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The Ultimate Weapon Against Procrastination

Like most people, I struggle with procrastination. My personal battle toward the shimmering ideal of perfect productivity has been raging for several years. As the old saying goes: I’m not where I want to be, but I’m sure as hell not where I used to be.

I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done, the comprehensive workflow management system invented by David Allen. It’s pure genius. For those of you not familiar with it, the basic premise is to capture all of your open loops into a single list. An open loop is any obligation you have: getting your oil changed, booking a hotel for your upcoming vacation, drafting a business proposal, or building a multi-billion dollar corporate empire–anything you have decided to do and haven’t yet done. The big ones get broken down until you are left with a list of physical actions you can accomplish right now: go to JiffyLube for oil change, research vacation rentals in Aspen, draft outline of proposal, etc.

Most people end up with fifty to a couple hundred “next actions” on their list. There’s more to it than that, and I highly recommend you read the book to get the full system. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really it’s the easiest and most functional system of organizing obligations I’ve come across. Read the book and try the capturing process just once. You’ll be hooked.

The biggest benefit I have derived thus far is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that nothing slips through the cracks. As soon as I mentally note that I have some kind of obligation, I capture it in my inbox and put it on my list (which I maintain on my iPhone). It takes only seconds, and ensures that I’m not constantly wasting mental energy worrying whether or not there’s something I’ve forgotten to do. It frees me to fully focus on the task in front of me.

So I have my list of next actions perfectly captured and organization. But the one thing GTD can’t help you do is to actually do your next actions. I’ve found that on this massive list of actions I could do right now, I tend to either do the ones that are easiest/most enjoyable, or to default to the ones toward the top of the list. Soon, there accumulates within my list a “dead zone” of actions that have been sitting there for weeks (or sometimes months) un-done for no good reason. Eventually, it’s as if my eye stops seeing them as I’m scrolling through my list looking for things to do. And the system loses a little bit of its integrity.

So here’s the solution I found. I got an accountability partner. Each night, we send each other an email with a handful of things we commit to do the next day. I choose things that have been on my list for too long, or things that because of their nature I would be likely to put off. I don’t send him things like appointments, which I’m already committed to do and have accountability for. Or things that I really enjoy; there’s already incentive there. I’m looking to nip procrastination in the bud by “calling my shot” and declaring that I will do something difficult that I would not otherwise be inclined to do. It’s a difficult discipline, but immensely worthwhile.

The next evening, we either talk on the phone or text to let the other person know how we did that day. If one of us didn’t get an item done, we explain why. That’s it.

It seems simple, but it has worked wonders for both of us. We’ve been doing this for almost two months now, and they have been two of the most productive months of my life. I know have a functional way to be proactive about avoiding procrastination. I can’t say enough about the positive effects this has had for me and my accountability partner.

If you struggle with procrastination, why not try something bold and new to overcome that? Find someone to hold you accountable. And apart from the caveat that in this case, it does help to be working on similar goals, follow the guidelines in my earlier post on accountability partners. Good luck to you!

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