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Five Quick Procrastination Busters

Procrastination is a curious phenomenon, and I sometimes wonder if it's exclusive to humans. We have such fantastic energy and abilities, coupled with an almost boundless enthusiasm for exploration and knowledge.

So why do we waste so much of our time worrying about doing what we're best at? Not only that, but we seem to go out of our way to do anything but what we should be doing. Whether it's web surfing, TV watching or just shuffling papers, we've all done it.

Here's five quick and easy things you can do to beat your procrastination. They may not be enough to cure it entirely, but they'll help you get over the initial hump.

Create a work friendly environment

Remove distractions from where you'll be working before you start. Turn the TV and radio off, close your internet browser and your IM clients. Get everything you'll need for the task ahead, and lay it out in front of you. Make sure there's plenty of light, and that you're comfortable. Nothing makes work harder than an uncomfortable chair or a messy desk.

Make a short list

Making a big list of what needs doing is helpful at times, but when you're battling with procrastination it can end up being de-motivating instead. Take an index card or small piece of paper, and list THREE things that you can accomplish in the day that will make a difference. It's tempting to pick something big, but it's important to start small. Even if it's just "tidy desk" or "send email to X about project Y", it's something you can work on.

Completing tasks is the best way of busting down the walls put up by procrastination, so think of them as a warm up before a work out. Once you feel more energetic and confident, move on to bigger jobs.

Start a timer

When I sit down to work on a task, I start a 30 minute timer. Then I start working. It doesn't matter if the quality of writing is good or bad, as long as I do something. By having the timer in front of me, I'm reminded to focus on the job at hand. Once the timer is up, I'm done.

It's often the case that I want to keep working even when the timer has finished, so it's great for making progress on tasks I've been putting off.

Monitor your time

I've written about keeping a time log in the past, and they're a good way to help you focus. When you know what you do is going to be written down, it's a little encouragement to do something worthwhile.

RescueTime is a handy tool for Windows that automatically logs what you're doing on the computer and lets you view statistics. After a week of use, you'll be able to see what your biggest distractions are. Be warned, it can be a little sobering to find out just how much time is wasted during the day.

Reward yourself

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. When you force yourself to work, you can reinforce the idea that work it's bad. Make sure you reward yourself, whether it's a movie, a meal or reading a book in the sunshine. Smile when you're working, to remind yourself that once you're finished you can do something enjoyable. Don't think of the task as a barrier keeping you from what you want, but as a journey to take to your reward.

Starting Your Day In A Positive Way

Have you ever noticed how the first few hours after waking up can determine how you feel for the rest of the day? If you've ever found yourself saying "It's going to be one of those days", you know exactly what I mean. A few bad experiences in the early hours can drag your whole day down, to the point where everything seems to be going wrong.

Here's a few strategies for preventing this from happening.

1) Wake up earlier than you need to

If you travel any distance to work, it's important to wake up earlier than you need to. A stressful drive to the office, or missing your bus by a few seconds can really ruin your day. Leave plenty of time for getting ready and eating. As a rule of thumb, if you don't have time to eat a proper breakfast before working, you're not leaving enough time.

2) Review your goals and task lists

The more in control of your life you feel, the happier you are. Keeping a close eye on your goals and tasks keeps everything fresh in your mind, and you're much less likely to forget about them. Not only that, but it allows you to review things and to quickly spot troubles. And it puts you in a positive frame of mind.

3) Read your affirmations

Before I tried using affirmations, I thought they were a waste of time. However, having experimented with them I've found them to be an invaluable tool for improving my mood. Stick to two or three simple ones, such as “I have abundant energy” or “I make effective use of my time”.

Think of affirmations as a kind of mental scaffolding. They're useful for keeping you internally positive and uplifted until you can change your external situation.

4) Read something uplifting

Rent autobiographies of people you admire from the library. When you come across a good article on the Internet, print it off and read it later. Not only will this help reduce the amount of time surfing the net, but it creates your own personal library that you can refer to time and again.

Keep a highlighter handy when you're reading them, so you can mark any important points. Review these later and make your own set notes.

5) Listen to something uplifting

If reading isn't your thing, rent some audiobooks or listen to podcasts. There's a wealth of personal development podcasts out there, and the advantage is that you can do something else whilst listening to them. Such as exercise…

6) Do some exercise

Twenty to thirty minutes of simple exercises in the morning gets your blood flowing and improves your mood. It doesn't have to be too strenuous, and some light skipping or a gently jog around your area is just as effective.

Remember what you've achieved

So you've been up for just over and hour, and you've already managed to review your goals, read your affirmations and done some exercise. Sounds much better than stuffing down a slice of toast and running for the train…

3 Simple Time Management Tips

Managing your time is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, yet some people seem to be able to get much more done in the same amount of time. Whilst this could be down to some form of time machine, it's much more likely that they've mastered the art of time management.

Even if you feel like you'll never get anything completed, there are a few simple things you can do to get yourself started.

1. Know what needs to be done

You can't really start managing your time until you know exactly what you need to be getting done. Setting goals is a great way of deciding where you want to go, but you still need to break it down into smaller chunks that you can actually do.

If you've set yourself a goal, grab some paper, write your goal in the middle and then list all of the tasks you'll need to do before it's completed. You don't have to think of everything, but it will give you a much firmer plan to work with. Once you've listed your ideas, write them down in the order you want to complete them. Some might be more urgent than others, or might yield the greatest return. For example, doing a bit of research at the start might reveal some sticking points that you can avoid (and save time).

Finally, estimate how long you think each task will take. It's always best to over-estimate these, as there are usually unexpected complications. I find it helpful to write down how long things actually took once they're done so I can estimate better in the future.

2. Monitor your time

I've written about using time logs before, and they're a really easy way of getting a grip on where your time goes. If you use a computer a lot, you've probably had days where you've been "just checking" your email but ended up wasting lots of time. Once you see just how much time you've spent on surfing the web, it can be quite sobering.

All you need to do to get started is grab a sheet of paper and note down when you start each task and when you finish it. Remember, you're not just noting down work tasks but everything. Getting up to make tea/coffee, answering the phone and "checking emails" all count. It might sound trivial, but it's these trivial tasks that can take up your time.

After a week or two, you'll have a firm idea of what's taking up your time and you can start doing something about it. Sometimes just the act of keeping a time log will make you more effective, as it makes you resist the urge to procrastinate as you know it'll be noted down!

3. You can't do everything

Nobody dies with an empty to-do list. There will always, always be some things you won't be able to do. Whether it's a simple project or going into space, it's a fact that you will have to sacrifice some things in order to do others.

It can be difficult to turn projects down, so to ease yourself into it keep a separate list of projects on the back burner. Once the initial excitement has worn off, the project might not seem like such a good idea after all.

Another way of giving yourself some extra time is delegating your work to someone else. You can either give it to a friend or relative, or hire someone from an outside agency to help. This isn't just a strategy for big jobs either. Even something simple like mowing the lawn can be outsourced. There are always people looking for a little extra cash, so keep an eye out for them and reward them for their work.

Good time management doesn't happen overnight

Creating the habits of good time management takes time and effort. No amount of tips and tweaks can suddenly make you super-efficient (I wish they could!), but if you take things one step at a time you can build upon your successes. Over time you'll become more experienced at recognising time sappers, and you'll have developed the strategies for dealing with them.

Five Books That Changed My Life

One of the simplest ways you can improve yourself is to read a good book. Reading gives us an insight in to how other people have overcome challenges, and what they've learnt from their endeavours. There's a huge array of personal development books available, and through the years I've read several that have had a real impact on my life.

1. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Steven Covey's book was the first real self improvement book I ever read. It's fair to say that it was one of the most important things I ever did, as every page is packed full of information. The seven habits aren't particularly complex, and are more useful when treated as foundations to greater habits.

It takes time and effort to truly internalise them, but it's worth the effort once you start feeling the difference. You'll learn how to become more efficient in your work, how to improve your relationships with other people and how to maintain your habits once learnt.

2. The Power of Focus

Focus is a vital ingredient for any kind of productive work, as without it you can end up moving from project to project without ever completing anything. This book is a little heavy on the emotional side of things, and there are a few too many stories in it, but the core lessons are extremely useful.

There's everything in here from creating a balanced life, to learning how to ask for things (which has always been a barrier for me). Even if you find it a little sappy, it's worth reading just for the "pick me up" effect it has.

My review at sodaware.net.

3. Getting Things Done

The GTD method of time management has become quite popular, and once you've tried the system it's easy to see why. It's very easy to get started with, and you don't need lots of tools or software to do anything. A few sheets of paper and some folders are all you really need to start becoming more productive.

The core idea of the system is to stop your brain from having to remember everything you need to do. Once you have your ideas and tasks on paper, you can use your brain power to actually work on things instead of remembering them (or forgetting them if you're anything like me ;))

My review at sodaware.net.

4. The NOW Habit

This is another great book for managing your time, but it also takes recreation into account. Knowing that you have to sit at your desk for 12+ hours to finish a project can make you less productive, so scheduling in some fun time gives you something to look forward to and can make you more efficient.

I've used a lot of this book to create my own effective schedules, and knowing that I'll be able to take a break does work. When you work for yourself you can fall into two traps: working too much and not taking time to relax, or relaxing too much and not actually working. Creating a schedule can help with both problems, so it's definitely worth finding out how to make them.

5. The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success

It might have a particularly long title, but this book is packed with useful tips for becoming more successful. The laws are split into different categories, including business laws and personal laws, and each law also has tips at the end for applying it to your own life.

There's a little repetition as you get further in, but you're bound to find something you can use to become more successful.

There are more recommendations in the personal development books section of the site, so take a look if you're after some reading material.

I'd love to hear about books that have made a difference to you, so please feel free to leave them in the comments section!

New Personal Development Resources

I've added three new templates in the personal development resources section of the site. This follows up on the free templates first seen in "Progress Tracking and Beyond". After a request to convert these templates into PDF format, I looked around on my PC to see what other templates I could share.

Free Templates

There are three new templates in total. They're very simple, but they were designed that way so it wouldn't matter if I spilt tea on them or made a mistake. The first template is a blog scheduler, the second is a to-do list and the third is a daily planner.

Blog Schedule

This is the template I use on all of my blogs to try and keep some form of order in the chaos. It's setup to use four steps for creating each post, which I outlined in "How a blog article is born".


To-Do List

I usually have a dozen or so projects going off at any time, so I created this little to-do list to be used with any project. It's meant to be as generic as possible, so it can be used for just about anything.


Daily Planner

This little template breaks the day into half-hour chunks that can be used to schedule your day. See "How to create an effective schedule" for a complete guide on creating a schedule that works.


You can find more printable templates in the resources section.

These templates are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Licence, which means you're welcome to share and modify them as long as you keep the original link and don't use them for commercial purposes.