Key Takeaways: Take help from others. Keep to-do lists and maintain a calendar with all deadlines. Use a timer

After publishing Part 1 in this series, I got great feedback from my brother, a self-proclaimed procrastinator. He said that one-pointed attention is helpful when one has started with the task. But, what about getting started in the first place? That is a really great question. Here are some ways of overcoming procrastination that have worked for me and/or my kids.

Take Help from Others

Two hands reaching out for help
Two hands reaching out for help

As a student in high school in India, one had to cram for many an exam. The first high stakes exam is in Standard or Grade 10. Students prep for the exam for an entire year and the last 2 to 3 months is the final dash to the finish. It is a super stressful time.

Thankfully for me, my mom was great at making time-tables or schedules. She would list out everything I had to study for the exams, have me estimate how much time each task would take, and assign dates to tasks. After that, we would together decide study hours—8am to 10am—break for a half hour for a snack—10:30am to 12:30pm—break to catch my breath—12:30 to 5:30 with snacks and tea being delivered to me—walk with Mom to the temple and the market—dinner, then sleep. With this study plan that was known to my mom and I, there was no way I could get distracted. I do think that living in a small flat was a blessing. I could not hide away and waste my time. Also, I was keenly aware that if I did not finish what was on the plan, it would mess up my schedule.

I do think that this kind of time management is what helped me do well on the exams. However, it did not make me an independent time manager. The proof lay in the fact that I repeatedly failed CA (equivalent of the American CPA) exams later in life. The key difference—my mom was away visiting relatives in the U.S. I struggled to balance work (known as articleship in CA lingo) at PW (it became PWC later) and studying for exams. I got distracted when stressed (which was very often). I finally did pass the CA Intermediate exam when my mom came back.

Keep To-Do Lists and Maintain a Calendar

Entrepreneur writing in to-do list
Entrepreneur writing in to-do list

After moving to the U.S., I had to learn to manage my own time. I made to-do lists. I bought planners (no online calendars in the 1990s), and maintained a detailed record of all deadlines. As a poor grad student at Virginia Tech, there was no TV, thankfully. The Internet was just burgeoning, and most people could not afford to buy home computers. So, with no car and little money, there was no question of going to places other than the college campus and my apartment.  

Fast forwarding to the present—there are a variety of distractions. The one that my children struggle with the most is YouTube. For adults, it could be social media, reading news, and random websites that draw one’s attention. It is possible to go into a web spiral, and before one knows, precious time has been wasted. 

For my children, when we see the distractions going out of control, we take away their phones and games and block their favorite pastime websites on their laptops. Starting from elementary school, homework necessitates accessing the internet, and so, they get to keep the laptops. When it comes to adults, one has to sit down, list out sites that are addictive, and then block those websites on the computer. If you need to use a browser, keep open only the tabs that are relevant to your work. Reward yourself with mindless web browsing when you finish the tasks on hand. The mindless web browsing will be so much more enjoyable when your mind knows that you are not wasting your time.

Set a Timer 

Hourglass
Hourglass

Sometimes, even with all the good intentions, one just can’t get started. You may have blocked all the usual suspects when it comes to distractions. But, you may allow yourself to get drawn into low priority and easier tasks just to keep away from the hard but important task. Here is where a timer comes in handy.

Tell yourself that you have to work for 15 minutes or 20 or 30. Whatever feels doable in your state of mind. Set a timer. Get started. Chances are when you are working on the hard task, you may get drawn into it. When the timer goes off, you may be tempted to keep working. Don’t. Put away the task, walk away and do other things. Keep the promise you made to yourself that you will work for only a certain number of minutes. When you feel you have uninterrupted time to continue, set the timer again. This time increase the number of minutes and repeat the process.

My experience has taught me that once you start tackling the big, hard task that you were avoiding, you will get it done. The pleasure you get from actually doing it will overshadow the stress you were experiencing from avoiding it. Try this. Seriously. It has been life-saving for me.

So, in summary:

  • Try to find someone to keep you accountable—a parent, spouse, or even your child.
  • Maintain to-do lists and calendars.
  • Use the timer method. It works.

Have you ever use a timer to keep yourself on track with tasks? Let us know your experience in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.