Step 1. Make a Master List with Two Columns: Must Do’s and Would Like To Do’s
This is important. We often conflate these two categories, and most of us are particularly skilled at putting lots of things we think we “should” do into the same list as the things we know we actually need to do. They are not the same things! And they don’t belong on the same list.
You can also include less pressing items or those that will need to be done at some time in the future in that second column. This way you have them noted and can move them into the Must Do column when it comes time to deliver on them.
You will benefit most from creating your Master List with the Must Do’s listed out in the form of baby steps (see Step 2). Otherwise, you will end up having to write yet another list of actionable tasks. Depending on how many time-intensive items are on your plate, this may be appropriate. If so, I strongly recommend using a notepad to which all your lists are attached. In my experience, multiple loose lists tend to behave a little too much like socks in the dryer….
Step 2. Breaking tasks down into baby steps.
When I say baby steps, I mean really tiny, bite-sized, easy-to-do baby steps.
For instance, say there is a lengthy report I need to write and I’m dreading it. Stated as one huge task it can sound overwhelming, but I am going to break it down into itty bitty little tasks, such as: 1. Pull together all my notes on the subject. 2. Organize my notes chronologically. 3. Review my notes with a highlighter in hand. 4. Make a list of items to include in the report. 5. Open the report template, title it, and save it as a new document. 6. Perhaps I will also locate a similar completed report to review. 7. Skim this other report. 8. Write a paragraph for one section of the new report. And so on.
Need to do your Holiday shopping? That is not a bite-sized task. Instead, you can list the actions you need to take in order to make progress, e.g., text sibs for ideas about gifts for mom; request wishlists from sister’s kids; schedule time for shopping; etc.
Sometimes you can also use this strategy with yourself in the moment. Say you’re planning to go to the gym after work, but you get home at 6:45 and you’re exhausted. All you want to do is flop out on the couch and watch TV, even though you know you’ll feel better and more energized if you go to the gym.
So you tell yourself, just get dressed for the gym. You can do that, right? Okay. You’re dressed. Now, you tell yourself, all you have to do is drive to the gym. You don’t even have to get out of the car. Just get yourself there. Great, that seems doable. There you are. You’ve arrived at the gym. Now, all you have to do is go into the gym. Walk inside, and take your water bottle with you. Once you’re inside, give yourself permission to work out for just 10 minutes, and if you’re still dying to get home to the couch, you can go. Get moving for 10 minutes. Chances are, you will stay and work out a little longer now that you’ve made it that far.
Step 3. Each morning, Identify the Day’s Non-negotiables
Hopefully, you have blocked time on your calendar many days in advance in order to have time set aside to work on performing your most critical responsibilities within the necessary timeframes. If not, let’s just call that Step 1a.
For Step 3, you will look at that list of baby steps for the things that are required of you, and you will mark those items that you will complete TODAY. I use asterisks. I recommend selecting at least 5-10 items each morning. They should be in small enough bites that this number feels doable within your day.
If you don’t have a deadline bearing down on you, you can select tasks based on what you are “in the mood for” that day. For instance, being somewhat introverted, there are days when I am in the phone zone, and days that I am not. Obviously I can always push myself to make calls as needed, but if I find myself in that zone on a given day, I am absolutely going to take advantage of it and knock out a bunch of calls, knowing that I may be more reluctant to make them on another day.
Once those non-negotiables are completed, you have choices! You can decide to take care of a few more items, you can call it for the day, or you can move on and take steps towards some of your “Would Like to Do’s.” Once those are separated out, however, you may find yourself realizing that they are not necessary or practical to expect of yourself, and either outsource them or cross them off the list altogether. Now that feels good!
Do you have a system you like to use to side-step your tendency for procrastination? I’d love to hear about it.