In an ideal world, ‘To Do’ lists add a sense of calm and purpose to the chaos around us. By cataloguing what we need to do we can organise our tasks, prioritise important items over unimportant ones and allocate appropriate chunks of time to complete urgent matters while keeping the wheels turning in the background on less important projects.
“If you’re in control, the chaos will happen around you, not to you.”
It’s a fine theory. Unless, like us, you fall into a special category of people in this world who thrive on being Master Procrastinators.
Awash With Ineptitude
The brain of a procrastinator experiences a regular flood of self-loathing combined with steady undercurrents of guilt and shame. The more we will our minds to work in a certain direction, the more the raging current of our subconscious sweeps us down a different, and usually more scenic, stream.
A stream that requires minimal intellectual effort and the allocation of important time and energy to infinitely more enjoyable pursuits… such as finding the perfect dancing gif to go along with a Facebook birthday message (because being a really good friend is your most important job in life).
Somewhere in the time it takes us to fall groggily out of bed in the morning, accidentally step on the dog, and pour juice into our cereal we convince ourselves that, irrespective of the chaos around us:Today is the day that everything will come together in one beautiful symphony of productivity. Click To Tweet
If only we could find the perfect playlist to drown out that annoying colleague with chronic baby voice, then we could definitely stay focused on a single task long enough to see it through to completion. As it happens, here’s a perfect productivity playlist we prepared earlier:
O-Tip: The right choice of tunes really can help you remain sane and productive in a challenging workplace. If all else fails, opt for noise-cancelling headphones.
Point Of Permanent Paralysis
Somewhat ironically, procrastination can help us get jobs done. Putting off important tasks forces us to reconsider tackling non-urgent items on our ‘To Do’ list that we may not ordinarily make time for. However, beware of becoming complacent and teetering too close to the zone of no return.
When you least expect it, you can enter the Point of Permanent Paralysis – a procrastinator’s version of absolute zero. It’s a dangerous frozen mental state that is usually brought on quite suddenly after several days/weeks/months of intensive procrastination.
It happens when crushing work pressure comes at you from all angles. Panic sets in and you cannot decide which task to begin first because, thanks to your procrastination, now everything is urgent. Your brain has no option but to trigger its emergency coping mechanism and punch out early for the day.
During one of these episodes, and in spite of your best efforts to snap into action, you can resign yourself to an afternoon of:
- absently chewing the edge of an empty styrofoam cup;
- searching for divine inspiration from a pile of paperclips; and
- imagining how you would celebrate winning The Amazing Race (by sumo wrestling in suits of bubble wrap, of course).
To avoid sabotaging your career by tumbling down the Point of Permanent Paralysis rabbit hole, it is essential to establish firm contingency plans that save you from yourself.
Make Order Of The Chaos
Your first order of business is to organise your tasks. Once you do this, everything else will fall into place.
Step 1: Write it down
Getting all your thoughts on paper frees your mind of the mental burden required to recall everything you need to achieve. It creates thought space to problem solve and allows you to work through each task systematically.
Step 2: Sort your thoughts
Decide what you need to prioritise, according to the Eisenberg Matrix, below. Then catalogue your tasks in a corresponding list with four columns.
- Important, but not urgent
For example, deciding whether to have laksa or sushi for lunch. Save menu surfing for 10 minutes before lunch, rather than right after you arrive at 8.30am.
- Urgent and important
For example, writing a proposal due by COB today. Start this as soon as you get to the office. Everything else, including checking your emails, can wait.
- Not important, and not urgent
For example, clearing out your exploding inbox. If it is impacting your workflow, set aside 20 minutes later in the afternoon to organise your emails. Only move to this if you have already finished your most urgent, and intellectually taxing, task for the day.
- Urgent, but not important
For example, re-writing a company training manual. If it’s not important enough to demand your time, delegate this to someone more junior than you. You can go over their work and make corrections once they finish the first draft.
The good thing about organising your tasks in order of priority is that it frees you to channel the wasted intellectual energy you ordinarily spend stressing about what you need to do, into being productive and actually getting it done.
Step 3: Reward yourself
Work for an hour, then reward yourself by getting up for a break.
Why not interrupt the steady work flow of one of your more disciplined work friends? Everyone loves to be harassed for a compulsory break, especially if it means grabbing a coffee or peppermint tea, and a brownie.
A chat and walk in the fresh air will make you feel incredible and creatively rejuvenated for the rest of the day. Plus, the cocoa in your brownie will help with your chronic exhaustion.
As with any difficult task, the hardest part is making a start. Tell yourself that you will spend an hour reading up about a particular subject, or writing a few notes down. Before you realise it, you will be 2-3 hours into the project and almost finished.
This psychological sleight of hand is one of the easiest, and most effective, ways to outwit your procrastinating alter ego and beat your ‘To Do’ list into submission.
What strategies do you use to get work done when your brain would rather have an unscheduled holiday? Let us know in the comments section below!