Looking to do a better job of meeting deadlines? If procrastination is your middle name, it may be time to change your habits.
Procrastinating doesn't just affect you. Your co-workers, who abide by team deadlines, need your work done on time so the rest of the project can move forward. Taking measures to complete projects on time can improve your workplace relations and get you back in good graces with your boss.
1. Clean your desk/computer regularly. Disorganization is one of the top causes of procrastination, so eliminate this excuse by cleaning your desk or your computer files at least once a month. Create piles for things that must be tackled now and another for those you can get to later in the week, then file everything else to get it out of the way.
2. Figure out your best reminder tool. Some people use Google Calendar to schedule tasks and to-dos. Others use a paper datebook. Still others use Web tools like Remember the Milk or Workflowy to digitally set up reminders to get stuff done. Find the one that works for you, and don't force a solution you'll never use. And hey, if you work best with sticky notes, we're not judging.
3. Break it down. Rather than focus on your final deadline, which you'll inevitably butt up against, set up smaller deadlines. So if you have to write a press release, set a mini-deadline for getting a quote from the client, another for getting the photos or logos you need and another for writing the first draft. You'll feel accomplished when you hit smaller deadlines, and you won't be able to put it all off until the last minute.
4. Don't switch between tasks. When you go from the project you're working on to your email to Facebook, you're destroying your ability to focus on the task at hand. No matter what you've told yourself, multitasking does not make you more efficient. Block off a set amount of time – even as little as 20 minutes – and do nothing but what you're supposed to work on.
5. Get help. If you only procrastinate certain types of work – those that you dread doing or that take you a long time to complete – consider asking someone else for help. Maybe you're really slow at creating graphics for a project, but Hal in the next office can whip something up in five minutes. See if you can trade off skills to get work done faster.
6. Do the hardest thing first. Saving the hardest task for last might be slowing your entire project, because you're thinking about it on some level the entire time you work. Try doing it first. Getting it over with will remove the worry, and you'll feel accomplished by completing it early.
7. Create your ideal work environment. If you work best with headphones blaring ABBA, or barefoot in the park, go for it (assuming your boss says it's OK). You'll get more done if you're in an environment you enjoy, and you'll actually look forward to it.
8. Decide what's most important. Prioritize your tasks and work on the most important first. You can use deadlines, importance of the person that assigned the task or irritability level of the person who needs it done: You pick the criteria you want to use to figure out what to focus on first.
9. Aim to finish for the day. You'll feel better if you complete what you're working on for the day so that you can start fresh in the morning. Work toward wrapping up any half-done work before you leave for the day.
10. Reward yourself with breaks. Rather than jumping up every time a work buddy heads to the break room, force yourself to stay put until you reach a milestone. Make yourself finish what you're working on before you take a break. And absolutely do take a break! It can give you motivation and energy for the next stretch of work.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.