In my latest Forbes post, I wrote about six career actions you should take but probably don’t. Returning recruiter phone calls was one such action, and the post was actually inspired by a senior executive at a recent workshop who didn’t want to return recruiter calls. On the flip side, I had another senior client who wanted to return recruiter calls (she knew the value of hearing about outside opportunities and nurturing those relationships), but still she would not. She procrastinated, and other things got in the way. If procrastination or some other obstacle is keeping you from taking action you know you should, here are my five favorite strategies for getting stuff done:
Set a timer for 25 minutes or less
A timed burst is what I often do to move past writer’s block (In fact, I used this very strategy to get this post started). With a timed burst, I commit to a few minutes – 15, 20, or 25 – in whatever activity I’ve been postponing. With writing, I don’t worry about finishing a full article – I just keep writing till my time runs out. Usually, I get enough done that it will be easy for me to pick up later. Or, I have so much momentum, I just keep going.
Block out the very first hour of the day for the task with the highest importance + dread combination
Doing important tasks first is a technique Brian Tracy espouses in his book Eat That Frog. Even just deciding what the important tasks are is a great habit to cultivate. If you can add on the habit of doing the important tasks you decide on as the first action of the day, you build a super-habit. Finally, if you prioritize tasks that are important and that you normally dread, then the rest of the day will seem so much easier (and already so accomplished). My early morning task used to be writing – I think more creatively in the morning, and with so many posts to put out, a morning writing ritual was a logical idea. However, I don’t dread writing – I may feel blocked but I do enjoy it once I start – so I stopped writing in the morning and instead picked an equally important task that wasn’t so enjoyable (these days, the important/ dreaded task is research for some consulting projects I’m doing).
Tie the task to a reward
If I don’t do my dreaded but important tasks in the morning, then I really have to self-motivate. I use rewards shamelessly. I work at home normally, so I might treat myself to eating brunch at my favorite diner. I love movies, so I’ll pull something off my Netflix queue. It feels decadent to watch a movie in the middle of the day. If I polished off a really challenging task, I’ll splurge on a spa visit. Hey, if I’m bribing myself, I might as well pick something good!
Solicit peer pressure
Sometimes calling a friend is a good enough reward. So much of my work is networking, it’s a treat to talk to someone about something other than business. But scheduling these friendly calls in advance can also give you much needed accountability. If you find it easier to break a promise to yourself than a promise to a friend, then promise your friend you’ll call after your task is done. You have a reward and some peer pressure.
Burn off physical energy
If I’m really stuck and resistant to getting started, I am not going to motivate or otherwise think this through. I get out of my head and into my body by doing a physical activity – a set of push-ups, a set of dirty dishes. It doesn’t matter how strenuous the activity. It just helps to have something to take your mind off your mind (and any guilt about not getting started). After a few minutes of something physical, I’m more alert and have more energy to break through the procrastination.
So there you have my five favorite strategies for getting stuff done. What will you try? What has worked for you that I missed?
In the spirit of just getting it done, I’m back on the comedy stage after a 6-month absence. I’ll be performing at Gotham Comedy Club on Tues, 10/18, 7p show. Details on our Upcoming Events page. Let me know if you’re coming and I’ll look for you after the show.