Gretta has been slammed by a sudden flurry of work and has several critical deadlines looming. On Monday she was feeling anxious about one tough factum but instead of spending the morning hammering it out she wasted 20 minutes surfing the net and then a couple of hours on email.
Gretta is not alone. Many if not most lawyers struggle with procrastination at some point in their practice and Dr. Piers Steel, reports in “The Procrastination Equation” that about 95% of people admit to procrastinating.
There is one important thing to know about procrastination – the goal isn’t elimination, it’s reduction. Procrastination is very much like weeds in the garden. You may not be able to rid the garden of them entirely but you can pull many out.
To help you with reducing the time lost to procrastination try this two-step practice:
Step one is to look at the root of the issue by understand why you are procrastinating.
- What exactly are you procrastinating about?
- What are you doing when you are procrastinating? Surfing the web? On social media?
- What are you thinking and physically and emotionally experiencing right before you procrastinate? Are you anxious? Bored? Tired?
Review this information and determine your root causes.
- Are you avoiding something? Is it a difficult task and you don’t know what to do? Is it a conversation that you are afraid to have?
- Are you distracting yourself to relieve discomfort?
You might procrastinate when you don’t know what to do, or when you encounter difficulties with a file.
You might procrastinate about things that are unpleasant such as communicating with difficult clients.
Learn and make note of your triggers for procrastination.
Step two is to develop your reduction strategy.
Notice when you are feeling anxious and catch yourself as you start to procrastinate.
Take a moment for a quick relaxation exercise to reduce your stress.
Draw your attention to your feet on the floor supporting you, and take a few slow and steady deep breaths.
Now ask yourself: What is making me anxious? Or, what am I avoiding? Simply notice the answer to that question.
Next ask yourself: What would be a useful next step to take?
This might be getting more information. Or asking a colleague for advice. It could be buckling down and working on the task for 30 minutes. It might be picking up the phone to make the call.
Here are a few additional ways to regain and maintain focus:
- Get your to-do-list out of your head and onto a list. Each morning set down your daily priorities and check them off as you go.
- Try starting the day with a win. Knock some quick but troublesome tasks off your list or by handle the toughest piece of work in the pile. As a former partner now a judge once told me: “do the dog file first.”
- Divide up your complex projects into smaller chunks. Schedule time for working on these instead of waiting until the last minute to start on the project as a whole.
- Save the times of day when you have the best concentration for your most difficult tasks. Schedule meetings and less complex work for times when you aren’t working at your peak.
- Establish that your office computer is for professional work only. Do web surfing and personal communication on another device.
- Reduce distractions in by keeping a fairly tidy desk. You can make use of your periods of low energy to organize. Even just 10 minutes a day for this can make an enormous difference.
- Have visual cues on your desk about why you want to be more productive at work. If you want to be home in time to take the dog out for a walk then keep a photo of your dog on your desk.
Remember – set a goal to reduce procrastination not eliminate. Just cutting back on procrastination by a couple of hours a week can have a positive impact on your productivity.