My name is Steve, and I’m a born procrastinator. As in, I procrastinated my own birth and came into the world three weeks past due. And yes, I’m still apologizing to my mom for that one. Anyway, let’s talk time management.
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you ever want to take time management advice from a procrastinator? Why not some successful productivity expert instead of a guy who’s had this very blog post assigned since last Monday and just got around to writing it the afternoon before it’s due.
Yes, this is open on my computer right now. I do appreciate the irony.
The truth is, as a committed procrastinator, I may not be good at time management, but I sure know a whole lot about it. Timelines and to-do lists don’t come easy for me, and so, I’ve had to work hard — really hard — for every bit I can. Like everything, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses at time management, but these are the twelve tips that help me the most.
Study your unproductive time
What are you doing when you waste time? And, more importantly, what do you get out of it? If you waste a lot of time during the work day on social media, for example, you might have a need in your life for more social interaction. Try finding more collaborative projects at work that can keep you engaged with your coworkers to feed that urge.
Be honest with yourself about how long things take
This is the hardest skill for me and many other procrastinators. We assume that just because we can write a 1200-word blog post in an hour that it’ll always take that long. In truth, the total time it takes includes research, revision, breaks, time spent waiting for instruction, and so on. Estimate honestly, and if anything, overestimate.
Learn to say no
At the end of the day, there will always be tasks at work that you don’t get around to. That’s okay! For most of us, thankfully, our jobs aren’t life or death, and nobody is going to get critically injured if your TPS reports are a day late. Keep track of how much you can actually get done in one day, do the most important stuff, and say no to everything else.
Control your workplace
I get easily distracted, which can be a problem when I’m trying to concentrate on writing in the middle of a busy office. Fortunately, I have options. When I have a big writing project to do, I can use our mobility software and BYOD policy to take the day working from home. For meetings and smaller assignments, I can find an empty room at the office to hole up in.
Keep your motivation in mind
Some people are motivated by positive reinforcement. If you’re one of them, be sure to give yourself a reward every time you finish a task. For me, it’s negative reinforcement — there’s nothing like the stress of a deadline to kick me into gear. Whatever your style, keep it in mind as you work and the day will go much faster.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Personally, some of my biggest time management problems happen out of shame. I start out procrastinating a little bit, and then I need a little bit of information or instruction to finish the job. But because I’m already behind schedule, I feel too embarrassed to ask for help. I try to go it alone, which only digs the hole even further. It helps me to remember that I have coworkers for a reason, and that it’s better for them to know when to expect something than to let one problem hold everything else up.
Schedule around your most productive hours
Everyone has a natural rhythm and despite the rigid 8-to-5 of the office world; we don’t all sync up to the same clock. I’m a night owl — no surprise — and I have my best hours of concentration and productivity between 3 and 6 PM, and a second wind between 11 PM and 1 AM. I schedule my writing for work in that first slot, and use the mornings for meetings and catching up on email. The second slot I keep for myself.
Find the interesting part of every task
Work goes by faster when you enjoy it. On the other hand, if you dread your work, it gets easier and easier to procrastinate. When you start a new task on your to-do list, you should break it down into smaller pieces and block out time for each one, of course. However, you should also make note of what you’re personally going to enjoy about it, even if you’re just going to enjoy complaining!
Put your to-do list in a place you can’t ignore
To-do lists are hard. I can’t count the number of different apps, notebooks, and whiteboards I’ve tried to use to get my procrastination problem in order, and I rarely stick with any for very long. It helps me to keep my list in a place where I have no choice but to see it. I put sticky notes on my computer monitor — not dangling off the edge, but over the screen. I use Dayboard to make my homepage on Chrome into a to-do list. I hide my phone underneath my notebook before going to bed. For the hopeless procrastinator, these things help.
Get help eliminating distractions
Working on a computer all day can be a blessing and a curse. I’ve got the entire internet at my fingertips all day, and it’s very tempting to open up eighteen tabs of Wikipedia articles and lose hours at a time reading interesting, but useless, things. That’s why I use Strict Workflow to block off distracting websites while I’m working. Strict Workflow helps me control my impulses for 25 minutes at a time, and then I get a 5 minute break of distraction–then, back to work!
Get help making work easier
Time management is a whole lot easier when everything you have to do goes a lot faster. ShareFile is a perfect example. If I have to check my email to make sure I have the right version of a file, there’s a good chance I’ll forget what I’m working on and get stuck in my inbox for a while. Every step I can eliminate is a potential distraction defused.
If your problem is really bad, get help from a professional
After struggling with procrastination my whole life, about six months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD. The diagnosis made a whole lot of things make so much more sense to me. I have the context now to understand why time management is so difficult for me, instead of blaming myself. I also have medication to help me focus and stay on track. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 11% of people in the U.S. have ADHD. If you think you might be one, there’s no shame in consulting a doctor. It can only help.
What time management tips have worked for you? We’d love to hear them! Tweet us, and tag a fellow procrastinator. Together, we can end procrastination…tomorrow.