Welcome to Ask a Girlboss! It's our weekly advice column where real experts answer your burning career questions. Have a dilemma that needs solving? DM us on Instagram and we'll get right on it.
"How to focus more on work and stop procrastinating?"
The expert: Megan Sumrell is a professional productivity and time management coach. Through her Work + Life Harmony podcast and annual Plan-a-Palooza workshop, she motivates women to juggle their priorities in order to live better, healthier lives. Here's her advice.
If procrastination is something that plagues you, trust me, you are not alone. And, if you are like most women I know that battle procrastination, you probably waste precious time feeling guilty about it, too. What you may not realize is that your daily task list (or even your task management software) is a major source of this never ending procrastination cycle.
Why? A task list is not an actual plan.
When you work from a task list, the list doesn’t communicate enough information to help you stay on track and avoid procrastination. A task list is missing three pieces of critical information needed: priority, time needed to complete the task and the actual available time you have.
When you operate from a task list every day, you have no clear visibility into the consequences of procrastination. At any given moment, deciding to delay the start of a task doesn’t seem like a big deal.
You are certain there will be plenty of time later. After all, your task list doesn’t give you any insights into your available time in the future.
Now, think about a plan. A plan includes not only the tasks that need to be completed, but also, actual dates and times you will work on them. A plan also includes everything else you are juggling in your life so you can see how much available time you actually have. When you make the decision to delay the start of a task and you have an actual plan to look at, you can see the future consequences.
Let’s look at an example from my life to illustrate this difference.
I do a fair amount of writing as part of my business (case in point right now… I am writing this blog post). I find most writing tasks difficult. It does not come naturally to me. Just like you, I have a long list of tasks to complete each week. These tasks include anything and everything from writing, tech work, creative and design work, video creation, podcast tasks, etc.
Scenario 1: Task List Mode
Monday morning arrives and I settle in at my desk with a cup of coffee, ready to tackle #allthethings. I scan my list of tasks. I see several that involve writing. I skip over those tasks, telling myself I have all week to get them done. Instead, I jump to the tasks I enjoy doing. As the week progresses, new tasks are added to my list and I continue to avoid the writing tasks. Thursday rolls around and I still have those writing tasks sitting there. And, of course, one is due tomorrow. Now, in panic mode, I realize that I am booked solid today and will have to work at night.
Scenario 2: Planning Mode
Same Monday, same cup of coffee. However, instead of looking at a huge list, I have a detailed plan for the week in front of me.
This plan shows me everything I am juggling for the week including meetings, appointments, carpool time, family time, down time and work. This plan tells me that I have blocked out time to write today from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. I am not excited about it, and the desire to put it off creeps in. However, my plan clearly shows me that if I don’t do the writing now, I don’t have another good block of time available to me until Friday… and this task is due Friday morning.
Does this mean that I am suddenly overjoyed with the task at hand? No, of course not. We all have tasks that we do not enjoy doing. But, I can clearly see that procrastinating and putting this off will only lead to me staying up late or waking up early to get the work done on time.
This subtle shift from reactive, daily task list mode to proactive weekly planning mode will completely change the conversations you have with yourself about time, priorities and procrastination.