“What’s next?” Here’s how you stop procrastination

We all know procrastination is a bad thing. Why then, do we do it?

More often than not, it stems from a lack of structure, and not realising that our own habits are the problem.

Here’s what happens.

Picture this: your team had a brainstorming session for a new product line. Brilliant ideas were whizzing around, and it all came together into an absolute firecracker of a concept, something everyone thought would be a winner. Everyone left the room buzzing with energy, exhilarated and looking forward to the future.

Only, no one knew what the next course of action was. Market evaluation? A round of internal evaluation, to confirm feasibility? Management approval?

The idea sits on its imaginary bum, while another meeting is held to figure this out. And so on. You get the drift.

What if everyone had agreed on the next step to take, following that meeting? Perhaps the guys in product management figured it’d be better to check the market for potential competitors first, before anything else got done. Easy.

Not convinced?

Let’s talk about something simpler. You get home after a long day, and find something in the mail: an Aldi brochure listing the week’s offers. Surely it can wait, you think. It’s late, you’re too tired to bother. It gets left on the desk, and joins a growing heap of junk mail.

What if you’d simply taken two minutes to browse, circle the items that needed to be looked at, and placed it into the shopping bag, ready for the weekend?

That wasn’t so hard, was it? Multiply the same action by twenty, and that pile of junk might not even exist.

It even applies to email.

A new message just appeared in my inbox.

Scenario A: It’s a newsletter I used to read years ago, but ignore out of habit these days. My inbox is a cesspool of unwanted messages, I find it hard to get to the really important ones.

What if I’d simply taken ten seconds to click the unsubscribe link? Or created a filter that sent it right into Trash, without ever hitting my inbox? Replicate the same thought process to all those other unwanted emails, and we might be well on our way to Inbox Zero.

Scenario B: It’s work. Someone needs a report. It’s going to take a lot of work, but it’s not urgent. Hell, it can wait. The email sits in my inbox every day, staring me in the face until the deadline’s a week away, and then I start scrambling hard.

What if I’d taken five minutes to put a plan together after reading the email? Was the scope clear, did I need to clear it up with someone? Did I already have the tools I needed to generate the report? Who should I be talking to? I send an email to a coworker, and mark the email conversation as done. One less email to care about.

Always consider what the next step should be.

I’ll be the first to admit that this principle isn’t applied to everything in my life. I do however, practise it consistently enough that Inbox Zero is a real thing, both at work and in my personal life. Avoiding procrastination improves my mental state of mind, and allows me to focus better on the things I need to do.

Cultivate positive habits, especially ones that save time and make your life easier. What do you think the next step should be?

I suggest checking out How Habits Work, and the book that’s changed my life to getting things done: David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Get started today.

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