The first step in dealing with them is understanding the psychology of the underlying issue.
Procrastination is the conscious act of focusing your time and attention on pleasurable tasks and deliberately putting off important tasks until a later time.
It affects every person in every walk of life. The Latin origin of the word procrastination is "a putting off from day to day--belonging to tomorrow."
But choosing not to complete important tasks will lead to a work and home life mired with distraction, interruption, clutter, and indecision. Unreturned phone calls, stacks of file folders, piles of paper, unattended emails hidden within hundreds of requests and messages leave you feeling overwhelmed, without direction, and stuck.
Procrastination further leads to painful ruminations of guilt, hurt, frustration, disappointment, fear, worry, anxiety, and stress.
So how can you end the cycle of procrastination? First, you must understand the psychology of the underlying issues and then consider a few concrete actions to place into your daily work habits.
The First Evil Twin of Procrastination: 'I’ll do it tomorrow.'
Procrastination or productivity is determined by the conscious and subconscious decisions you make in choosing to take action on "this bit of information or that bit of information." I will work on "this project today" and "that project tomorrow."
Choosing Between "This" or "That"
The first evil twin is deciding, "I will do that tomorrow." Imagine a train traveling down railroad tracks. Periodically the train has the opportunity to switch tracks--the train can go this way or that way. If the train takes the left switch, it will end up in one destination. If the train takes the right switch, the endpoint will be completely different.
Your subconscious mind can process between 11 million and 40 million bits of information per second. Imagine that same train approaching each switch point at a rate of up to 40 million switches a second. Research has shown that well over 90% of your life is experienced through habits created by your subconscious mind. Your conscious mind can only process approximately 40 bits of information per second.
Procrastination occurs when you work on autopilot allowing your subconscious mind to decide what projects you will or won’t work on today.
Procrastination is not just a problem of being lazy or not being willing to make the right decisions. Therefore, one solution is to slow down and allow your conscious (thinking) brain to make deliberate choices about how you will spend your day.
Keep in mind, the desire to procrastinate declines as you choose to work on tasks that include the following qualities:
> clear objectives
> high-value activities
> team work/communication
> highest and best
> elemental preferences
> challenging goals
The 2nd Evil Twin of Procrastination: 'Just one more thing.'
"Just one more thing" is a huge part of procrastination and also the one most easily ignored.
Say, for example, you have scheduled a block of time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to create a quarterly client review. You sit down at your desk at 3 p.m. and you say, "Oh, just one more thing … I forgot to call Dr. John Q. Public about his IRA rollover paperwork."
Rather than working on the quarterly client review, you call Dr. Public, and then this conversation reminds you to confirm your golf game on Tuesday, which reminds you to buy new golf balls, which reminds you that you would rather be playing golf than working on the quarterly client review.
"Just one more thing" is possibly even more dangerous than "I'll do it tomorrow" because it somehow tricks you into thinking you are working on the right things. These last-minute activities are often unimportant to-dos that pop up from your subconscious mind distracting you from concentrating on your original project.
The 7 Minute Life is built on the foundation that there are 24 hours in a day broken into 1,440 minutes. Rather than making mindless decisions regarding how you will spend your next 1,440 minutes, we want you to take 1% of your time, 14 minutes (7 minutes in the evening and 7 minutes in the morning) to create a written daily plan of action.
Work from your conscious mind and ask, "What tasks do I need to finish today to reach my goal? What are my most important priorities? What five activities will I commit to accomplishing before 11 a.m.?"
Once you have thought about these questions, take out a piece of paper and write down the five highest-value activities you will commit to accomplishing before 11 o'clock.
We call this strategy your "5 before 11" list.
Accomplishing five deliberate high-value activities per day compared with accomplishing dozens of low-value ("just one more thing") activities has a compounding effect on your productivity. If you finish five high-value activities before 11 a.m. for one week, you would finish 35 projects. If you finished your 5 before 11 for 90 days, you would take 450 positive steps toward reaching your goals.
A Final Thought: Get Rid of the Clutter
A friend of mine, John Arnold, says, "Everything you own, owns a little bit of you."
Copy paper, file folders, sticky notes, yellow legal pages, unopened emails, training binders, magazines, research reports, broken pens, letters, telephone messages, and even trash own a little bit of you.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, everything in your office is talking to you:
> read me
> answer me
> fix me
> dust me
> throw me away
Fewer choices equal less procrastination. Take two full days and purge 50% of the things you have in your office. Be ruthless.
While you are throwing things away, don't let the first evil twin of procrastination say, "I may need that tomorrow." If you haven't needed it in the last year, you won't need it tomorrow.
And, don't let the second evil twin of procrastination say, "Oh, I just thought of one more thing…"