The Key to Avoiding Procrastination
Almost every article I’ve written on the topic of procrastination, and most of those I’ve read, suggest dividing the task into small, manageable chunks. That’s good advice. It’s easier to persuade yourself to tackle a small bit or two than an entire, massive project.
But the real key to overcoming procrastination is just plain getting started. Once you begin an undesirable task, you’ve built momentum and are likely to keep going, doing a little more and then still more until you’ve made a good-sized dent in the task—and maybe even completed it.
The trick is not just to divide the task into bite-sized chunks, but to divide it into the tiniest possible units of progress you can. If you need, say, to write a proposal for your manager, even just naming the file would count as a bite-sized chunk. And writing an opening sentence—or a closing sentence, if you like to work back from the end—would be another bite-sized chunk.
This is the notion of micro-progress, the idea that taking small steps gets you started and moves you in the right direction. Each micro-step can be as little as five minutes long. If you want, you can set a timer to ensure you have an end point to your micro-step.
Sure, it’s not much, but doing something—any small action—means you are no longer procrastinating. Furthermore, while engaged in that five-minute task, not only are you likely to stop thinking about the immensity of the entire task, but you’re more likely to follow the first five-minute task with another and then another.
Once you get going, you have several options. For example, you can consider trying a power hour, extending beyond micro-steps to a full sixty minutes. Or you can divide your work into twenty-five-minute chunks with a five-minute time-out between chunks, known as the Pomodoro Technique. Or you can work in forty-five-minute chunks, or divide your day into fifteen-minute chunks.
The thing is that all these ideas about how to keep going are dependent on getting going. Once you get started by taking just a few micro-steps, most tasks prove to be less ominous than you expected. Even if you don’t complete the entire task, you’ve made progress. And that’s a start!