Martha has a busy legal practice and this week has deadlines looming. On Monday she was feeling anxious about one tough factum but instead of spending the morning hammering it out she wasted 30 minutes surfing the net reading on-line news. Sound familiar?
Martha is in good company. Most lawyers have struggled with a problem with procrastination at one time and indeed the Canadian expert on procrastination, Dr. Piers Steel, reports in his book “The Procrastination Equation” that about 95% of people admit to procrastinating.
It isn’t though all bad news. Procrastination is very much like weeds in the garden. You may not be able to eliminate them entirely but you can weed many out.
Here is a simple two-step practice of inquiry for reducing time lost to procrastination:
Step one is to understand why you are procrastinating. Pay attention. Set a goal of noting the following: What are you procrastinating about? What are you doing when you are procrastinating? What are you thinking and physically and emotionally experiencing right before you procrastinate?
Review this information and determine your root causes. Are you avoiding something? Are you distracting yourself to relieve discomfort? You might procrastinate when you don’t know what to do, or when you encounter difficulties with a file. You might procrastinate about things that are unpleasant such as communicating with difficult clients. Learn and make note of your triggers for procrastination.
Step two is to develop your reduction strategy. Notice when you are feeling anxious and catch yourself as you start to procrastinate. Pause and return your focus to the present. Draw your attention to your feet on the floor supporting you, and take a few slow deep breaths to relieve your anxiety and bring you back to center. Now ask yourself: What is making me anxious? Or, what am I avoiding? Simply notice the answer to that question. Next ask yourself this second question: What would be a useful next step to take?
There are also a number of simple tactics you can implement to increase focus:
- Divide up your complex projects into a series of smaller milestones. Schedule time for working on these instead of waiting until the last minute to start on the project as a whole.
- Get your to-do-list out of your head and onto a list. Each morning set down your daily priorities and check them off as you go.
- Try starting the day with a win. Knock some quick but troublesome tasks off your list or by handle the toughest piece of work in the pile. As a former litigation partner now a judge once told me: “do the dog file first.”
- Reserve your peak periods of focus for concentration for your most difficult tasks.
- Make a personal rule that your office computer is for professional work exclusively. Do web surfing and personal email on another device. Turn off your audio alerts and mailbox pop-ups.
- Eliminate distractions in your office by keeping a tidy desk. Make the most of your periods of low energy to organize. Taking just 10 minutes a day for this can make an enormous difference.
- Bring in visual reminders about why you want to be more productive at work. If you want to be home in time for dinner with your family then take a photo of you all together at dinner and keep it on your desk as a valuable reminder.
Most all remember to get the goal right – it’s not about eliminating but reducing. Like weeds procrastination is going to crop up, and the key is to simply keep it under control.