How many times have you told yourself that you would get to something ‘later’?
It could be something seemingly unimportant like paying a bill, running an errand, or making a call to that really difficult client.
The types of things that appear relatively low on the priority scale.
Yet I am willing to bet that as soon as that bill becomes past due, or that errand results in no food in the house to eat, or your client leaves you because you ignored them, that all of a sudden it becomes the most important thing you have to focus on.
Later has become right now, or else.
The downfall with regularly telling yourself that you will get to something later, is that you are building up the habit of turning tasks, into problems.
Luckily, there is a straightforward way to deal with this habit, and you can implement it as early as tomorrow.
Many years ago, I stood in the kitchen of the corporate office that I worked for, waiting for my first cup of coffee of the day to brew.
It was 8am, and a colleague walked into the kitchen to start her own morning routine.
After some small talk, she told me that the Senior Director for the division was asking for me the night before, and when told that I had gone home for the evening, remarked that they were surprised that I had gone home already as I was usually there.
It was 7:30pm.
Why was I usually at the office until late into the night? Was I super dedicated, conscientious, and responsible enough to ensure that all of my work was completed before I went home for the evening?
Well, of course.
However, there was a huge flaw in the way that I worked.
I would often put things off until later if I didn’t feel like dealing with it right away.
Or, start working on something, then stop part-way through as another item hit my desk, or try to switch between numerous small things, convincing myself that I was multitasking.
It is no wonder that I invariably ended up working (like most people do) really inefficiently.
I had no structure, no self-imposed deadlines, no hard stop to my day.
As a result, I simply kept working, hour after hour, racing from task to task, until I was too tired to keep going and the cleaning staff had to kick me out in order to set the buildings security alarms.
I developed the habit of turning all of my tasks, into problems.
Ignorance is Blissful Focus
It’s not unusual for most people to put their attention on a new task for a brief moment, assess whether or not it’s urgent enough to drop what they are currently working on, and then move it aside to the ‘get to it later’ pile.
The concept of moving things over, so as not to interrupt what they are currently working on, is right, but the execution is flawed.
One of the hardest habits to break for the majority of people, is paying attention to the noise.
The noise is every unscheduled phone call, every email, meeting request, or (for those that work in an office) co-worker’s casual drop-in to have a chat.
The noise is anything that pulls your focus away from what you are currently working on.
If you want to get a handle on your time, then you need to start ignoring the distractions, until they show up on your calendar, in the timeframe set aside to deal with them.
Block It Out
There are many strategies, tips, tricks, and hacks that all aim to break us of the habit of procrastination.
But when it comes to addressing the smaller tasks in business, it isn’t so much about procrastinating, as it is a lack of personal time management.
Let’s face it, you can’t avoid emails, or meetings, or administrative work, but what you can do is learn to manage when you deal with them.
One of the most effective methods, especially when it comes to the daily dose of administrative tasks, has been the practice of time-blocking.
Time-blocking is a recurring, scheduled appointment with yourself, specifically set aside to deal with all of the tasks that have found their way to you.
It’s the time set aside to deal with everything you say that you will get to later.
Checking and responding to emails, returning phone calls, filing expense reports, accepting those meeting requests and invitations to coffee.
It’s any task that might take anywhere from 3-15 to complete, is otherwise not urgent, but is terribly distracting.
When you are able to remain focused on priorities, have time set aside to address the accumulation of small tasks and have developed the ability to ignore distractions, then you’ll find that you can be incredibly productive today, as opposed to hoping that you will get to it all later.
Because ‘later’, is now a scheduled occurrence in your calendar, and you can work confidently knowing that you will have time to get to it after all.