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Get Things Done: 6 Causes of Task Procrastination – and How to Beat It

Procrastination is the biggest killer of productivity. It saps energy, drains your motivation and stops you getting things done. Instead of moving forward, you’re stuck in the same place – unable to get to where you want to be.

There are two types of procrastination – one affects the overall pattern of your life, and may relate to your home or work life: sometimes both. It’s that feeling of being stuck, realising you want something better but not knowing what –  so you don’t do anything. This is the kind of procrastination you often need help with in order to get your life back on track. You need to get to a point where you understand what you want – and have a strategy to make it happen.

Task Procrastination

The other type of procrastination is what I call ‘task procrastination’. This is when you have a task to complete, but no matter how much you know you need to do it, you can’t seem to get it done. To the extent that you become amazing at doing other things instead, just to avoid completing the task at hand!

To help you beat task procrastination, here are six of the most common causes: together with solutions to help you beat them.

  1. Feeling Overwhelmed

Overwhelm is one of the biggest causes of procrastination. When it seems like because there is so much to do, you just don’t know where to start. And so you do nothing! It’s like finding yourself in the middle of a road, directly in the path of a fast approaching vehicle. Instead of moving either right or left to get out of the way, you find yourself frozen to the spot. Too much choice means you don’t know what to do for the best.

The best way to conquer overwhelm is to break your task down onto smaller parts, so it feels smaller and more manageable. And once you’ve worked out all the things you need to do, you can work out which component to tackle first.

A good way to do this is to grab a large piece of paper, some post-it notes and a pen. Brainstorm all the component parts and right each one down, one per post-it note. Next, re-arrange your post-its into a logical order, plotting the task from start to finish.

This will give you a clear structure and you can tackle each component individually, one after the other. Do this in the order that feels best to you.

No matter how many components you identify, tackling multiple smaller tasks will always feel much easier than trying to accomplish one huge goal. Isolating each part will also help you to identify if you need any other resources in order to get it done.

  1. Don’t Understand the Task

When you don’t fully understand what you need to do, an obvious thing to do is to just leave it. And leave it. Until getting it done can’t wait any longer.

This could be a task set by someone else, like your boss, or even a task you set yourself. Sometimes unrealistic expectations are place upon us by ourselves or others. There is no need to panic though, you just need to get hold of the information you need to get it done.

You’ll know yourself that putting off getting started won’t make things any easier in the long run. So take some action now. Work out the best way to get the information you need to fully grasp what you need to. If someone else set you the task, they may be the best person to consult. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it shows that you care and want to do a good job.

Otherwise, brainstorm all the resources you can call on to find the answers. Who do you know who could help? Can you find the answers online? Where is the best place to do some research?

Plan the best way to get hold of the right information. This places you firmly in control of completing the task and you’ll feel more empowered. It’s amazing how resourceful you are when you need to be! You might even find out something new about yourself in the process – as well as getting your task nailed.

  1. Don’t Find the Task Interesting

Who likes doing things they find boring? Not many of us. Unfortunately a lot of the tasks we need to do can feel uninteresting. For me, repetitive tasks like admin or paperwork are the things most likely things to slow me down. When tasks don’t stimulate us mentally, it is easy to turn our attentions elsewhere.

The best thing to do is find a way to make the task more interesting. Be creative and come up with ways for the process to be more fun. Put on a mix of your favourite music and crank up the volume while you do the housework; use bright colours on your spreadsheet while you do your tax return; get a friend to help you while you paint the spare bedroom.

There will always be something you can do to tweak a boring task and make it more fun.

  1. Too Many Distractions

Everyone’s ideal working environment is different; and it will also vary according to the type of task you are attempting. It may be something really creative, so accessing the right side of your brain, or it could be something more logical or admin related. It’s important to recognise if your environment is having a negative impact on your productivity, and if so do something about it.

This could simply be a case of taking yourself somewhere quiet – or perhaps finding a complete change of space. Before I set up my own business, I used to find my busy office environment very distracting and unproductive. Too many people around, loud conversations and telephones ringing. I actually used to find working on the train during long journeys to meetings really conducive to both creativity and productivity.

Now that I work mainly from my home office, getting a change of scene in a different way helps. Taking my laptop out to a funky coffee shop or a creative shared workspace gives me a fresh perspective when I feel stuck in a rut.

Invest some time to figure out what works best for you. You might be surprised by where (and when) you work at your best.

Another good thing to do is to turn off your phone, emails and social media. It’s all too easy to get distracted by calls, messages and updates. Switching these off for a few hours while you get on with the task at hand works wonders. And you’ll have even more to catch up on when you turn everything back on!

  1. No Incentive to Get it Done

There’s few things more demotivating than a ‘thankless task’ – spending time doing something that just feels pointless. Almost anything else will seem more appealing. If this is the case, take a few moments to work out whether the task really is important. We are all way too busy to waste time doing things that are ‘unimportant’. When working this out, remember that although the task may not be important to you, it might be to somebody else.

Once you’ve decided that your task is important and worthy of your time, you might already feel more inclined to get on with it. If you still need an extra push, decide on a reward for getting it done. Something small, but which will motivate you enough to complete your task.

If treating yourself isn’t enough incentive, work out what it will cost you not to get your task done. What will the consequences be? Trouble from your boss, looking bad in front of an important client, disappointing your partner or friend?

Layer on all the negatives you need to spur you into action. By human nature, we instinctually move away from pain. If you attach enough of it to not completing your task, this will give you the kick to get started.

  1. No Clear Timescale to Complete it

You are much less likely to get on with a task when it is open-ended, with no clear deadline. In goal setting, the ‘T’ of SMART Goals: making it ‘time bound’ is essential. This way you have clear direction for when you need to finish it.

If someone else set you the task, find out the deadline and this will give you something to work towards. If it’s something you set yourself, give yourself a deadline. And apply enough weight to it that it’s meaningful. So that it acts as a motivator. Let there be consequences for not doing it in time.

Once you know the timescales for completing your task, you can plan accordingly for getting it done.

Photo illustration showing a man experiencing anxious thoughts

Claim Your Calm: 9 Go-to Fixes To Crush Your Anxiety

Here are my 9 recommended fixes to try for tackling anxious thoughts whenever they come up. Each one will work as a quick fix when you need it. For greater impact, integrating some of these strategies into your routine will improve your long term wellbeing too. We're all different, so you may find some techniques work better for you than others. Having a choice of options means there are lots of things to try, helping you figure out what works best for you.

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