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How to kill procrastination and improve productivity

Are you struggling with procrastination? Do you feel like your day is all work, but with no progress? If you’re struggling to keep on track of things, these six steps will help you regain control.

Set Goals

The first step of managing your time well is setting goals. Without them, you can’t ever be sure that you’re on task and being productive.

It’s well and good to recognize that you’ve been procrastinating, but do you know exactly what you should be doing? Having a clear goal in mind will keep you motivated and on task.

Here are my top three tips for setting goals:

  1. They need to be SMART. That means they need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Make sure they’re not vague and that it’s possible to create a clear path to them. For example, a SMART goal might be ‘This month I’d like to make ten sales to first time buyers.’
  2. Avoid setting goals which could result in unnecessary work. Sometimes organizing your week into time-blocks can be very effective. Other times, it might result in you drawing out tasks or being counterproductive. This is a trap many business owners fall into. For example, setting a goal of ‘doing research for three hours a week’. This might seem like a good idea, but you might not need three hours of work on research weekly. Make sure all your goals are productive.
  3. Your goals should challenge you, but they shouldn’t be impossible. The point of them is to make you stretch! It’s also important to avoid setting your goals too low, or you’ll reach them with no effort.

Once you have your goals set, you’ll be able to identify if you’re effectively working on hitting them. When it comes to managing your time, short term goals which feed into your larger goal will help keep you on track.

Find out where you’re spending time

If you want to gain better time management skills, you must start off by logging how you’re spending your time. You should document what you’re doing every minute of the day for at least two days.

You can easily do this by using a piece of paper or a note function on your phone. Once you have an overview of what you’re doing daily, you can start to examine how much time tasks are taking you.

For this to work you must track everything; from time spent eating to answering emails. This won’t work unless you’re honest with yourself: make your work day as ordinary as possible. Don’t try to work more efficiently than you usually do; it’ll only make solving problems tricker.

You don’t have to work the same hours as everyone else! Some people will find themselves productive early in the day, and others later. Find out what part of the day you work best in, and then schedule your most important tasks for that time.

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Work out which tasks are taking too long

Have another look at your goals, and then examine where you’re spending your time. Logging your day can make you see clearly where time is being wasted.

How much of the work you’re currently doing is actively contributing to your goals? How much work could be delegated, or done differently? The point of logging your day is to help you identity where time is being wasted. From there, you can consciously start making changes.

Three productivity systems

The next step is to make a list of which tasks are essential, and which you can cut down on. These will keep you on track, minimize procrastination and help you work smarter. There are endless time management systems, so you will find something that suits you.

Once you pick a system, stick to it. Here are three popular ones to get you started thinking about what might work for you.

- The 80/20 rule

In 1896 Vilfredo Pareto realized that around 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. It prompted him to begin a study to show that 80% of results are caused by 20% of actions. Over time, this has become a well-known business rule; that 80% of sales come from 20% of your clients.

This has been backed up mathematically and empirically, both in nature and business. There really is something behind it!

Once you’ve logged your day and set your goals, you’ll be able to identify what your 20% is. What part of your work brings you the most returns? What product sells the most? The pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, suggests that you focus on that 20% and minimize your other work. This can save you huge amounts of time, without losing too many gains.

If you’re struggling to manage your time because you’re just too busy, the Pareto principle could help you out.

- The POSEC Plan

POSEC stands for “Prioritizing by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing and Contributing”. I’ve laid these five steps out below:

- Prioritize: This means placing your goals first and keeping your focus on them. Cut away unnecessary work and distractions.

- Organize: What are the things you need to be successful? What routine tasks do you need to complete? This includes important tasks like spending time with your family and paying taxes. Organize them into your schedule.

- Streamline: You might not want to wash the dishes, but no one else is going to do it. Streamline all the tasks you don’t want to, but must do. Get these over with as quickly as possible. No procrastination, no time wasting. Get it over with.

- Economize: What are the things you’d like to do that aren’t really that urgent? Economizing means cutting down on your social life and hobbies to get your work done. This could mean grabbing a coffee with friends just once a week instead of twice.

- Contribute: What social obligations do you have? What essential tasks do you have to do for your community and business? Contribute means connecting with your community and responding to customers.

POSEC is all about breaking your tasks into three groups. It helps you decide which tasks need to be placed first, which ones need to be cut down and which ones need to be sped up.

- The Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a relatively new time management method. It was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s. He had a tomato shaped kitchen timer as a student, and when he started using it as a study tool he struck gold. Pomodoro means tomato, and the Pomodoro technique is designed to be as easy to follow as possible.

If you're interested, grab a piece of paper, a pencil and a timer and follow these steps:

  1. Decide what your next task will be. What do you need to do?
  2. Set your timer to 25 minutes.
  3. While your timer is ticking down, work on your task.
  4. When the timer rings and the 25 minutes are over, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have less than four check marks, take a little break (3-5 minutes) and then reset your timer.
  6. Once you have four check marks, take a longer break (15-30 minutes). Then, reset your timer and cross out your ticks.

As you complete 25 minute intervals, or ‘Pomodoros’, record what you’ve completed. The process of writing out your completed tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment. You’ll also be able to use the data you gather to log your daily tasks.

When works for you?

Some systems will help you, and others will just distract you. A key part of improving your time management is learning what works for you.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to work the same hours as everyone else! Some people will find themselves productive early in the day, and others later. Find out what part of the day you work best in, and then schedule your most important tasks for that time.

One step at a time

When it comes to boosting productivity, it can be tempting to create plans for months at a time. Excessive planning rarely actually helps. Instead, set your plan for each day in the morning. That way you can take into consideration the lessons you learnt the day before.

Focusing on the present will help keep you engaged. Avoid over-planning and take things as they come.

By setting goals, logging your time and cutting out unnecessary tasks you can save a lot of time. To keep your workday productive, a time management system will help keep you on track.

But if you're still struggling to finish all the tasks you have, check out our 'How to hit goals even when you’re busy' article.

Which method has worked the best for you?

- Lena Klein

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