Do you procrastinate, occasionally or often? While there may be many reasons for this behavior, procrastination can add unnecessary stress and even stifle some people’s careers. Below are ten strategies to help you finish your work on time.
1. Take action
The first step is often the hardest, but it can be as simple as opening a Word Document and typing your name and the title of your project. The sooner you stop avoiding getting started, the less anxiety you will feel about the task. Remind yourself that the uncomfortable feeling you have now as you mobilize energy and time will be worth the feeling of success — and reduced stress — after you’ve finished the project.
2. Break up the project into smaller steps
One of the main sources of procrastination is not knowing where to start. Working in smaller increments makes the assignment less daunting. Begin by dividing the project into separate parts, and assign deadlines for each part. This will allow you to better keep track of how long it will take you to finish something. This segmented approach will also make it easier for you to see the progress you have made. As positive reinforcement, be sure to check off each milestone you have completed.
3. Set a timer for a defined time period
Watch the clock and promise you will not check your personal email or texts until you have worked for 20 minutes straight. Timing yourself not only helps you structure your work process, it also plays into lawyers’ competitive inclination. If you finish writing a section of the contract before your 20-minute writing session expires, reward yourself with a five-minute mental break to take a stroll, grab a bite, drink a cup of water, chat with a colleague in the kitchen, read a news article, or check out an interesting social media post. Set a timer for your break too, so that you don’t accidentally spend too much on social media.
4. Block Distractions
Whether you’re on your computer or smartphone, the Internet is filled with websites and apps vying for your attention. Thankfully, there are web browser extensions and apps that mute the chaos. On your computer, you may want to consider installing web browser extensions (e.g., StayFocusd or RescueTime) to prevent you from wandering into time-killing websites. If you’re addicted to your smartphone, the easiest solution is to turn it off. If that’s not realistic given the constraints of your role as an in-house counsel or caregiver, you may be interesting in trying apps such as Antisocial to curb your time on social media and other distracting apps. The app logs how often you pick up your phone, calculates your most used app, and even compares your statistics to other users. To block distractions on more than one gadget, you may consider opting for Freedom, which syncs your blocking of sites across multiple devices, including your phone, laptop, and work computer.
5. Find what works for you
Tapping away at a keyboard in a silent room helps most people stay focused. Others work better when surrounded by ambient noise or even music. If you prefer the quiet but work in an open office environment where it can be hard not hear your colleagues’ conversations, you may want to invest in noise-cancelling headphones.
6. Work first, edit later
Focus on finishing the project before perfecting it. If you were to polish a car during every step on the assembly line, it would take twice as long to make it. Start with a foundation, then build it from there. Nitpick it once you’re done. That’s not to say you shouldn’t address a problem when you encounter it, but wait until finishing the project before combing through every sentence.
7. Set an earlier deadline
This isn’t a new concept, but it works. Telling yourself that your deadline is a few days or weeks before it actually arrives will give you more time to prepare (or put off) your work. Even better, if you save the due date in your planner or calendar as your fake deadline, then you’ll start to believe that is the deadline within time. And if you’re running late with your early project deadline, you may still have enough margin to be ahead of schedule.
8. Get to the root of the problem
Procrastinating rarely arises from poor time management. Rather, it typically stems from avoiding a fear of failure or other feelings of dread. Whatever risk you are avoiding, address it. If you are worried about how the other side will respond to your contract, ask your supervisor or colleagues for insight. Talking through your concerns with another team member may help you build the confidence you need to complete the project.
9. Trust your skills and your ability to learn
If self-doubt is keeping you from performing your best in a timely manner, stop giving it power. Having anxiety when working on a project is normal, especially if it is on a new topic or is being led by a different manager. The key is to focus on what you can get done rather than any mistakes you have made or could make. And if you’re still feeling insecure, fake it ‘til you make it. In other words, believe that you do have the skills to finish the project, and reduce anxiety by trusting your ability to use your skills, to learn what you need, and to deliver to the best of your ability. After all, one way you will get those skills and improve them is by practicing.
10. Lessons for next time
Procrastination is a counter-productive habit, but it’s one that can be broken with introspection and practice. Once you finish the project, write down each aspect of your work that helped (or didn’t help) you accomplish your goal. What time of day were you the most productive? What distractions derailed you from work? What helped you bounce back from distractions? What tips didn’t work? If you found that your daily run to the office candy jar when you hit writers block turns from a five-minute to a 30-minute distraction, store nuts or dried fruit in your desk drawer. Being honest with yourself can help you better prepare for the next project so that you can complete it on time and with less stress.