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Four Procrastination Myths Debunked

Four Procrastination Myths Debunked
    Day 115 is courtesy of Jacqui Brown

    There are less than one hundred days left in 2011.

    If you have a backlog of projects that you meant to work on this year, but which you haven’t gotten around to, it’s very likely that procrastination is the culprit.

    Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., creator of the popular web site procrastination.ca, is one of the world’s foremost experts on procrastination. Dr. Pychyl defines procrastination as “the needless, often irrational, voluntary delay of an intended task”. That is, you intend to work on a task but you go off and start working on something else which you know is not as important, and which doesn’t need to get done right away.

    There are several myths, lies, or excuses that we use in order to avoid doing the work that needs to be done. A procrastination myth is when we tell ourselves that there’s a valid reason why we’re putting off an important task, when the reality is that it’s just a lame excuse we’re using in order to defer doing work that requires effort and concentration. Four of the most common procrastination myths are laid out and debunked below.

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    Myth Number 1: “I work better under pressure.”

    You have an important report due in two weeks, but instead of getting started on the report you find yourself cleaning out the refrigerator or reorganizing your closet. In order to reduce the dissonance that exists between what you’re doing and what you should be doing, you immediately start rationalizing this behavior. You tell yourself that you’re just one of those people who works better under pressure, so the best thing for you to do is to postpone getting started on the report.

    The reality is that procrastination harms performance. Scrambling around trying to complete projects at the last minute and cramming the night before a big exam is not the most efficient or enjoyable way to get things done. Planning and pacing your projects always gets you better results, and it’s a lot less stressful than constantly pulling all-nighters and handing things in at the last possible moment.

    If you’re convinced that you simply can’t get yourself to start on a task unless you feel the pressure of a looming deadline, then start creating artificial pressure for yourself. There are many ways you can do this. For example, set a timer and tell yourself that you have thirty minutes to write the first paragraph. You can even pretend that it’s a timed essay exam and that at the end of the thirty minutes you have to stop typing, no matter what. Another method you can try is to get an accountability buddy to whom you have to “hand in” regular updates of your work.

    By using artificial pressure you get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, having artificial deadlines forces you to focus all of your attention on the task at hand, and it prevents you from expanding the work needlessly in order to fill the time available for its completion (Parkinson’s Law). On the other hand, this method allows you to give yourself sufficient time to do adequate research, to check your facts and figures, and to edit your work properly.

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    If you’re still not convinced, conduct an experiment. Take two similar tasks: postpone working on one of the tasks until the last possible minute; pace yourself on the other one. Then, compare the two experiences.

    Myth Number 2: “I need to be inspired or to be in the right mood before I can work on this.”

    Do you put off getting started on important tasks until you’re “in the mood” or until inspiration strikes? Telling yourself that you’re waiting for inspiration to strike is procrastination in disguise. Instead of waiting for the ideas to start flowing before you get started on a task, you need to sit down and get to work with or without inspiration. You’ll find that inspiration is a byproduct of having the discipline to do what needs to be done; inspiration comes from doing.

    Stop wasting time waiting for inspiration. As Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

    Myth Number 3: “I need to have at least three or four hours of uninterrupted time in order to work on this.”

    In “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” Brian Tracy recommends that you think continually of ways to save, schedule, and consolidate large chunks of time. Then, use that time to work on your most important tasks. However, if you don’t have a large chunk of time available to work on an important task, such as a report that’s due in a couple of weeks, it’s a mistake to keep postponing the task until you do have a few hours of uninterrupted time.

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    Instead, you should apply the “Swiss Cheese Approach”. This is a method that was introduced by Alan Lakein in his book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”. Of course, Swiss cheese is easily recognizable because it’s full of holes. According to Lakein, “the underlying assumption of the Swiss cheese approach is that it is indeed possible to get something started in five minutes or less. And once you’ve started, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to keep going.”

    In a nutshell, the Swiss Cheese Approach consists of the following:

    • Work in small holes of time, such as fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, or half an hour.
    • Poke small holes into a large task on a consistent basis.

    This approach works for the following reasons:

    • Once you get started on a task, it no longer looks as difficult and overwhelming as it did before you got started.
    • By poking small holes in a project you’ll be making constant progress at a good pace.
    • This approach allows you to create a sense of forward momentum.
    • Each time that you get a little bit of the task done, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
    • You’re making good use of small pockets of time, instead of wasting that time.

    When you only have fifteen or twenty minutes to work on your project, instead of telling yourself that you’re better off waiting until you have more time to work on it, ask yourself the following questions:

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    • “What can I get done in these fifteen minutes?”
    • “Is there a small segment of the project that I can get started on?”
    • “How can I use this time to poke a small hole into this project?”

    Keep poking holes into the project whenever you have a few minutes to spare, and soon you’ll be surprised to discover that you’re practically done with the project.

    Myth Number 4: “I’ll be able to do a better job tomorrow.”

    We all have a tendency to think that things will be different in the future, even if that future is just tomorrow. In the future we’ll have more time, we’ll be better organized, we’ll have more impulse control, we’ll be better rested and have more energy, and we’ll be better equipped to get things done. Therefore, we keep handing our present-day responsibilities over to this superhero future self.

    The reality is the following:

    • Unless you start taking steps to become more productive and effective today, you’ll be as time-starved tomorrow as you are today.
    • Unless you take steps to become more disciplined today, you’ll be just as undisciplined tomorrow as you are today.
    • Unless you take steps to become more organized today, you’ll be just as disorganized tomorrow as you are today.

    This can be boiled down to the following tried and true adage: don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

    Conclusion

    Most of us have probably used one or more of the myths above as a way to excuse ourselves from getting to work on a task that made us feel uncomfortable–because we were afraid of doing a bad job, because the task was complex and we felt overwhelmed, or because there was something else we would rather have been doing. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll stop saying these things to yourself when it’s time to get to work on an important task.

    What myths have been sustaining your procrastination habit? Please share in the comments below.

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    Marelisa Fabrega

    Marelisa is a lawyer and entrepreneur who blogs about creativity, productivity, and getting the most out of life.

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    Last Updated on November 3, 2020

    How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

    How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

    It takes being productive to get things done correctly and on time. So how do you know which tasks are essential and which can wait? The answer is in the Prioritization Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

    The matrix took its name after Dwight David Eisenhower.

    Eisenhower was a general in the US army and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. As a five-star general and a Supreme Commander in the US Army, he drafted the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.[1]

    Eisenhower had to make tough decisions every time about which tasks to prioritize out of many he needed to focus on daily. So, he came up with the famous Eisenhower Matrix, or the Prioritization Matrix.

    What Is the Prioritization Matrix?

    The Prioritization Matrix is a tool for rating your tasks based on urgency. It helps you know the critical activities and those tasks that you should bypass and can be useful in project management, small businesses, or personal tasks.

    Eisenhower famously said of the matrix:

    “Most tasks that are urgent are not important, and most tasks that are important are not urgent.”

    This quote became the maxim for Eisenhower in managing his time.

    There are four quadrants in the Prioritization Matrix, which help in comparing choices of what to do first and last, allowing you to prioritize projects and create strategic plan[2].

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    Eisenhower Matrix Template

      The quadrants are:

      • Do
      • Schedule
      • Delegate
      • Eliminate

      Do

      Do is the first quadrant in the Prioritization Matrix, and it incorporates important activities. That is, those tasks you need to carry out urgently — crises, deadlines, and issues that need your urgent attention and are highly relevant to your life mission.

      Hw do you know which task falls into this quadrant?

      Start by analyzing your priorities, and then establish if it falls within the ‘do it now’ criteria. If the task is achievable within a day, or within 24 to 48 hours, it’s urgent.

      Another approach you can adopt in prioritizing tasks in this category is to adopt the “eat the frog” principle by Mark Twain. This principle recommends that you do the most urgent activities as soon as you wake up.

      Here’s a practical example.

      Let’s say you need to draft a content strategy and submit a report to your manager. It’s Saturday, and the deadline for submission is Monday. Can we say the activity is urgent? Definitely!

      Schedule

      The second quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Schedule. The Prioritization Matrix classifies tasks in this category as important but not that urgent.

      They are long-term objectives and tasks with no immediate deadline. Those tasks could include meditation, journaling, studying, family time, and exercising.

      You can plan out activities in this quadrant for some other period. For instance, you should exercise for good health, but you can allocate time to do it.

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      Schedule these activities in such a way that they don’t transfer to the “Do” or “Urgent” quadrant. Ensure you have sufficient time to carry them out.

      Delegate

      The third quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Delegate.

      These tasks are not important to you but are quite urgent for others. This is where teamwork comes into play.

      You can technically perform tasks in this category, but it makes sense to delegate them. Delegating tasks will ensure you have more time to pursue activities in your first two quadrants.

      You should also monitor the tasks you have delegated. It will only amount to a sheer waste of time if you don’t have a tracking system for delegated tasks.

      Eliminate

      The last quadrant highlights your productivity killers. They are tasks that are not important to your goals and not urgent. The only way to boost your productivity is to eliminate them.

      Some examples are constantly checking your phone, watching movies, or playing video games.

      They could also be bad habits that you need to identify and delete from your daily and weekly schedule.

      Successful people have learned how to prioritize and stick to what’s important. They have learned to find a better person for a task or eliminate less significant tasks.

      Let’s consider two inspiring personalities that have designed their prioritization system.

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      Warren Buffet developed a two-list prioritization model to determine which task deserves his best attention. The bottom line is bypassing things that are important and useful but not top of the priorities.

      Mark Ford, a business advisor, marketer, self-made millionaire, and author devised his strategy:

      “Start work on the most crucial priority, take a break, work on the second most important task, take a break, then sort out the less important activities and any tasks he received from other individuals by afternoon.” [3]

      How to Use The Prioritization Matrix

      Using the Prioritization Matrix can be tricky if you’re new at it, but by following a few simple steps, you can learn to utilize it in the best way possible.

      1. List and Rank Your Priorities

      Highlight all the tasks you need to carry out in a day. Then, classify them with weighted criteria based on urgency and importance.

      Identify any activity that requires prompt action. I’m referring to a task that if you don’t complete that day, it could produce a grave consequence. For instance, if you don’t submit your content strategy, other content writers cannot work. It means you need to check for high-priority dependencies.

      2. Define the Value

      The next step is to examine the importance and assess which of them impacts your business or organization the most. As a rule of thumb, you can check which tasks possess higher priority over others. For instance, you need to attend to client’s requirements before you take care of any internal work.

      You can also estimate value by examining how the task impacts the people and customers in the organization. In a nutshell, the more impact a task has on people or the organization, the higher the priority.

      3. Take out the Most Challenging Task

      Procrastination is not a symptom of laziness, but avoidance is. The truth is that you will typically avoid tasks you don’t want to do. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, once said he would take out the most dreaded task first thing when he got to the office.

      Brian Tracy called these tasks the frogs you need to eat. That will remove the nagging dread, which mounts pressure on you when you postpone necessary tasks[4]. This is where the Prioritization Matrix can help; eat the “Do” frogs immediately.

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      If you need help overcoming procrastination, check out this article.

      4. Know What’s Important to You

      As long as you are in this cosmos, you will always encounter different choices that may be contradictory to your goals. For instance, a fantastic promotion that requires excessive travel will isolate you from important relationships. If you are not priority-conscious, you may accept it, even though your family is your priority.

      Therefore, it makes sense to identify what is important to you and to prepare yourself not to compromise those important things for immediate pleasure or gain.

      Yogi Berra captioned it this way:

      “If you do not know your destination, you might end up somewhere else.”

      5. Establish Regular “No Work” Time

      YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki established a rule not to check her emails between 6 pm and 9 pm. According to a CNN Business report, she was the first woman to request maternity leave when Google just got started. She prioritizes dinner time with her family despite being the CEO of YouTube[5].

      Is it possible to cut out time for our relationships and interests outside of work?

      Of course, and that’s why you need to set out your “no work” time. This approach will enable you to renew your energy levels for the next task. Also, you will be in the best position to introspect as you are not in your usual work zone.

      6. Know When to Stop

      You can achieve everything on your list sometimes. After you have prioritized your workload and assessed your estimates, remove the remaining tasks from your priority list and focus on your most urgent and important tasks.

      Conclusion

      It’s not enough to be successful at work. Ensure you make out time for your family and an important relationship in your life.

      Getting started and finding time may be tricky, but with some practice using the Prioritization Matrix, you’ll find that you are more productive and better able to divide your time between the things that are important to you.

      More Tips on Prioritizing

      Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

      Reference

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