Did you ever feel that your to-do list was so out of control that it triggered a mental or physical response? Your hands got clammy, your heart started pounding, and your anxiety level reached a new height.
It’s so easy for a to-do list to snowball out of control. In some cases, it takes no time at all to go from “I can do this,” to outright panic. In fact, it can become so overwhelming that it makes you freeze in your tracks — preventing you from getting anything done. “How can it get this bad?” you ask. One word … procrastination.
The To-Do List: How Procrastination Destroys Progress
People procrastinate by putting things off rather than working on them. This causes things to build up to the point where they’re no longer manageable. As Professor Mason Cooley said, “Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” Here are twelve reasons why folks procrastinate:
Lack of discipline. “I’ll do this some other time.”
Fear of failure. “I’m not sure I can do this. So I won’t even try.”
Wishful thinking. “If I don’t think about it, maybe it’ll go away.”
Unreasonable expectations. “If I can’t guarantee success, I won’t even attempt it.”
Feeling overwhelmed. “This project seems daunting. Let me give it some thought … tomorrow.”
Fear of complexity. “I’m not sure where to begin.”
Lack of motivation. “I’m not in the mood.”
Fear of accountability. “I’m afraid to put my neck on the line.”
Feeling bored. “I’d rather be doing something else.”
Lack of urgency. “It really doesn’t matter if I do it now. It’s not due for days.”
Fear of making a decision. “I need more information before I can start.”
Working under pressure. “I love the adrenaline rush that I get when I’m up against a deadline.”
Stop Procrastinating: Tackle Your To-Do List
There are eight strategies to help you stop procrastinating:
Start with priorities. Remember, everything on your to-do list is not a priority. Checking items off a to-do list doesn’t determine progress; focusing on your priorities is what counts.
Don’t give it a second thought. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get started. So fight the urge to overthink everything. Jump right in without delay.
Limit distractions. Don’t let anything or anyone sidetrack you. Focus on your task at hand. Whatever is “calling” you will be there when you’re finished.
Learn from mistakes. Be aware how you procrastinate and learn from it. When people don’t learn from mistakes, their actions often turn into bad habits.
Set a short-term goal. Make a commitment to yourself –– even an artificial deadline. A goal forces us to get things done.
Break big activities down into small pieces. Don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of a task. Big problems are best solved in small pieces.
Fire the perfectionist. You’ll rarely have all the information you need to make a “perfect” decision. So don’t demand perfection. The philosopher Voltaire warned against letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. That advice still holds true today.
Think about it. Be conscious of your thoughts. Try to replace counterproductive thoughts with positive ones that motivate you and keep you on task.
To-Do List: See That It’s Done
Did you ever see airplanes lining up for their final approach to an airport? It looks like ballet in the sky. Although it’s fun to watch, you can imagine the timing and split-second decisions that must be made to land the airplanes safely. Could you imagine what would happen if the air traffic controllers procrastinated?
Although our to-do list contains very few life-and-death decisions, each item should be tackled with the same speed, agility, and thoughtfulness. That means maintaining the right perspective, committing to the goal, focusing on the task, and getting it done. The truth is, air traffic controllers don’t have time to get overwhelmed, make excuses, or put off decisions for another day. Air traffic controllers have a job to do. You do too! So take command of your to-do list and land your airplanes.