Top 5 Reasons We Procrastinate

“I’ll do it later” is the enemy of time management and eliminates our control over our Time Diets. Why do we procrastinate? Here are the 5 most common reasons and what we can do to stop!

1) We Don’t Want to Do the Task

The biggest reason people put something off is because they don’t want to do whatever it is they have to do. When we don’t want to do something we become really good at convincing ourselves that we’ll want to do it tomorrow instead. In fact, we come up with fabulous excuses such as, “I’ll feel more inspired tomorrow” or “Tomorrow, I’ll feel more well rested and it will be easier” or “This will be first on my list tomorrow.” However, when tomorrow finally gets here, we don’t feel any more like doing the task than we did the day before. Don’t let yourself fall for these excuses.

2) We Like the Pressure of a Deadline

We’ve all felt that intense stress and pressure when we’re working up against a deadline. The problem is, some people thrive on it. How do those of us who work best against a deadline fight procrastination? Make your own deadlines! If you make your own deadline a few days before the real one, you still get the feeling of working under pressure without being in danger of actually missing your deadline! Afraid you won’t stick to a self-created deadline? Tell as many people as possible about it to help hold you accountable.

3) We Focus on Due Dates, Not Start Dates

When someone asks us to do something, the first question we ask is, “When would you like it to be finished?” The second follow up question we often forget to ask ourselves is, “When am I going to start this?” Without a definite start date in mind, we run the risk of putting a task out of our minds until the due date is staring us in the face. Saying you’re going to do something is not the same as planning when you’re going to do it. Never write a due date in your calendar without also writing a start date.

4) We Don’t Have an Idea

We’ll often procrastinate on creative tasks because we haven’t thought of the perfect idea yet. Here is the problem: You could spend a lifetime waiting for the perfect idea to pop into your head. Sometimes you need to just start writing. Your first idea doesn’t have to be perfect but at least it’s something! It’s easier to revise a mediocre idea than continue to stare at a blank page.

5) It’s a Habit

If you’ve been a procrastinator your whole life, it can be extremely difficult to break yourself of this bad habit. I’ve even heard people justify their procrastination by saying, “I’ve always procrastinated and I’ve never been late with anything.” That’s like saying that you don’t need to buy car insurance because you’ve never been in a car accident. If you consistently wait until the last minute to do things, you will miss deadlines. It’s only a matter of time. Not to mention the fact that procrastinating triples your stress level when “crunch time” comes around and you’re more likely to have a productivity crash afterwards from sheer exhaustion. Stop making excuses and start doing things now.

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My 100 Dollar Mistake

The Time Diet Rebate

If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now. I’m usually very good at following that simple piece of time management advice, but not in this case.

About two months ago my husband’s cell phone that he’s had for 6 years finally died so we went to the Sprint store to pick out a brand new one. After much deliberation, we decided on the HTC EVO. The price tag was a little hefty, but it came with a 100-dollar mail-in rebate (and the phone was just so cool!)

Now, let me say how much I hate mail-in rebates. Why would a company not just give me the 100 dollars off to begin with? Because they hope that I’ll forget to send it in and they can just keep their 100 dollars. That seems deceitful and mean so I usually don’t buy things with rebates, however… let me reiterate how cool this phone is.

When I got home, I should have filled out the rebate right then, but I didn’t. That was my pivotal mistake. Instead, I put it on the counter where it soon acquired other papers on top of it, which was later moved to the desk where it joined a sea of other papers and got lost. I just found the rebate yesterday and realized it expired. There goes 100 dollars!

The 5 Minute Rule

Why is such an easy rule so hard to follow? If something takes less than 5 minutes to do, it’s best to do it right away. There is no reason not to! However, these tiny little tasks are actually the easiest to put off. When something will only take us a few minutes, it is very easy to convince ourselves to just do it tomorrow. The problem is that when “tomorrow” gets here, we don’t feel any more motivated to do that little task than we did the day before. A small task that should have only taken 5 minutes ends up being forgotten or put off until infinite “tomorrows” and then inevitably comes back to bite us.

Here is my challenge to you today: find one 5-minute task you’ve been putting off and do it.  Make that quick phone call! Respond to that email! Change that light bulb in the bathroom! Don’t put it off until another tomorrow. You’ll thank yourself later.

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Using Time Buckets

When we’re faced with 24 hours in the day and a long list of things to do, figuring out when to accomplish those tasks can be a bit overwhelming for our time management skills. Breaking your day up into 3 or 4 “mini days” is much easier to manage, helps you organize your time and keeps your Time Diet on track.

I like to call these mini days “Time Buckets.” A Time Bucket is a chunk of time in your day that you have available to complete tasks. In my head, I picture myself picking up a task from my “choose-to” list and actually putting it into whichever bucket it belongs.

When figuring out your Time Buckets, it’s best to look for natural divides in your day. They may vary from day to day or week to week depending on your schedule. For example, let’s look at what tomorrow, Monday, holds for me. I get to work on Mondays at 7:30am and I see my first class at 8:45am. This time is my “morning prep” and I call it “Time Bucket #1.” After my classes start, all of my time is devoted to teaching my students, so that time is already accounted for. I try to keep my lunchtime open and only use it for work if I really need to. I call my husband at lunch and chat for a few minutes. It is the “Dessert” in my day.

After the kids go home, I have until 4:00 before I need to leave to get to class at ASU. This chunk of time is “Time Bucket #2” When I get home from class, it will be 8:00. I then have a chunk of time from 8:00 until I go to bed. That is “Time Bucket #3.” I used to have 24 hours to figure out what to do with, but now I’ve narrowed that time down to 3 distinct Time Buckets that I actually have available to complete work.

Putting Tasks in Your Time Buckets

When deciding which tasks to put in which Time Buckets, you have to consider what your energy level is like during each of those times. You want to avoid completing your most difficult tasks when you have the least energy! I have the most energy in the morning during Time Bucket #1, so that is when I complete all the essential work for my job. During Time Bucket #2, I’m usually pretty exhausted, but I eventually catch my second wind. That is why I start off Time Bucket #2 with easier things, like catching up on the day’s email and/or phone calls. Then I move on to more difficult work for grad school. By the time I get to Time Bucket #3 in the evening, my energy is gone. I spend this time unwinding, eating dinner and doing a few easy household chores.

How are your Time Buckets divided? Yours will probably be very different from mine. Just remember to take into consideration your energy level during each chunk of time. We all have times in our day when we feel more alert. Make sure you are using that time to your advantage!

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Reassess Your Schedule

Is all this stuff I’m doing really worth it? We don’t ask ourselves this question nearly enough and it is one of the biggest problems that lead to being stuck in a time management rut.

Our lives change from year to year, month to month and day to day. We try out new things, explore new ideas and rearrange our priorities. What was important to us two years ago may not still be important to us today. This is why it’s crucial to constantly re-evaluate the things we do and decide whether or not they are still worth our valuable time!

To see if something is worthy of a place in your schedule, you need to weigh the total time an activity takes versus the benefit it provides you. If you find that you’re not getting enough benefit from a task to justify the time you put in…then why are you doing it? It doesn’t belong in your Time Diet. That would be like indulging in a high calorie dessert that just wasn’t very delicious. What’s the point?

My Experience

My school district offers frequent professional development classes in the evenings. In the past, I have taken as many of these classes as I can. They are a great opportunity to learn new teaching skills and I’m able to put the small stipend we get for attending toward my grad school bill! When I saw that a new “Podcasting 101” class was being offered in March, I didn’t even think twice about signing up. Why not? I took these classes last year all the time. Here is the problem- my life is different this year than it was last year and I didn’t think about that.

Last year I was working on my masters, this year I’m working on my doctorate. Last year I was just beginning my journey in blogging, speaking and writing about time management, and now working on The Time Diet takes a significant amount of my time during the week.  Last year taking these district classes was worth it, this year it’s not.  Don’t get me wrong- I still really enjoy learning new things, but my evening time is now better spent working on my research papers and finding new speaking engagements. Theses classes are also offered in the summer when my schedule is far less hectic. That is when I need to sign up for them!

I failed to re-evaluate my priorities before adding another thing to my plate. I ended up spending 8 hours doing something that was not the best use of my time. I will not make that mistake again!

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