As humans, we are emotionally driven animals who strive for success in everything we do. So it is not surprising to find ourselves dragging our feet when a task seems overwhelming and successful completion is a distant dream.
Haven’t we all found ourselves at some point in time losing sleep, gaining weight, lashing out at those around us all because we had some task at hand that we were too afraid to even start.
I once had a friend in college that was so intimidated by a simple art assignment that person did not want to begin the assignment. When the assignment was started, there was so little time that there was no way to put a quality effort forward.
Up that point, the person was receiving a B in the class, but failure to complete that assignment caused them to fail the class. We find a similar scenario when trying to complete a boring or undesirable project.
From the time we are presented with the daunting task our mind races to the million of other pleasurable things we could be engaged in like:
Taking a hot bath, reading a book, or realizing what a beautiful day it is outside and convincing ourselves we need to be out there. Once we start thinking this way, it is very plausible that the assignment may soon become assassinated. How so you ask? Because some of the well known killers of action start lingering around: There’s always tomorrow isn’t there? This mess, assignment, presentation will be waiting for us in the morning and besides what’s one more day? If you aren’t diligent, they will for sure drive the nail in the coffin of that task.
Stress Free Steps
That’s when, let’s thank our lucky stars, time management strategies comes to the rescue. Fortunately, every task can be broken down into very doable and stress free steps.
You will be spared of all the corny euphemisms such as Rome was not built in a day, every fortune starts with one dollar, and every good meal starts with a little salt. What you should know is the completion of every large task starts somewhere and that somewhere can be in a place as small as 15 minutes each day.
Take this real life situation for example, a couple years ago a family friend moved from a very large house to a two bedroom apartment. The apartment this person moved into was not very well cared for and needless to say this person had a lot of cleaning, unpacking, and maintenance to do.
Being the mature person she, she decided to do some reflecting and concluded that she was not going to be upset about her new, tiny, dirty, box filled apartment but decided that everyday she would clean a small space in her apartment and unpack one small box. Eventually she got her apartment clean and organized and she even invites guest over to enjoy her wonderful cooking. This approach of dividing a large task up into smaller, less overwhelming tasks is at the heart of most time management strategies.
Other less casual situations such as work or school tasks come with a deadline and require us to make a timeline to achieve progress. There are a few easy time management steps you can use to make accomplishing these tasks less stressful.
Gather Information Step
The first step is the gathering information step. You need a clear understanding of three things; the end product, what you need from others, how much time it will take to complete the task.
First, it is very important to have a clear understanding of what the end product should look like. You need to know the purpose and goal of the project, what it is meant to accomplish, and what qualities it should have.
In order to get a visual for what you are to be working towards, you may need to ask for further clarification from your boss, professor, or colleague.
Who do you need help from
Second, who, if anyone do you need help from in accomplishing your goal.
If you need outside help from someone, ask early and be respectful of the others persons time. If you are working with a group to complete a task, you need a clear definition of what your role is in accomplishing the task. You also need to understand what you will be responsible for. If this isn’t obvious, it is always a good idea to sit down as a group and set a timeline.
How much time will it take
Third, we need an understanding of how much time this task will take us. Even if there is nothing we can do about pending deadlines, having knowledge about how much time we can expect each step to take makes the process less stressful and helps with moral. There is very little worse than unexpectedly spending a week on what we thought would be a three hour task.
If we know ahead of time how much time each step will take, we will not be thrown off schedule by unexpected delays and may even be able to ask for an extension, if needed. Once we have gathered the necessary information in these three key areas we can go from the information gathering stage to the planning stage.
During this stage you designate specific boxes of future time to a task or part of a task. While this is also important in longer more planned out projects, it can be especially helpful in a time crunch or with shorter project. For example, if someone were giving a party on Sunday and only had Saturday to clean, they might time box their Saturday like this;
9am wake up Saturday morning.
9am to 11am put laundry in washer, sweep/ mop floors.
11am to 12pm put laundry in dryer, wash dishes clean kitchen.
12pm to 1pm fold laundry, Dust from.
1pm to 2pm eat lunch and TV break.
2pm to 4pm put laundry away, put things where they belong.
This is an example of time boxing, for each hour of that day there is a specific task to work on which leads to the completion of a larger task and goal; having a clean house.
A quick note about time boxing; there are different levels of time boxing and you may want to test each one out to see which is most effective for you.
For some people it may be enough to make their entire work week one time box with one goal. For example, you can spend one week responding to all the e-mails in your inbox. For others, they may want to assign a specific number of tasks for each day. For example, Monday they respond to twenty e-mails, Tuesday they will respond to twenty more and so forth and so on. Lastly, for tasks which are especially daunting you may want to time box on a daily basis like we did with the house cleaning example
Now that you have found all the information you need and made yourself a schedule by time boxing you should be ready to begin.
As you begin working on your project and are attempting to complete the task in your first time box, you might find that you are having difficulty focusing. There are several possible causes of this and several different approaches you can take to help keep you moving forward.
Time Boxing Not Working
One approach is to switch tasks. If the smaller broken up tasks in your large projects do not need to be done in any specific order, you may want to try working on a different part of the project and come back to the task that is giving you most problems later.
If you are still having trouble accomplishing your time box goals you might want to try and use outside motivation by making yourself accountable to others. You can do this by telling another person, co-worker, boss, friend or relative what you plan to do that day or week and then making sure you report back to this person about whether you have met your goals.
If you try these tricks and are still having trouble meeting your goals still another approach is to break up tasks into even smaller steps. For example, if your task is to write an introduction to a paper and you are not able to get started, you may want to take a step back and write some simple notes before you start writing the paper. The actual act of writing, even if it is just notes, may help you to start writing the paper.
Cold Water Plunge
When a task is particularly intimidating and you're having trouble starting you might want to use the technique called the “cold water plunge”. This technique involves taking physical action to face whatever it is that is scaring you into non-action while telling yourself over and over that the consequences of non-action are much worse than failure. Using the writers block example, if you were to use the “cold plunge method”, you would start writing the introduction with whatever thoughts came into your head. The trick would be to continuously remind yourself that you are always going to re-work or rewrite the introduction, but in order for this to happen you must try and possibly fail.
The genius of this method is that it takes away any fear or anxiety of failure, since failure is implied and the ability to correct the initial mistake is emphasized. Some of your best work may come out of the “cold water plunge method”, so give it a go.
Signs of Something More Serious
If you have followed all the previously mentioned time management strategies and not been able to accomplish or even start with the task at hand it may be time to do some soul searching and ask yourself what the real reason for your procrastination is. If you find yourself unable to make decisions and doubting your ability to do something, lack of self esteem or self confidence may be the culprit. There are several good resources on building self esteem, the book The Complete Idiots Guide to Enhancing Self-Esteem by Mark J. Warner is a good start. If your feelings of inadequacy are severe and you feel unable or unmotivated to accomplish life’s daily task you may want to seek professional help in the form of counseling or therapy.
Lastly before you start an unpleasant or difficult task you may want to try and mentally gear up with some positive thinking techniques. First start by accepting the inevitable, tell yourself there will be unpleasant or scary tasks to be done in every stage of your life and procrastination will not make them disappear. Procrastination only creates worry and stress which negatively affect the pleasant and enjoyable moments of your life. Before starting a task, you might also want to ask yourself “why is this important to get done?” and “who will benefit from this task being completed?” Many people believe that visualization is the key to success. You may want to try visualizing or imaging yourself working hard at the task and then visualize yourself successfully completing the task and gaining credit for your hard work. Literally, imagine turning in that assignment, giving that presentation, gaining credit for that finished product; you are happy and proud of your work and are free to enjoy and spend your time as you like, you have no regrets just a feeling of pride and achievement knowing that you choose to face the task head on and give it your full attention and effort. Imagine the feeling you’ll have now that you have faced this challenge and you know the next unpleasant or intimidating task you face will be no match for your perseverance and excellent time management strategies!
Hopefully, the time management strategies covered will help you manage your time more effectively.