Do you feel like you work hard every day yet don’t accomplish the things that really need to be done? I’m hardly one to pontificate on this topic as I haven’t posted to this blog since October! But, zombies have been all the rage this year, and since 2012 is almost here and it’s the right time of year to make resolutions, I’m going to resolve to try to post at least once a week during the upcoming year. The Last Word may actually rise from the grave and walk the earth again.
I can’t think of any better place to begin than with procrastination, so here’s a short piece on the topic that David Bilinsky and I prepared for slaw Tips (where I usually manage to turn in my work on time) earlier this month. It doesn’t count as a completely original post to get started again but, as you’ll read below, doing anything is better than just sitting around and thinking about it!
Kick Procrastination to the Curb!
Many lawyers deal daily with a subtle form of procrastination – working on “busywork” to avoid the important but intimidating jobs that they should be working on. This behavior creates a vicious cycle that causes stress which, often, leads to additional procrastination which, in turn, leads to – you guessed it! – more procrastination.
Meg Spencer Dixon of Spencer Consulting has written perceptively about lawyer procrastination and what you can do to stop putting off the important jobs in Overcoming Procrastination: How to Get Things Done Despite Yourself.
Here’s our take on her nine techniques, which are described more fully in her article. Put one or two of them to work today, and start to see results that will, in turn, encourage a virtuous cycle of getting the important jobs done – on time or even early!
1. Don’t try to do it all at once. Segment a large elephant of a job into small, discreet tasks and then set aside fifteen or twenty minutes each day to tackle one or two.
2. Start anywhere. When you segment a large job, it’s not so important which task is done first, freeing you up to get started on whatever is most appealing.
3. Start imperfectly. Many lawyers are perfectionists. Give yourself permission to work on a “rough draft” of projects or tasks, secure in the knowledge that if you just get started you’ll have plenty of time to perfect the project before it’s due date.
4. Drive yourself crazy by doing nothing. This technique involves getting together the materials needed for starting a project and then forcing yourself to just sit and look at them for exactly seven minutes (by a clock or timer) before doing anything. By the time the seven minutes are over ideas will be flowing and you’ll be itching to get started.
5. Work no more than fifteen minutes at a time. Also known as the “Pomodoro technique” – named for a little tomato-shaped timer – the idea here is to build momentum by giving yourself permission at the end of the fifteen minute period to take a break or immediately plunge in for an additional fifteen minutes.
6. Start, even if you’re not in the mood. Habits are extremely hard to break. Develop a good habit of starting on something important as soon as you sit down rather than a bad habit of seeking a time filler or two to kill some time first.
7. Realize that unpleasant tasks don’t get any easier over time. Delaying the unpleasant makes it no less unpleasant – it just adds a secondary layer of stress. Don’t ease into the cold water – just plunge right in!
8. Schedule a “catch-up” day. Plan one day a week or month and do nothing but annoying small tasks that you tend to let slide. You’ll dread the day, but not the way you feel when it’s over.
9. Honor your leisure time. When you stand firm on the time that you’ve scheduled for things that you really want to do, you benefit in two ways. First, it relieves the stress that constant work and worry build up. Second, it helps you to make the most of your work time so that you can meet the deadlines that will allow you to claim your reward!