As a procrastinator, every large task is overwhelming. So let’s begin with the wisdom of John Bytheway. He’s quoted as saying, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life is hard.”
When faced with a project, start by breaking it into discrete action items you can easily complete. Working through a list of tasks is far simpler than staring at a massive project with no idea of where to begin. As you complete each piece, you’ll find your motivation increasing and your momentum increasing. Success breeds more success!
Use Goals Intelligently.
Improper use of goals can actually be counter-productive, so learn to use them properly. Broad, undefined goals are worse than useless. I once set a goal that I would “increase my productivity by 20 percent”. I ended up being less productive because I had nothing to sink my teeth into. I’d created some nice intentions, but useless goals. After a bit of counselling from a productivity coach, I set goals that were discrete, concrete and had a built in deadline, such as, “I will complete this article in 30 minutes.”
Go for Completion, Not Perfection.
Mark Twain said it perfectly: “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”
The problem with requiring perfection of ourselves is it leaves no room for real learning and innovation – the kind of innovation you only find when you’re in the thick of it. Go in with a plan and do your best, but don’t aim at perfection. It’s outside of your control. (For starters, you can’t measure it. Perfection implies infinite). Instead, go for completion, then you’ll have something - be it experience, a first draft, a business plan – to work from.
Put Your Butt in Your Chair and Get to Work!
Why is Stephen King one of the most successful authors of our time? The larger part of his success comes from his amazing work ethic. In his words, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” When an idea for a book arises in his mind, he gets to work on it right away. He knows he has to get the book done in three months or the story and characters will grow stale for him and he will lose interest.
As difficult as it is to seriously measure our ability against this man’s drive, realize his secret lies in how he starts and we can copy it. As soon as you are given or you choose a difficult task to accomplish - especially if it’s personally odious - as soon as practically possible, employ the BIC (Butt In Chair) technique. I created the BIC technique for (or at least the acrostic) to help me overcome procrastination. It works like this:
Sit you butt down in your chair for fifteen minutes and work on the task. That’s all you are required to do. If that ends up being all you do, that’s OK. You need only write for fifteen minutes every day to write a book in a year!
The BIC technique’s power is due to the fact that fifteen minutes is usually just enough to pierce through the barrier of resistance that most often causes our procrastination. After working on your task for fifteen minutes, you will realize that maybe, just maybe, it isn’t as odious as you first thought. After fifteen minutes, reassess your energy and motivation. If you want to keep working, go for it!
That’s right. Take a break. Change the scenery. Most adults are able to maintain a sustained focus on a single task for up to fourty minutes, so instead of struggling on, ineffectually, give your Cerebral Cortex - your thinking brain, a break and let your Limbic Brain - your subconscious mind, take over for a while. Take a short walk or jog, have a cup of tea, sit alone in a natural setting. You’ll find a renewed energy and enthusiasm when you sit back down.
However, make sure this is ONLY a five minute, and don’t choose an activity that is distracting or mentally engaging. Otherwise, your quick break will turn into procrastination.
We don’t do this often enough. It’s easy to remember what we delayed on. Start paying attention to what you completed effortlessly and on time. Doing so will help you realize you’re more awesome than you think you are, and it will prime your motivation pump for the next task ahead.
And, as always, Enjoy Your Day and Write Your Way!