Stop procrastinating your tasks by chunking down time, rather than chunking down the project.
It’s Monday morning. I’ve put off writing this episode for days and days. This is especially poignant—indeed, a tragedy of near-Shakespearian proportions—because this episode is all about Step 2 in my new book. And for those of you who haven’t read the book yet because you’re still waiting for your ten copies to arrive, Step 2 is Stop Procrastinating.
I don’t know why I do it. I have eight articles on my almost-overdue list. You’d think I would spend the morning writing them. Nope. I spent half of the morning talking with a conference organizer about keynoting an event, when I could have scheduled our call for tomorrow. I spent the rest of the morning answering personal email, checking my Facebook status, and categorizing a few pictures. Yes, it turns out that Stever Robbins, host of the Get-it-Done Guy, is only human. Well, mostly. If you don’t count my bionic leg or my robotic eye with its built-in laser death ray.
Stop Procrastinating, Stop Thinking
My thinking when I procrastinate goes something like this: “I have so much writing to do. It will take so much time. I have to clear my mind, first. I need a big block of free time where I can just let my mind roam free. Since I have these emails to answer and photos to file, I’ll get them off my mind by doing them really quickly. Then my mind will be free and clear and ready to write. … emails answered … photos filed … oh, look! A squirrel!” And I’m off! Another distraction keeping me from my writing. The fact that it turns out to be a super-intelligent squirrel working on the answer to global warming is irrelevant. All that does is distract me even further.
What’s even worse, if I eventually get myself to start writing article one, as I’m writing, I’m thinking about the other seven articles I’m not working on. So I kind of ignore article one even while I’m writing it, because I want to think about article two.
Without all that thinking, everything would be fine. I would sit down and get started. Yes, there would still be eight articles on my list, but instead of thinking about them, I’d be writing them. And while writing each one, I would be totally present with that one. Bernice agrees. She says, “Give me a lever long enough, and let me be totally present, and I can move the world.” I told her that Archimedes originally said it was a place to stand that was needed. She said he was wrong, and being totally present was enough. I don’t think she passed freshman Physics.
Some speculate there are deep, meaningful psychological reasons we procrastinate. Let’s save the deep meaning for those late-night relationship conversations. Getting things done is about taking action.
How to Stop Procrastinating
In my past episode Stop Procrastination with Action Days, we covered how you can use a friend or a group of friends to kick yourself into action. But what if you’re a societal outcast, living in a cabin in the woods with no telephone or Internet connection? How will you start taking action on chopping down firewood, fixing your leaky roof, or writing the manifesto you’ll use to justify wrapping the entire town of Skokie, Illinois in shrink-wrap and holding it hostage?
You could try breaking large tasks into tiny steps. But your brain may be too smart. It knows there’s a huge honkin’ task there, and that tiny step might expand to eat up our whole afternoon. But if you divide time into chunks, instead of dividing your task into tiny steps, everything changes.
Stop Procrastinating by Speed-Dating Your Tasks
Rather than starting a task that you know will be a big commitment, treat your tasks the way you could treat your love life: speed date them. Write down the list of tasks you’ve been procrastinating on a piece of paper. Get yourself some kind of timer. Set the timer for five minutes. Press start on the timer and start working on the first task.
Work for exactly five minutes. When the timer goes off, stop where you are and switch to the second task. Keep doing this until you’ve spent five minutes on each task. Then give yourself a ten minute break. Timed.
After your break, start at the top of your list and speed date your tasks again. After you’ve done this a couple of times, you can move the timer from five minutes to ten minutes. Then from ten to fifteen. That is how you build momentum for all that stuff you have been putting off.
Your Brain Can’t Complain About 5 Minutes
This procrastination zapper works because you’re not thinking; you’re just acting. But you’re acting for only five minutes at a time. Even the most stubborn brain has to admit that five minutes is such a small amount of time that it won’t interfere with anything else you have to do in your life. Your brain needn’t fear that the task will take up too much time, because it knows you’ll stop in just a couple of minutes.
The other bonus is that since your brain knows you’ll work on all your tasks in the next hour, it doesn’t need to keep reminding you about task two when you’re working on task one. It knows you’ll get to task two in just a couple of minutes.
That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, easy, and your brain will love it. Write down your tasks, work on each for five minutes, then take a break. Repeat as necessary. Now if you’ll excuse me, my five minutes on this episode is up. Now I’m on to task two, “outfit bionic leg with built-in espresso machine.” I just love 21st century technology!
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!