By LAY HSUAN, LIM
What do Malaysians have in common, besides the love for nasi lemak, football and durians (well, almost)?
Hint: We tend to wait until the last minute before filing our taxes, paying our summonses, submitting our work reports (and claims), RSVP-ing a wedding invitation, etc. Generally, we all have a tendency to procrastinate until the 11th hour.
To be fair, it’s not just confined to our country. The culture of procrastination is actually quite a universal human behaviour.
Joseph Ferrari, a pioneer of modern research on procrastination, found in 2013 that 20% of the population identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For other interesting statistics on procrastination, go here.
How do you combat procrastination? Here are my personal top 10 ways.
1. Create a visible to-do list
Write down the things you’ve been putting off doing in a to-do list. Go through them and prioritise them according to urgency and importance. With the variety of apps readily available to help you organise your thoughts, there shouldn’t be excuses not to use a to-do list. If you have the tendency to avoid checking your to-do list in your mobile devices, we strongly suggest you keep a notebook (containing your list) handy. Alternatively, paste your to-do list at strategic spots where you can be reminded (or haunted, if it has serious repercussions to your key performance indicators) on a daily basis.
2. Set a time frame
A to-do list remains as it is if we don’t bind the items with a set of measurable values or a time frame. For example, instead of just writing “contribute articles for Lifehack.org”, write “contribute one article for Lifehack.org every month”.
3. Be mindfully present
In the age of 24/7 Internet connectivity, there are gazillions of things out there seeking our attention. From real-time news to frequent updates on social media, our attention span has been greatly reduced. You must have had your share of experiences when you lose your train of thought while working because of incoming WhatsApp messages about random things. After reading or responding to it, it takes you some time to get back into the “groove”. One good advice is to put these potential distractors far away, so you can be mindfully present for what you initially planned to do. Put away that phone if you must!
4. Multi-task, not!
Do you find yourself “killing many birds with one stone”? Are you talking on your Cisco phone, sending a Telegram message on your smartphone and reading your Gmail simultaneously? A 2013 Stanford University study has found that multitasking greatly decreases performance at work, wastes time and is bad for your brain’s cognitive control in the long term. The fact remains that your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So, stop multitasking.
5. Divide and conquer
We sometimes procrastinate because a task is just too complex and we don’t really know where or how to start. In computer science, the divide and conquer algorithm works by breaking down a problem into smaller sub-problems until these become simple enough to be solved. Likewise, “divide” the complex task into smaller achievable tasks before you “conquer” them little by little.
6. Find an accountability buddy
It takes a lot of discipline to combat procrastination on your own. It is then highly recommended that you look for a buddy to whom you will be answerable. This buddy will occasionally ask about your progress and add “pressure” on you if you slack in the tasks you set out to do. If your buddy has his or her own set of goals, you can work together to motivate each other.
7. Just do it!
It is often said that the first step is always the hardest. This includes your first public speaking engagement, your first facilitation for a training, your first article for a newspaper, etc. In this regard, reframe your mindset to live up to Nike’s “Just do it” tag line. An effective way to start something you’ve been procrastinating is to allocate 10 minutes of full concentration on the task. Start small before you gradually increase the amount of time for focused work.
8. Take short breaks
If you are really uninspired while working on a task, take short breaks in between to refuel. Give yourself about 10 minutes to play Candy Crush on your phone, chill at the pantry area, listen to your favourite song or just talk to someone. And don’t even think about treating this privilege of taking short breaks as an excuse to procrastinate your work further, okay?
9. Tweak your environment
Your workspace plays an important role in how you work towards starting (and completing) your long-overdue tasks. It will either spur you on or demotivate you completely. Check whether your workspace is well ventilated, spacious, well lit and comfortable before making the necessary adjustments. For example, you often focus better and think more clearly in a clutter-free and tidy workspace. Imagine an ant-infested desk – surely you’ll not be able to work comfortably and peacefully!
10. Celebrate little successes
Scott Friedman, chief celebration officer at Friedman & Associates and a faculty trainer with Leaderonomics said that we sometimes don’t celebrate enough. In his own words, “celebrate” means to acknowledge the good work of a person and the milestones achieved along the way. For every procrastinated task completed, why not treat yourself (and your accountability buddy) to a nice meal or a movie, to keep you motivated to take on the next task?
Watch what Mr Friedman had to share with us about his experience in celebrating in our workplaces and “sell-le-brating” with customers!