So we’re approaching the end of the year and which often coincides with a raft of resolutions and promises to get things done! The big question is did you fulfil all your 2014 goals and resolutions or are you a perfectionist who has been a victim of your own procrastination?
There’s nothing wrong with high standards. Everyone wants to complete work to the best of their ability.
But when people start setting excessively high performance standards for themselves, the problems begin. It can lead to a constant sense of ‘never good enough’. The consequences? It wastes a huge amount of time. If you are measuring yourself by an impossible standard of your own making you will never be satisfied. You become so trapped in a cycle of finalising the work it never reaches an end point.
I’ll make start after I’ve checked these emails…
But it’s not just perfectionist tendencies that can stop you from ever getting to the point of delivering the goods. Procrastination is another major culprit.
There are many distractions around today that can masquerade as ‘urgent’ tasks you need to deal with. So instead of making meaningful progress on the real job in hand, you get side-tracked. Who hasn’t experienced that unsettled feeling when you know deep down you aren’t getting the work done but you aren’t benefiting from a decent break either?
We try to get motivated by reminding ourselves it’s really important to get going. That builds up the task’s importance in our mind. It becomes more daunting. So we procrastinate even further. Until a deadline finally forces us to act in a panic. And that means poor quality work.
If it makes you feel any better, our biology is against us on this one. We have two parts of our brain in competition. Your limbic system controls activities and responses like memory, emotion, behaviour and pleasure. It’s automatic and works at an unconscious level. And it isn’t keen on you doing work you don’t want to do.
So it starts fighting with the prefrontal cortex, the rational, analytical, logical and planning part of your brain. Unfortunately for your to-do list, the prefrontal cortex happens to be the less dominant of the two.
So how do you kick start yourself into action that delivers results?
1. Know your purpose and give yourself a deadline
One of the best ways to deliver results is to understand in detail what you want to achieve. If your intention’s vague the motivation to keep going won’t be enough. So write a detailed description of what you want and by when and make sure it’s in your diary. Many of us need a deadline to provide the focus and determination to get something done.
It will also help you measure the effective progress you’re making which will motivate you to keep going.
2. Work in short bursts
The prospect of the sense of satisfaction in getting something completed isn’t always enough to get you to start it. How much time have you wasted staring at a screen or piece of paper trying to work out what you need to do first?
So if a task feels too big to even know where to start, try tackling it in short bursts. Keep repeating this, increasing the length of time you spend on the task. Once you’re over the initial problem of starting it, it will feel far less daunting.
And there’s nothing wrong with promising yourself an incentive to help you get going – it can be as simple as a few minutes chat with a friend or colleague, a cool drink or indulgent snack or a walk around the block. Just something to break the rhythm and prevent that repetitive feeling
3. Know when to stop
Part of the reason for having a clear plan of what you are trying to achieve is it means you’ll also have a better idea of when you can stop. If you find yourself endlessly reworking something, stop yourself and revisit the original goal again. If you’ve accomplished all the steps you’d laid out, it’s time to let it go.
4. Group similar activities together
A major source of procrastination occurs when tasks start merging – how many times have you stopped to ‘quickly check your messages’ to still be answering them an hour later? Unless you are trying to ‘jump start’ yourself to get going on a difficult piece of work, it makes sense to do similar activities together as you’ll need less time to get going and you’ll complete them more efficiently.
Motivation isn’t everything
You may think you can only get going on some work once you are ‘feeling motivated’. But focus on the fact that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to be able to do it. Just making a start means it’ll suddenly seem a lot less daunting. And always try to keep in mind that even if you don’t feel you’ve hit the high standards you were aiming for, it doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved them.