprising how easy it is to keep going once you take the first bite.