Procrastination is one of the processes in our lives which you can safely call natural: long before you learn this word in English (or your native language), you’re already procrastinating on a regular basis. You don’t have to learn anything to become a true master of procrastination, but once you acknowledge it as an unwanted gift, it takes great discipline and advanced tactics to successfully fight it.
Today I would like to share with you 3 simple rules. Like many other things, their real power is in their simplicity. It’s very easy to remember these rules, and just as easy to follow. Try them for a few days when approaching any task or project of yours, play by these rules as if they were some kind of a game, and see for yourself how your productivity will improve.
The Clarity Rule
This rule is useful in many contexts. The more you know about something, the more comfortable you are working on it or talking about it.
When you look at procrastination, one of the reasons for it to take (or should I say make?) such a part of your life is your own lack of clarity regarding what things need to be done, how exactly and when.
Most things sound much worse than they really are, but if you just take a few minutes to take a closer look, quite likey you will discover that your next assignment is nothing more than a 5 minute job.
The Clarity Rule states that you should never add a task you don’t fully understand to your list. It is perfectly allright to take notes during meetings and phone calls, but until you confirm what’s expected from you, how much time and other resources of yours will be needed, and when the result has to be produced – don’t add it to your list. Also, refuse to take such pseudo actions from anybody else: unless it’s clear what needs to be done, there is no point adding it to your list – you wont’ be able to act on it anyway.
Those who know and follow The Clarity Rule are not only more productive in their activities, but they are also much better communicators: they set clear goals, give clearly defined tasks, and always ask for relevant information during the conversation, making it clear that unless all required information is present, they would not be able to start working on a task. Everyone who deals with such people quickly learns to appreciate such a clarity of communication, because it saves everyone’s time and helps achieve results quicker and easier.
The 15 Minutes Rule
I told you, these rules are really simple. But trust me and give them a try to see the magic they do.
The 15 Minutes Rule states that every task you’re working on needs to get at least 15 minutes of your full attention. If you’re not sure how long it will take in addition to these 15 minutes – that’s fine. But first, spend 15 minutes honestly trying your best working on the task.
This rule is most useful for tasks you’re not interested in. They’re usually the ones which you know you HAVE to do, but you don’t really WANT to. Give yourself a promise to spend 15 minutes working on such a task, and get rid of all the interruptions and distractions under your control.
For example, you need to prepare a report by next Friday. It may be a week and a half before your deadline, but you need to get started now so that you don’t have to rush things and do everything at the very last minute. You know it’s going to take you hours to do the report, but you don’t really know why – you need some time to look at all the data at your hands, perhaps identify if you can get more data off your colleagues, or even find someone to delegate part of your report. Use 15 minutes for this. Sit down, and get started with your report. If after 15 minutes you’re still not interested, drop the task until the next chance to work on it for 15 minutes. But most likely, in 15 minutes of really focused effort you will have made such a progress that you’ll get motivated enough to continue for another half-an-hour or so.
The logic behind my 15 minute rule is this: when it works, it will get you into the mindset of getting a certain task done. When this rule doesn’t work, it will at least allow you to make progress with tiny 15-minute steps. One way or another, you’re getting closer to your task’s successful completion – and you’re therefore not procrastinating by definition.
The One More Thing Rule
One more thing is the one I like most. This is your chance to be creative when tackling your task, because everytime you’re thinking to yourself that you’ve had enough with your problem and it’s time to drop it and give up, this rule tells you: do one more thing towards completion of your task, and then move on.
This rule does wonders for me: it makes use of the very nature of how things happen in this life, and serves quite often as the last push I need to finally complete the task.
Quite often we feel like we’re exhausted or bored with the task so much that there’s no point even trying to do anything else to get it done. We just want to leave it there and never see it again. Deep down in our thoughts we know, of course, that someday really soon we’ll have to get back to this task and we’ll have to get it done, but we prefer not to allow this kind of thinking to stop us from dropping the task.
The reality though is that if you leave something unfinished it becomes an open loop – something your mind keeps consciously and unconsciously getting back to, something which needs action and thinking time before you can mark it off as completed. Even if you try really hard not to think of such open loop, your mind will respond to your other activities and tasks slower, because some of your thinking power will be wasted on pointless re-runs of the unfinished task you left behind.
The more tasks you leave unfinished, the slower you’ll be able to get ones done. That’s why you should do whatever you can to close each issue and complete each task – thus freeing up your thinking power and memory for working on your new tasks and projects.
What also happens a lot is that we give up just one step away from the success. We may have tried different approaches a thousand times and think it’s enough, but if we force ourselves to try just onces, this may be that one time when things work out. There are numerous success stories of this kind: you’ve got to keep trying, failing, and trying again before you succeed.
The one More Thing rule helps you do just that – give a task the last chance to be completed before you move on and revisit this task once again some other time.
These are my 3 rules to combat procrastination. I obviously have many more tactics and I experiment a lot to achieve best results, but if you’re really stuck and want a easy option to work your way out of procrastination – these are your rules to try. Let me know how it works, and best of luck!