September 24, 2016 kirstycooke

How to get stuff done when you are impatient and easily distracted

Here comes another admission that won’t do my personal brand any favours: I am quite lazy, or at least, am supremely impatient. And the problem with impatience, for me certainly, is that I can’t defer pleasure, so I procrastinate terribly.

(Luckily, in my proofreading work, number 3 doesn’t cause an issue. Proofreading is the ‘final product’ and not, in cases where it is someone else’s work, the ‘fiddly bit at the end’. Does that make sense?)

Anyway, here are some of the ways I am combatting my procrastination issue…

1. I don’t just write an unordered list.

I blooming love a good handwritten list, but it’s only recently I’ve discovered the impact of actually prioritising the items in a to-do list instead of simply jotting them all down as they occur to me. Once I have the tasks on paper (a great start, by the way – don’t let them float around in your head, as they have a tendency to multiply in there) I give them numbers. Number one simply has to happen first. There’s no getting round it.

(Of course, since you are the one ordering items, you can give yourself only easy stuff until number six or seven, which you hope won’t make it into the day’s activities…)

Oh, and don’t forget to give them a nice big tick when they’re done. So satisfying. (I tick the number AND the task. It’s allowed.)

2. I reward myself for work well done.

I am very easily pleased, and ridiculously material, so knowing I can’t have a glass of wine/packet of Dolly Mixtures/bout of online shopping until I press ‘Send’ on a particularly challenging email or hit ‘Publish’ on a blog post can really get me going.

3. I analyse the consequences.

Visualise what will happen if you don’t do the task (sometimes massive, sometimes not) AND what will happen if you do. How good it will feel. Very much linked to number two, actually… mmmm I can almost taste that wine right now…

4. I tell people what I plan to do.

Making your ‘goals’ (and it can just be as simple as ‘Clear my desk’) public really does make a difference to your willingness to actually crack on and do them. In work, this is often a plan for the week that I write on a whiteboard, and a frank conversation with my teammate every Monday about our goals.

5. I try to make it really clear to myself what the ‘task’ actually constitutes.

There are two related approaches here. The first is quite obvious – take large tasks and break them down into smaller ones; especially useful if you find that the original task keeps missing out on the top spot in your to-do list.

But I struggled recently to EVER get round to an item on my to-do list, and then realised why I kept putting it off – it wasn’t just massive, it was quite vague, and it wasn’t really possible to break it into smaller tasks. So instead of ‘get the whole thing done’ I’ve created a daily item called ‘spend one hour on this’. After a few days it will become clearer what a ‘small chunk’ looks like and I can revert to that type of sub-task instead. Simple.

On a related note, a useful question for any (big/scary) task is: What will good look like? Thinking of outcomes rather than processes can sometimes make a project and its sub-tasks a little clearer – and you will know when you have finished it. So rather than ‘Write a blog post’, where you would have sub-tasks like find a topic, draft it, etc., you might want to list ‘outcomes’ such as ‘Get sign-off from X on a great title’ – because that’s the thing you really need.

6. I identify the hurdles

These aren’t always obvious. So, the next time an item keeps creeping down and off the list, ask yourself WHY and really think about what is stopping you getting it done. Often, there is a slightly surprising sub-task that involves clearing a blockage you hadn’t really thought about.

As I’ve said before, copywriting jobs for me are all about ‘Get words on paper’. This can work for a lot of annoying, persistent items on your to-do list in work. Open a Word Doc or a blank email and just start typing. Don’t read or research or wait for the right person to tell you it’s OK – but do create a new task for the next day to come back and refine.

7. I remember that nothing is ever really ready anyway. 

Sometimes you just have to get over the line, perfect or not. Ship it.

PS Unsurprisingly, this has taken me way longer than it should have to publish. D’oh!