Is anything worse than an unfinished task? It’s like a little leprechaun that sits on your shoulder day and night whispering a reminder that you should be doing it, that it still needs to be done.
You try creative procrastination where you complete a less onerous task—go to the gym, pay bills, or handle a conference call. That makes you feel slightly better—at least you have accomplished something. But the leprechaun is still there. The longer you put it off, the harder it seems to get back to it.
Now it’s Sunday morning and your boss is expecting the report on her desk tomorrow. You can revert to college behavior and pull an all-nighter. Or you can simply buckle down and get it done. If you choose to do something social during the day, and finish the report later, your mind won’t be free to enjoy the event anyway.
How can you stop this cycle from occurring over and over? You get an assignment, or have a task you need to complete. You may start working on it, but you just can’t keep focused. The next thing you know, you’re surfing the web or doing the laundry. You know you don’t really lack self-discipline, so what’s the problem?
First, evaluate your to-do list. (You do keep a list, don’t you?) Make sure the items on it are fairly specific. Next put a time assessment by each task–use your best guess to determine how much effort and time each task will take. If it is a big project, divvy it up into manageable chunks and estimate the time required for each chunk.
For example, for that work assignment, your list might read:
•Find and read similar report from last year.
•Decide what statistics you will need.
•Find necessary data.
•Compile statistics into tables and charts.
•Write the report introduction.
•Write data analysis.
•Discuss possible findings and recommendations with boss and/or colleagues.
•Finish writing body of report.
•Proofread and make any needed changes.
These tasks each require different amounts of time, and they don’t necessarily have to be done in order. Maybe you like doing data analysis. If so, do that part first. It will give you some momentum. Perhaps you know what recommendations the boss wants. Can you write them and work backwards?
In addition to putting these tasks on paper and doing a time assessment, determine when you will do them. Give yourself a deadline and commit to making it. For example, “data analysis to be done by noon on Tues.” If you have a deadline, it will help you focus more. And when the data analysis is done by noon, you can shush that nagging leprechaun on your shoulder and go on to other activities without guilt.
Unfinished tasks are actually time eaters and energy wasters. So take some control and simply get them done.