Total reading time: 8 – 10 minutes (1,449 words)
Do you find that there are too many distractions online? Perhaps you start projects and never finish them, or feel overwhelmed?
In this article I am going to share with you a secret that I recently implemented that has helped move me away from recovering procrastinator to hyper-focused.
Step 1: Don’t enable “Parkinson’s Law”
Parkinson law dictates that a a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allocated for its completion.
Which is a fancy way of saying that if you have no deadline, then you are in trouble, and what’s more, it is better to set as short a deadline as is realistically possible.
Planning to spend 6 months creating your info product? Guess what, it may end up taking 9 months. But if you schedule 10 days, then in most cases, you will find a way to get it done… and even if it takes 20 days, you still saved a crap-ton of time.
So set a deadline that is demanding.
Which leads me to my second tip:
Step 2: Create an unmovable deadline
I first experienced this when I made my public speaking debut… I had no choice but to prepare properly, as there was no way I could back out, or get an entire multi-million dollar event to bend to accommodate my schedule.
I also recently experienced this when I was preparing some kickass creative marketing strategies for a workshop in Australia… the workshop and the hundreds of people at the event are not going to change their schedules if I don’t get it done in time… so that creates my unmovable deadline.
Note: Saying you will do something, or even promising it, doesn’t mean your deadline is immovable. How else can you make yourself accountable, so that the pain of NOT doing it, would be so high that you don’t have a choice?
Step 3: Create Micro Action Plans…. on paper.
This has been my big revelation this past week… here is how it works:
1) BEFORE you go onto the computer, grab a piece of paper and pen, and start to plan and prepare EXACTLY what you aim to actually do in the up’coming time slot.
So here are the things I wrote down for a project I did this morning:
“Goal: Create slides in Keynote for my product.”
Tip: Notice how I chunked the goal into a specific, more bite-size task? Instead of saying, “create entire product”, I specifically set out to just create the basic slides.
“Time allocation: 90 minutes”
Tip: Be specific, have a countdown timer, and remember Parkinson’s Law, be as ruthless as possible with your deadline.
Next, I did a rough outline of what I wanted to say in the product…. this is key, as what normally would happen is I have a rough idea, I open up Keynote or Powerpoint, and then an idea pops into my head, so I google it for more info, then I see a cool article, so I read that, then I check something else, and before I know it, I have lost focus, forget what I was supposed to be doing, and now I feel overwhelmed.
By planning it on paper, you don’t have the distractions and bad habits that a computer and the Internet provide.
So, I planned out the main bullets and points for the presentation, if there were areas that need further research, I made a note of those separately, and I class those as separate, individual, smaller projects.
By planning it out on paper first, I now have a clearer picture of the product, it is laid out in a rough order, the main topics are all listed… so I can then go into Keynote and actually DO IT, with a clear, step-by-step understanding of what needs to be done.
The way I see it, you can do only one of three things:
A friend of mine James Schramko, once told me “You are either consuming or creating“… so when he has a big task, he turns off all email, doesn’t read blog posts, doesn’t go on Facebook etc… you can do one or the other, but you cannot do both effectively. James also told me that there are loads of deadly spiders in his garden, so I don’t know what to believe!!
So, if you want to come up with ideas, learn a new skill, or consume information or entertainment, that is great, but allocate time to do that, and don’t mix it with the other areas.
If you want to research, plan or prepare for something, that also rocks, but don’t be doing that when you should be creating.
For example, if I went into Keynote with the goal of product creation, and then I get stuck on what name to give it, so I start checking online dictionaries, and Amazon and blogs for ideas… I have now moved away from the DO stage, and into the research stage, if I then read a blog post to get ideas, I am now researching and consuming.
Those are big and common mistakes.
It is like trying to play the drums as a beginner, you have both arms and both legs moving independently of each other, and it just freezes you up and is extremely tricky… why not just bang one drum with both arms and legs at the same time?
Er, hopefully that made sense.
Here is the way I see it.. for every minute you spend with a pad and pen preparing the task you are about to begin, away from distractions, you save at least 10 minutes for every minute you prepare.
In other words, if I spend 10 minutes preparing this task, then I can save over an hour and a half in time spent thinking, confused, lost, researching, reading blog posts, getting distracted, losing momentum etc…
Step 4: Planning your breaks and downtime are just as important.
Have you ever been doing a task and said to yourself “I am just gonna grab a quick coffee” or “I will just watch this video, or I will just quickly check my email” only to find an hour goes by and you still haven’t returned to the task?
These things can spiral, and in most cases, when we start playing a video game, or go grab a relaxing drink etc… we never want to return to the boring task… I mean, who would?!?
So 5 mins spirals into 60 minutes, or more.
I once was half way through a task and a friend emailed me to say I should check out a Bill Hicks comedy clip on Youtube… it was just 3 minutes long, so I thought “why not, it is only 3 minutes”…
Well guess what happened next… Youtube’s darn related videos feature showed another 20 clips from the same live show, so 63 minutes later I am still distracted.
Anyway, my point is this… it is perfectly fine to take 15 minutes to play Xbox, watch some tv, grab a drink, watch a video… but schedule those breaks as ruthlessly.
e.g “ok, I will take 10 minutes to check my email, but, no matter what, I can only reply to one of the emails right now, the rest will have to wait”
“Ok, I am going to watch this episode of Lost during lunch, but at 2pm, whether it has finished or not, I have to get back to my project”.
It might sound a bit micro-manage-esque, but it is vital.
Step 5: Have a reward system
There is a web tv show that I am a huge fan of called “The Totally Rad Show” there is a new 45 minute episode out, and I wanna watch it… so, once my slides are completed for the product, I will allocate 45 mins during lunch to watch it.
Again, it sounds a bit child-like, but it works.
Summary: There have never been more distractions in society, and on the Internet especially, we have access to immediate information and entertainment on demand… what’s more, we have things like Twitter and Google Buzz popping up to distract us further…
With all this in mind, it is now more important than ever to to have a vision, focus and prepare for tasks.
One of the most productive guys I know is my good friend Matt Wadsworth… his output rate is phenomenal, and the level of vision and clarity he has on what needs to be done, how to do it, what steps are required etc… is a different league to anything I have ever seen.
The most shocking part of this, is that Matt is completely blind.
If you understand why being blind has forced Matt to have such clarity, you will know why the above is so important.
So stop consuming this article, and go and do, do like you have never done before.
Dean – The recovering procrastinator and Lost fan.
PS: A reader has kindly created a Mindmap for this technique… you can download it for free here: Get it Done free Mindmap