Do you ever notice how much cleaning you can get done in the few minutes before company arrives? Or how quickly you can write a report on the day it’s due? I’m always amazed at how many loose ends I can tie on the day before a vacation. Ever wonder why we can accomplish more on some days than on others? Is it because we have to make an extra effort to avoid distractions? Or perhaps it’s the extra energy we get from the adrenaline rush of being ‘under the gun’ – and the fear of the consequences if we don’t get it done.
It could be any or all of these factors. But one of the main obstacles to getting things done is perspective. If you have a wide perspective – that is, you look at all the things you have to do in the short time you have to do them – it’s easy to conclude that you don’t have enough time right now, or tomorrow, or next week. So why even bother starting? I find this especially true for my predominantly right brained clients – they are wired to see the ‘big picture’ rather than the details.
One solution is to differentiate between projects and tasks. Cleaning an entire house is a project. Wiping the counters is a task. The first feels overwhelming and time-consuming; the second feels manageable because it can be done quickly. If we can get into the habit of breaking down our projects into tasks, we would get so much more done.
One way of doing this is to list all of your projects and, below each project, list each task required to complete the project. If you are not a list-maker, mind maps are a great alternative: Put the name of every project in a large circle, and draw a line to smaller circles where you put the individual tasks required.
When you have a few minutes to devote to a task, just do it and cross it off. It will take less time than you think and you will not only receive immediate gratification, you’ll also complete more projects efficiently – and with less guilt.
Another solution is to focus on the process rather than the outcome. I often hear clients berating themselves because they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do. For example, they set aside a weekend to declutter the garage, and although they spent the entire weekend working on it, they didn’t finish the job. They feel defeated and give up on their organizing goals. The problem here is not only the unrealistic expectations that set us up for failure before we even begin. It’s that we are focusing only on the result rather than putting value on the effort. So instead of feeling good that we put in so many hours working towards our goal and recognizing that we are so much closer to achieving it, we berate ourselves and end up feeling bad. And the next time we think about decluttering, we remember how bad we felt before – so we don’t bother. After all, why would we want to feel bad? By the way, this resistance is usually a sub-conscious behaviour, so you may not even realize why you are avoiding certain projects. On the other hand, if you can build in small rewards each time you work on a task (the reward is not based on the result but on the effort), you’ll procrastinate less. You may feel that doing the work is its own reward, but the little kid inside of you will want a real reward – and will remember that reward the next time the task needs to be done. So indulge your inner child and you’ll notice you’re making less excuses and getting more work done. And that’s something to celebrate!