February is always a month where I generally feel stagnant, which often leads me to procrastinate in work and life in general. Here are some tips for battling procrastination.
Some tasks that have built-in accountability; a deadline for a client or class, a presentation, a meeting, etc. But we all also have tasks that don’t have built-in accountability like a new skill you’d like to learn or a new idea you’d like to develop and test. For those tasks it can be helpful to create accountability by building a deadline with a colleague or friend. Set up a meeting with your manager to present your new idea to them or schedule a time to teach a group that new skill you want to learn. These deadlines will help drive you to finish. Just the act of telling someone else your goal can hold you accountable.
Map it out
I often find that new tasks can be especially daunting. Figuring out how to do something I have never done can feel intimidating and cause me to avoid it as long as possible. Creating a plan, even if it is just a few bullet points, helps me break down tasks into manageable steps. With new tasks in particular, I like to make that first step “figure out how to start” and break down the things I need to figure out in order to move forward.
Embrace imperfection and potentially failure
This is the classic maxim: “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.” I actually like to think of it as, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of done.” We all want to be good at what we do and working toward high standards is important. At the same time, creativity and innovation involve testing ideas and often embracing failure until you get to the right solution. Sometimes we just have to do and see what happens so that we can move forward on projects and ideas.
Do you work better under a tight deadline? In the morning or at night? In your home, office, or the coffee shop down the street? I work best in the morning, so I structure my day so that my hardest (or most annoying) tasks are in the morning because I know once it gets late in the day I will avoid them if at all possible. When I need to create systems, do research, or plan meetings, I need to be in my office with multiple monitors. When I need to just hunker down and plow through small tasks, I need to be out of my house in a coffee shop. Know when, where, and how you do your best work and cultivate those circumstances.
We all have big goals, deadlines, and most of the time do our best to reach them. We are also all going to procrastinate at some point. Holding a grudge against yourself for the things you didn’t accomplish isn’t going to help you get at it tomorrow. So forgive yourself daily for the things you didn’t accomplish, or didn’t meet your high standards, and just vow to do better tomorrow. (And then forgive yourself again tomorrow.)