Eating the frog – the art of procrastination and how to avoid it.

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Mark Twain once said ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day’.

As horrific as that sounds, he was actually talking about tackling tasks head-on and not putting off until tomorrow all those jobs that you don’t want to do today.

It’s human nature to procrastinate – if we have a looming deadline or a Big Scary Task™ to do, we find distractions (social media anybody?!), excuses and a million and one other things to do in order to delay the inevitable. Finally, when we can’t put it off any longer,  we curse ourselves for not starting sooner and bash out a half-hearted job in a panic-fuelled haze.

So if you know that procrastinating makes you feel bad, sad and downright lazy, what are the best ways to avoid it? 

1. Eliminate distractions. The internet can be such a time-hoover (cat videos anyone?!), but by using programmes like Freedom you can restrict online distractions with a single click. If you have a specific writing task to do and need to focus, Dark Room can turn your computer into a simple word processing unit. Finally, if you respond best to being shamed into action, RescueTime tracks how long you have spent on specific websites and emails you a summary report every day (and trust me, you waste more time than you think!).

2. Break tasks down into chunks. If facing one insurmountable piece of work fills you with dread, break it down into its component parts and set individual timescales for each. If you are putting off writing a blog, for example, chunk it down into the tasks involved e.g. ‘Create outline structure’, ‘Proofread final draft’ etc. Focus on smaller, more achievable goals until you’ve finally slain the beast.

3. Get out of the house/office. A few minutes’ fresh air or sunshine can work wonders for motivation levels after hours of being mired in a pit of procrastination.

4. Talk to someone about it. Many of us put work off because we worry that we can’t deliver the task in hand – whether it’s too complex, not our skill area or just too time-consuming. By explaining out-loud to a friend or colleague exactly what it is you have to deal with, it diminishes and trivialises the monster in your head and makes things seem more manageable. You can instantly go from ‘OMG I cannot do this’ to ‘Oh, that old thing? Easy!’ just by talking it through with someone who can build your confidence and allay your fears.

5. If all else fails and you really cannot bear to do The Thing That Cannot Be Done, outsource it to a professional. Free up your valuable time to do the things you truly care about and hire a Virtual Assistant to get the job done in half the time and for half the cost of doing it yourself. If the task isn’t something a VA can do, you can bet they can find you someone who does!

So there you have it – five top tips to help you get off the sofa and on the go. I’ll leave the best advice to a teacher I had in high school who once told me sternly, after another late homework submission, ‘Just do the damned assignment and relax’.

And if you can’t, hire someone who can.