When I am coaching freelancers, there's one issue that pops up more than any other - procrastination.
Everybody thinks they waste too much time.
Everybody thinks that other people must be far more in control of their time.
Everybody thinks it's only them who has big chunks of the day fall into a black hole consisting of looking at pictures of strangers on Facebook and arguing with that guy about that thing on Twitter.
So, procrastination. I think it's a diease we've all got to one degree or another. My theory on this (which you can read more about here) is that it's part of the dance we do, and as long as you're still getting your work done then in some cases it can even be beneficial.
But what if getting distracted is stopping you from doing stuff you need to do? What if your to-do list has its own postal code?
Here are some expert tips to help from Grace Marshall, author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time:
"I sit down to write and turn on the computer.
I check my emails first. Someone’s mentioned me on Twitter. Reply to that. Wow, that’s a fantastic quotation. Share that on my Facebook page. Fantastic, some feedback on my last post. Thank them and answer questions.
Back to writing. Get my notes out.
There’s a reminder here to introduce a networking contact to my Web designer. That’s easy; they’re both on LinkedIn. While I’m there I’ll add my new contacts. Five a day. It’s all about regular and consistent action, right?
Done. Where was I? Ah yes, writing. But my tea’s gone cold. Better make a new one. Tidy kitchen counter while I’m there. There’s that receipt I was looking for. File it before I lose it again.
Back to the desk, hot cup of tea in hand. Oh look, an email. Fantastic, I've been waiting for him to get back to me. Now where’s that file I need to send him?"
- excerpt from 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time
In this day and age, distractions are rife, but they seem all the more irresistible when you’re putting something off.
Is procrastination putting your distractions on steroids? Here are four quick tips to help you get them under control:
1. Ask yourself: what’s the point?
First of all - what are you trying to achieve here. What’s your purpose? What matters most? True motivation comes from knowing why something matters to you, not why you think you ‘should’ be doing it.
If there is no point, and you can get away with not doing it, I suggest you take great pleasure in crossing it off your list.
Or if the point is that you can’t get away from it, i.e. “bad things happen if I don’t”, then you might as well get it out of the way and stop it from sucking up more of your time, energy and mental space.
The point is, choose where you want to spend your time instead of reacting to whoever or whatever happens to be shouting the loudest.
2. Unplug from distractions
Every time we turn our attention from one thing to another, it takes time to refocus. Re-read the last paragraph you’ve written. Revisit your notes. Get back into the right headspace. This takes time.
Give yourself periods of unplugged time - turn off your emails, Facebook and anything else that pings or pops up. Tell Twitter you’ll be back in an hour. Divert your phone to voicemail. Close the door. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in just an hour of uninterrupted time, compared to a day of flitting from one thing to another.
3. Make it easier
Baby steps can overcome overwhelm, bypass procrastination, sneak past fear and self-doubt and still move mountains. Writing one page or chapter, or even writing for 20 minutes, is infinitely more doable than staring at “Write book” on your to-do list every morning.
Instead of one big project or one mammoth task, how can you break it up into easier, more doable chunks? What would your baby steps be?
4. Sweeten the deal
As Mary Poppins said, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Get creative. Just as we turn things into a game, race, or competition to encourage our children to do something, how can you do it differently to make it more fun?
• Do it with company - the kind of company that will hold you accountable, race you to the finish line or simply take the boredom out of it.
• Change the scenery - do it somewhere different or get some upbeat music playing. I know a couple of directors who combined their business plan meeting with a walk through the woods.
• Turn your distractions into rewards. Get the article written, then go on twitter and celebrate. You’ll have much more fun knowing it’s done, free from that nagging guilt of “I should be doing...”
You can find more tips like this in Grace’s new book 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time, a book designed to help you gain more time for the important things in your life, without sucking up your time to do so!