Have you ever experienced this? You have something you need to do – something important – but you can't figure out how to stop procrastinating. You put it off for a few days, which turn into more than a few. Days, or even weeks go by without that check mark on your to-do list, and that important thing has become a monster. It's this huge, ugly task that hides under your bed and haunts you when you turn off the light at night. Maybe you never end up doing it. Maybe the opportunity that doing the task would have afforded you has slipped through your fingers. You've been bitten by the procrastination bug. I get it. It's not easy to buckle down, but recently, I've been using a simple tool which has helped me defeat my procrastination and lack of focus. It makes it easier for me to show up and do the work. I thought it would be helpful if I shared it with you. Test it out and see if it works in your own life. Don't worry – it takes less than 15 minutes each day, and it’s a simple, proven, easy to use tactic. Here's how to do it…
How to Stop Procrastinating and Get the Important Work Done
Somewhere between conceptualizing and launching this site, I was spinning my wheels. I knew that I needed to sit down and write, and that writing for this site was my most important action. Even though I knew this, I spent hours each day learning about writing effectively, and very little time actually writing. This one small and simple method changed everything for me. The goal is to trick your brain into doing the work that is important instead of wasting your time on junk that you pretend is important. Here’s the thing… You inherently know the most important actions to you need to take to build your business or even start it — and you are more than capable of achieving them — but we are human and we procrastinate and get distracted. This method of increasing productivity triggers mechanisms in our brains that make us far more likely to follow through. There are 3 components to this simple scheduling method…
1. Spend time the night before prepping yourself for the next day
This step is practiced by many successful people, and is discussed at length in this blog post at the Art of Manliness: Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines. Most of us have morning routines, but evening routines are less common. An evening routine is an incredibly effective way of setting yourself up for success for the next day. They cut down on decision fatigue, organize your day, and align your evening with success. Setting an evening routine to prepare yourself for the next day will get the simple, necessary tasks like choosing what to wear and what to eat out of the way. This leaves your mental capacity for your important tasks.
2. Set Most Important Missions (MIMs)
Will you be able to do all of your important work right before bed? Probably not. But, you can define your most important tasks (MITs) for the day. I'm not sure of the origin of MITs, but the notion has been picked up by Lifehacker. I heard about them from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, in his post: Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task. Tasks sound unimportant. When I think of a task, I think of taking out the garbage. They sound menial and unexciting, so I prefer to think of MITs as MIMs – most important missions. Be honest with yourself and set 2-3 MIMs for action the following day. These should be the important work, not administrative work like answering email or spending an hour on Twitter. Not the tasks. In my case, my Most Important Mission for almost every day is writing. To be more specific, it's writing a blog post either for Unsettle, or to be guest posted. This helps me build my audience and business rapidly compared to any other action.
- If you're an author, your MIM could be sending pitches.
- If you're a photographer, your MIM could be organizing your photos into a portfolio.
- If you're just starting out, your MIM could be getting your website up and running.
All of our missions will be different, but a true MIM will work toward reaching a goal.
3. Schedule the time into your day to do the MIMs
After you've set your MIMs as part of your evening routine, schedule the time in (click here to signup and get my scheduling workbook emailed to you – plus a bonus report of my favourite productivity tools).
Scheduling is an incredibly easy but effective tool to get the important work done. Spend two minutes considering where you can fit the time into your day to work on your MIMs, and actually create the schedule. Write it down. Consider the following:
- When you will do the MIM (what time of day?
- How you will do it (what tools will you use?
- Where you will do it (what will your physical location be?
- What your backup plan is (if you don't get the MIM done in the scheduled slot, when?)
Write these down and place the paper somewhere visible as a reminder. This three step process to rocking your important missions sounds too basic to cut through procrastination and distraction, but they work. Here's why..
Why Scheduling Works Better Than Winging It
The British Journal of Health Psychology conducted a study of just under 250 adults to measure motivation to excercise. There were three groups:
- The Control Group was instructed to keep track of how often they exercised over the course of two weeks, and given a few lines of a neutral book to read.
- Group A (Motivation) was also instructed to keep track of exercise frequency, but instead of reading the portion of the neutral novel, they were told to read a pamphlet outlining the benefits of exercise on heart disease risk.
- Group B (Intention) was treated the same as the Motivation group, except for one thing: they were also asked to set a schedule for when they would get exercise over the course of the two weeks, as well as how long the workout would be and where it would take place.
Here's the crazy outcome: 91% of those who were asked to schedule the exercise in, worked out once per week. Compare that with the 35% of the Group A, and that's an amazing result. James Clear describes this study in far more detail in this post. Those are powerful numbers. The scheduling method works for important work as well as fitness. Scheduling takes your goal or task from a vague thought or idea to reality. It makes you think about how you are going to complete it, which puts that visual in your mind of actually completing it. Want to score more clients? Spend a few minutes tonight determining which actions you will take to work toward this. What platforms will you use? How will you get in front of more eyes? Schedule in time tomorrow to get your work in front of your target audience, specifically outlining how you will go about it. Need to write your “about” page on your website? Consider how you will write it. What are the key points you will include? How will it be formatted? Will you include a photo? Where will you put your opt-in forms? Will you be writing it in Evernote and transferring it to your website, or writing it directly on the website? Note these decisions, and then schedule the writing into your day.
A Bonus Benefit of Scheduling
Scheduling by using this three step tactic holds a bonus benefit, too: You are making important decisions about the missions the night before, reducing decision fatigue while you are working on the MIM and providing more clarity. Scheduling your productive time removes the decision of the where, when, and how. It puts a heavier emphasis of the importance of the MIM, rather than you just thinking about it and planning on doing it.. eventually. In the corporate world, important things are always scheduled, and therefore they are always done. You don't see a stakeholder meeting being set for “whenever”, because it's important. It has to get done. The meeting time is set and the meeting happens at that specific time. Just like you don't see a product launch set as “someday” – it's scheduled.
I can't promise you with 100% certainty that the scheduling method will work for you, but I can tell you that you will never know until you try. Instead of reading this article and moving on with your life, implement this tonight. Before you go to bed, prepare for tomorrow. Set your Most Important Missions, and schedule them in. You can spare fifteen minutes this evening to put this into action. If it doesn't work for you, you've only lost fifteen minutes, but you've gained perspective on what is important and when you will have time to do your important work tomorrow. Schedule in the important work like it's.. well, important. Your business depends on it. I use a simple workbook to help me through the process – remove any barriers to actually using this method by clicking here to subscribe and get access to my favourite tools AND the workbook for free.
(Thank you to James Clear for bringing my attention to the power of scheduling, through this post).