A slightly off-topic post, but one that should be highly relevant to most professionals: overcoming procrastination.
Since most professionals have a high degree of control over their activities and schedules, they very often fall victim to procrastination.
Last night I read an excellent article in the New Yorker reviewing a collection of essays on procrastination – and how to overcome it.
The good thing about the book is that it presents a variety of different viewpoints on procrastination (rather than one dogmatic view) and hence offers a range of potential solutions.
Here's a quick summary of some of the major viewpoints and my experience and ideas on how to use each one to overcome your own procrastination.
Viewpoint: Procrastination happens when you're overwhelmed. You have so much on your plate that doing any specific task doesn't seem like it will help – so you put off the tasks and do something trivial instead.
Idea: Take a radical review of your tasks and cut out those that aren't absolutely essential. get down to a psychologically manageable task list. And in future, only take on essential jobs.
Viewpoint: You procrastinate with something if subconsciously you don't think it's worthwhile.
Idea: Sometimes your subconscious is right. If there's a particular task you're avoiding, take a good look at whether it really is worth doing.
Viewpoint: You procrastinate when you don't realise the full impact of doing so. In other words, if you realised how much damage you're really doing by avoiding the task, you'd get on and do it.
Idea: Make sure that before adding tasks to your “to do” list you've properly assessed what you're required to do and the impact of doing/not doing it. Often I find that I'll write down actions but not really think them through and so I don't realise what impact delaying them has. Make sure you break down big tasks into concrete steps – it's much easier to procrastinate big, fuzzy things than specific actions. Probably also a good idea to remind yourself of the impacts on a regular basis too when reviewing your to-do list.
Viewpoint: Procrastination is a natural condition that's almost impossible to overcoming using your own willpower.
idea: Use external rules and help to get you to stay on track. Create deadlines and commit to them publicly. Find an accountability partner who you can discuss progress with your goals with. Join a mastermind group who will support you (this has really worked for me in the past). Block yourself from distractions (head to a room with no TV, use Freedom to block the internet etc.)
My take is that there's not one simple cause of procrastination – so there's not one best way to beat it. But by looking at some of the different ideas above you should be able to find something that helps you.