What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite a time. But simply breaking down a massive project into bite-sized chunks isn’t enough to get a procrastinator going. Being a procrastinator doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unproductive; I’m a procrastinator, but I’m also highly productive (once I get going, that is). My challenge isn’t with getting things done – it’s with finding the impetus to start. Left to my own devices, I’ll keep pushing deadlines further and further away until it’s too late. I’ve recently discovered that by creating time constraints, I can simulate the sort of 11th-hour pressure that shifts my productivity into overdrive.
“Embrace your constraints. They are provocative. They are challenging. They wake you up. They make you more creative. They make you better.” – Biz Stone
Here’s my list of some of the the most effective productivity hacks I’ve come across — I’d love to hear which ones have worked for you and what others I’ve missed.
The 2-Minute Rule
Management consultant and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, has a 2-Minute Rule: If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, then you should do it right away. Don’t schedule it. Don’t overthink it. Just do it. It’s likely that more time, energy, and attention would go into processing the task than completing it in the first place.
The Dash Method
Writer and speaker Merlin Mann suggests using “dashes” to beat procrastination. Establish an “end state” for your work that is either time-based (ie. “I will complete as many tasks as I can within the next 2 hours”) or unit-based (ie. “I will complete 30 tasks today”). You can also use a combination of both dashes and end your work streak depending on which end-state you’ve achieved.
Political analyst and historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson created the titular law which observes that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Keep this in mind when scheduling deadlines. Give yourself tighter timelines to induce a bit of pressure, otherwise you might end up minutes before your deadline without any room for edits, revisions, and approval.
Count to 5
A Redditor named Draconax suggests a seemingly simple solution when it comes to beating procrastination: count to 5. Whenever you’re faced with something that simply needs to get done, but you can’t muster up the energy or confidence to do it, count to 5 and then dive in. This technique works for some because they feel they are able to mentally prepare themselves for the work they’re about to do. Making that decision to start after you’re done counting is similar to the countdown to a race, or the takeoff of a rocketship. In those final seconds before it’s go time, you can pump yourself up as much as possible and just get it done. Not every task will give you excitement and satisfaction. Some tasks are unforgiving, but necessary. By counting to 5 and jumping head-first, you can build up the needed momentum to power through your tasks
The Pomodoro Technique
This well-known time management technique breaks down your work into alternating phases of focus and rest. Set a 25-minute timer, and then begin to work on one or many tasks. Then, take a 5-minute break. Repeat this cycle 4 times and then take a full 15-minute break. This method will help you to eliminate distractions and go focus on the work at hand. There are actually a number of browser extensions and apps that help you break down your work in these timeframes.
We all have tasks that we’ll get around to someday (or maybe, if at all). To move priorities out of this nebulous “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines. Don’t classify your tasks as “future” or “someday” as these goals will be neglected (see Parkinson’s Law above). Set an immediate deadline to coax yourself into action, now.
The 3-Minute Rule
Steve Chandler, author of Time Warrior, offers a simple, time-based method for quickly building momentum to power through anything you’re reluctant to start: give yourself three minutes. Think about one small action you can take in the next three minutes that will move your project forward. Then take that action, and you might just build enough traction to keep going and going until your project is complete.
The Reluctance to Start
Ultimately, beating procrastination comes down to the defeating your reluctance to start. This reluctance is what causes stress and it keeps you from doing your best work because important tasks get left until the last minute. Jim Rohn, author of “Cultivating an Unshakable Character”, believes in 2 methods to overcome this initial reluctance. First, is to keep track of your time in 30 minute intervals. We all like believe that we are always busy. This may be true some of the time, but have you ever wondered how much time you really spend doing work? Initially, this can seem like quite the task in itself but taking the time to do this will help you to better understand how much time you are putting into serious work, goofing off, and nothing at all. Keeping this log will indicate how much time you’ve wasted, sparking pressure to take action.
The next step is to bring others into your plan. It’s harder to leave tasks until the last minute when it feels like people are depending on you. Mr. Rohn suggests having regular meetings with other people in your life who are also trying to achieve something and use each other as motivation to take action. But, this does take a lot of effort. Doing all this work to get work done can be challenging. If you feel as though you don’t have the time to speak with others about your goals, the thought of how your success will benefit people that you care about will help sustain motivation and beat that reluctance to start. Sometimes we get lost in the mountain of tasks we have to complete and forget what is truly important. Including others in your plan provides a level of accountability that working alone cannot.
Being a procrastinator doesn’t mean you’re unproductive. It just means that you work better under pressure. Therefore, it’s imperative that you learn to create and embrace constraints if you want to get things done. Robert Greene has some timeless advice for people who wait too long:
“Move before you are ready…Most people wait too long to go into action, generally out of fear…You must go the opposite direction and move before you think you are ready. It is as if you are making it a little more difficult for yourself, deliberately creating obstacles in your path…When you feel that you must work harder to get to your goal because you are not quite prepared, you are more alert and inventive. This venture has to succeed and so it will.”
The next time you feel like pushing a deadline or making excuses to delay your start, remember that the only thing getting in the way of the work is you. If you’re a procrastinator, you’ll need to simulate some pressure to induce momentum. Dial things up a few notches and watch your ideas turn into reality in ways that you never thought were possible before.