Overcoming Procrastination

“Tomorrow”: a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.”

For most of us, “Procrastination” is King

As we plunge into each day, it is easy to become derailed by trivial and non essential tasks. In fact, we often actively avoid the essential tasks out of fear and uncertainty, even though this makes us anxious. Brooding about unfulfilled tasks can lead to intrusive thoughts, while planning to complete them helps relieve those thoughts.

A physical To-Do list, whether on paper or digital, provides structure and magnetizes us to return to what matters most. But it needs to be carefully curated to prevent frustration and avoidance.

Avoiding the common traps of the To-Do list

Making a To-Do list should be easy: You just write down all the things you need to do, do them, and check them off your list as you go along, Right?

Wrong! Most of us fall into all kinds of traps with our To-Do lists. We allow wishful thinking to take over and put too many tasks on our lists.

We have lists all over the place, sometimes both, on paper and electronics. We put vague and unrealistic goals on our lists or we set up impossibly short time frames for completing our tasks.

Too often and too easily, our To-Do list will turn into “A Daily Failure List.” We put stuff on our To-Do list that we have no intention of doing.

Avoid the common traps of the To-Do list, so that it does not become a record of your failures: Restrict yourself to an “Humble To-Do List”.

The Humble To-Do List

Planned and executed wisely, the “Humble To-Do list” can be a goad to productivity.

On days when you have lots of things to do, a well thought To-Do list, breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, will help you set priorities thus avoiding procrastination. Put your list on paper. It is enormously satisfying to make a check mark with your pen against a finished task. On particularly harried days, draw empty boxes next to your tasks and check mark all completed tasks. Making a mark inside a box feels particularly emphatic. Writing down and checking off a task serves to “emblazon” it in your mind and offers positive reinforcement that is both visual and tactile.

For those of you who “think into their fingers and into the keyboard,” a digital To-Do list would make more sense. Whatever your preference, do not use both. Decide on a single, consistent system: paper or electronic, and use that system as the one and only place to record everything you need to do.

Group your personal and professional goals separately

Each day, most of us have personal goals along with professional ones. Keep your professional and personal goals on the same page or in the same file, but group them separately.

My suggestion is to keep four lists: one with life goals, along with yearly, weekly and daily lists. Life goals should flow into the yearly list, which should then flow into the weekly and daily lists. Say one of your life goals is to start a business: a yearly goal could be to write a business plan; a weekly goal could be to send emails to four business owners asking them if they would be willing to send their business plans to you; a daily goal could be to simply send one email.

Review your To-Do list daily

Spend 15 minutes each day reviewing what you have completed and planning your goals for the following day, plus two days beyond that. This will give you the chance to adjust your tasks and helps prevent last-minute crises.

A Daily To-Do list needs a strong dose of realism and specificity

It is important to add time estimates to your daily tasks. Estimating how long things take will not only help you plan your days more realistically, it will also help you take advantage of blocks of time that will open up unexpectedly.

Make sure to convert big, continuing tasks, like solving a client problem, into concrete, measurable action steps you can complete and cross off your list.

Keep your lists fairly short

Finally, keep your lists fairly short. It is so dispiriting when, at the end of the day, your To-Do list with fifteen items on it, or more, has only a few or maybe none at all checked off.

Better to pare down your To-Do list and make the goals on it less far-reaching.

One last word:

If you opt for the digital route, many To-Do apps are available, from Evernote, Astrid, Remember the Milk and Todoist, to name just a few. Personally, I prefer, use and recommend Evernote.

Most of these To-Do apps have the advantage of being able to sync across all your devices and calendars. Some apps even have options that let you share your To-Do items and have your friends egg you on to accomplish them. But therein lies a danger: You may not want to share all of your goals with everyone, especially the personal ones, and these could often accidentally end up on your shared lists.

Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.

JMD Systemics,

A division of King Global earth and Environmental Sciences Corporation