8 simple ways to stop procrastinating at work


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We’ve all procrastinated on annoying tasks because there are more exciting or important things we’d rather focus on. 

Right now you might have a backlog filled with a list of irritating to-dos. These lists are often big piles of awfulness that can quickly drain your life force.

I call these irritating tasks toads, because they’re the kind of thing that make you recoil. You’d rather not touch them, or even think about them, if you can get away with it. 

But here’s the problem with procrastination: You don’t get the important stuff done, you lose time and you make yourself miserable in the process. Tasks you procrastinate can significantly weigh on your mind, even when you’re not aware of it – instead of fully focusing on the important things in life, you expend energy dreading and procrastinating that unpleasant task.

When it comes to life’s annoyances, dreading is always worse than doing. But with the right set of strategies, you can take action before the dread even kicks in.

Here are eight ways you can stop procrastinating at work. I share more about how to succeed at work and as a leader in my book Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive in Leadership & Life

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1. Know your toads

Unlock the toads from the recesses of your mind. Dig ’em out. Write ’em down. Make a list of every single one, large and small.

Think of this as mental spring-cleaning, or excavating the irritants from your mind.

Include every to-do that gives you an unpleasant twinge when it pops into your head. Just getting these down on paper is an achievement because it will spur you to take action.

A helpful exercise: Put 10 minutes on the clock and write down the first 30 toads that come to mind.

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2. Lick 10 toads in 10 days

Pick 10 toads from your 30 Toads list to complete within a 10-day period. They can be large or small – it doesn’t matter. This is about reducing your backlog to free up your energy and create a habit of regularly handling annoyances.

As your backlog diminishes, you’ll notice more spring in your step and you’ll be encouraged to keep the process going. At the end of your 10-day period, note your increased energy level.

Note what it feels like to have fewer worries in your mind. Yes, licking toads is briefly unpleasant, but the payback is major.

Tip: You might like to pick easy toads to kick-start some momentum. Or you might want to tackle some tough ones that really drag you down. Or a combo. Do what motivates you most.

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3. Lick your nastiest toad first thing every morning

Handling your nastiest toad every morning is the single most effective way to free up your energy and to end procrastination.

Then notice the difference in how your day unfolds. You will inevitably feel more empowered, more energized and more enthusiastic about the day ahead. You’ve conquered a toad and it’s barely dawn. You are already heroic.

Also, notice the difference when you don’t muster the fortitude to lick that toad. The stress of it will linger with you throughout your day, pestering you. Distracting you. Dragging you down.

I ask my clients to wake up every day knowing the three most important things they need to get done that day. No. 1 must be licking their biggest toad (the thing they least want to do). I view this as a mastery-level leadership habit.

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4. Employ the Five D’s

There’s more than one way to lick a toad. It’s not always appropriate for you to personally handle it. Sometimes it’s not yours to do at all. Sometimes you know it’ll never happen if it stays in your court.

There are five standard ways to tackle annoyances. For each toad on your list, review the options below and choose the one that makes the most sense for the situation:

Do it. Bite the bullet immediately.

Don’t do it. Say “no” to the person who requested it, if it’s simply not yours to do.

Delegate it. Assign an appropriate person.

Delete it. Let go of it entirely. Decide it’s not going to happen.

Date it. Commit to completing it by a specific date sometime down the road. Do not use this as a default. Only apply this when now is truly not the right time to deal with the task.

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5. Schedule a Toad Day at the office

This practice is so much more fruitful than Casual Day.

Make toad-licking part of your corporate culture. Schedule an afternoon (once a quarter or twice a year) that is exclusively about getting annoying tasks completed. Ask each of your team members to create a list of 30 work and personal toads. On Toad Day, challenge everyone to see how many they can complete.

A Toad Day is a surefire way to revitalize your team and to get creative energy flowing again. People perform far better without a backlog of toads dragging them down.

It’s not unusual for to-dos to kick around for a month or more, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Certain lingering to-dos cause you frustration or anxiety. Lick your toads. You’ll be happy you did.

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6. Learn from Bashir

Bashir is a remarkable executive and one of the worst procrastinators I’ve ever met in my life.

He’s incredibly smart, and I’m sure if we ran an IQ test, he’d be in the Mensa range. But as a leader his growth was stunted. He couldn’t advance because he spent his days trying to catch up on his workload. Guilt piled as high as the tasks and gnawed at the pit of his stomach until he literally became ill.

The reality was that Bashir had the potential to improve, but he didn’t know how to do it.

When we started working together, he had well over 150 different items dragging him down. As we cleaned up all the issues, one by one, he had more and more bandwidth to put toward strategic work.

Now that I’ve worked with him for several years, I can tell as soon as I hear his voice if his toads are out of control. If he has fewer than 10, he sounds like his normal, everyday self: warm, clear-headed and smart.

If he lets his list accumulate to 15 or more, look out. He’s distracted, uncertain and wild with stress.

Our very first agenda item, every time we meet, is to review his Toad’s List – and we make sure to refresh it quarterly.

Today, with a system in place, Bashir much better at staying on top of it – especially now that he understands the obvious correlation to his mental well-being and his growth and progress as a leader. 

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7. New toad? Write it down

One of the simplest and most effective strategies to beat procrastination is to write all your tasks down as soon as you receive them. 

It sounds rudimentary, but the simple act of writing down all your tasks (or toads) removes a significant and tangible mental weight. 

The less mental weight you carry with you, the less energy you needlessly expend – and the more attention and focus you can direct to the things that matter.

It also helps to write everything down in one location, so you can can prioritize what needs to get done, when it needs to be completed by and make informed decisions based on all your known tasks.

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8. Ask a colleague to hold you accountable

If there’s one toad that’s really nagging at you, it’s often helpful to ask a colleague to hold you accountable to a deadline. 

While some might recoil at the idea of not being 100 percent self-sufficient, the social aspect of accountability is documented and well-proved. 

And with toads in particular, it’s not so much about how you get it done, it’s that you get it done. 

Thankfully, asking for a colleague to hold you accountable can be a very simple conversation. 

Here’s an idea of what you could say:

“Hey, I’m having some trouble finishing a task. Would you mind checking in with me tomorrow at 2 p.m. to make sure I have it finished by then?”

This article was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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