Volume 32 Number 6
Stop Stalling: 8 Steps to Better Productivity
By Krishnan Rangachari | June 2017
Procrastination is not a victimless crime. The psychic costs of putting off tasks over time can add up. And the more we put them off—even simple tasks like bug fixes or unit tests—the greater the burden becomes. Every time we think, “I should really do that,” we add to the burden.
Some simple strategies can help you get your work done, and move you from living in regret to living in freedom.
- Win elsewhere. If I haven’t been able to tackle a problem head-on for a while, it means that—psychologically—it’s making me deeply uncomfortable. It’s too hot to handle directly. So, I set a time—say one week—and in that one week I just do other, less-overwhelming tasks. This way, I build my “get-things-done” muscle, because, so far, I’ve just been building my “get-stuck” muscle. Once I build this momentum, I switch to the postponed task.
- Outsource it. My time’s valuable. Even if I’m working for someone else, I like to put a dollar figure on my time—let’s say $500/hour. I then quantify all of the projects I do: this one’s a $2,000 project, that one’s a $10,000 bug fix or this one’s a $10 design item.
So, if I’m going to spend five hours on a task, I make sure I feel like it’ll deliver at least a $2,500 value ($500/hr x 5 hours). Otherwise, I outsource, delegate, reassign or swap my task with someone else, or I just eliminate it. See next step.
- Eliminate it. Sometimes tasks stay unfinished because at a deep level, I know it’s pointless. If I’ve been stuck for a long time, I ask myself: “How does this task move me forward on my top-two goals right now?”
Often, it doesn’t. I want to do it because I set an artificial goal for myself to do it, or maybe because I’d wanted to impress somebody. In such cases, I just eliminate the task altogether.
- Promise no more.Often, I’ve ended up in this position because I said “yes” without thinking. If I keep making this mistake, I’ll end up with a plethora of hanging projects. So, whenever somebody asks me to take on a new project, I start saying no in creative ways:
- “Let me think about it.”
- “I’ll check with my manager first.”
- “I don’t think that’ll work for me right now. I have deadlines to meet.” (This statement is almost always true, because I usually have at least one deadline I’m working toward.)
- Inaction is work. Doing nothing is a valid choice. I’ve been making that choice all along, without realizing it. I can decide to make that my permanent choice for this project, and consider it done by dropping it!
- Hop a little. To get over “coder’s block,” just doing the tiniest action imaginable—maybe simply writing one line of code—is all that’s needed! This chips away at conditioned resistance to challenging work, and channels our innate talent for high concentration.
The power of tiny actions is revealed in the strong hold that distractions have over us. We may decide to take a peek at a news headline (a tiny action), and before you know it, two hours have passed!
- Maximize playfulness. To quote one of my favorite authors, “The remedy for weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength. Teach [others] of the strength that is already within them.” All of us have a natural talent for high concentration and excellent productivity, just waiting to be tapped.
This is a game with two players: me, and my mind. If I feel like my mind and I are conspiring together positively, I can be more successful. I do this by making this a fun game for us and introducing artificial challenges into the situation:
- What’s the absolute least amount of work I could do for this project and still make progress?
- How much of this could I do in 20 minutes instead of 20 hours?
- Batch. I group together tasks, and I do them at once. Then, over time, I can trickle out the results to others. Phases of lower productivity can’t exist without other phases of hyper-focused productivity. With batching, you can milk the productive moments for all they’re worth, then not worry as much about the less-productive phases.
Krishnan Rangachari helps brilliant high-performers have amazing careers. Tell him your story at RadicalShifts.com.