How I stopped procrastinating and started to use prioritization techniques
In the last years, I struggled a lot with prioritization and to start working on my tasks. I tried a lot of different prioritization techniques, but I continued to procrastinate and struggle with my work for a long time.
The truth is that even the best method cannot solve procrastination and demotivation. They can provide a guideline and give some good ideas. However, to become truly efficient, some other things need to be considered first.
There are seven factors which I believe are more critical than methods and tools.
1. Be aware of your personality type
The personality type is an essential aspect to find the right techniques and methods to be more efficient and motivated. For someone who likes structure and routine, a simple task list might be more useful than a mind map with colours and pictures. Someone who tends to get lost in details needs to find a way to stop overengineering. For creative people, it might be more fun and motivational to draw ToDos in the form of pictures. A general understanding of your personality type helps a lot to find appropriate ways to stay motivated and productive. Don’t force yourself using a method just because it is supposed to be the best.
If you are interested to know more about personality types, have a look at the DISC Model: https://www.discprofile.com/what-is-disc/overview/
Try different methods and techniques, adapt them, combine them or even create something entirely new. Don’t stick to one finding only. It is also ok to have various approaches for different intentions or to change the method when the current way is not appealing anymore.
3. Find your WHY
Knowing why specific tasks and projects should be accomplished, is significant to stop procrastination. Motivation and productivity can only happen when the purpose is clear, and intrinsic motivation gets sparked. Work is not enjoyable and motivational if there is no meaning to it. If procrastination continues and the WHY sounds like “my colleague wants it” or “to master a new language is cool”, it might not be inspirational enough or does not spark intrinsic motivation.
4. Combine and integrate projects into daily routines
From time to time, I faced tasks and projects which I postponed forever, despite many attempts. I wanted to become better with drawing Sketch Notes and learn a new language. Both of them were big and challenging projects, and I had troubles to find the time and motivation to learn both of them regularly (next to many other projects). I started to combine my language learning with drawing Sketch Notes, for example, by drawing Sketch Note scenes and writing the vocabulary next to the pictures. I also started to integrate Sketch Notes and language learning into my daily routine. Since then, my grocery lists are sometimes Sketch Notes or written in Spanish. These changes made it fun and were easier to integrate into my daily life compared to regular learning sessions. Find ways to incorporate projects into your daily routines or combine them to get started.
5. Try different media
The type of media has a significant impact on my motivation. I mainly prefer physical media because it gives me satisfaction to move things around or tick something off. Apart from that, I use different media for different purposes. One of my projects is organized with Post-its on my door, my To-Dos are listed in a physical notebook, my training plan is written in X-Card style, hanging on my fridge, and for my collaborations, I use online Kanban boards.
6. Create small tasks
Some projects and tasks simply overwhelmed me. I was not sure how and where to start. Instead of doing anything, I just postponed these things endlessly. In such cases, it helped me a lot to sit down and brainstorm by listing every step and action which comes into my mind to achieve that work. Afterwards, I put the results in some order. Until now, that approach provides me with an overview of the steps which need to be done. Furthermore, smaller tasks do not overwhelm me, and it becomes easier to start working on them.
7. Focus on results
At the beginning of being self-employed, I was stuck with an old-fashioned 9 to 5 routine. I was unhappy when I haven’t managed to work at least 8 hours per day. But that new home working experience, back then, made it hard to stay focused and concentrated for several hours. Only after some time, I realized that the amount of hours spent does not have an impact on my progress. Sometimes I worked endless hours but didn’t manage any achievements. As a result, I started to set goals and objectives which I split up into smaller work packages. At the beginning of every week, I decided which goals I want to achieve and moved the related tasks into my To-Do List. From that point on, I started measuring myself by the things I have accomplished. That approach made me finally see my progress and achievements, and I was able to celebrate them.
My prioritization techniques
As soon as I have figured out the seven factors from above, I started to experiment with prioritization and motivation methods and tools. I adapted these methods for my own needs, mixed them up and switched between them regularly depending on mood and demands.
I am going to show eight approaches I am currently using and how I have adapted them to meet my requirements. Get inspired, but do not blindly copy them. Identify your own needs and preferences first and use and adjust the methods and tools accordingly.
Whenever I have a lot of tasks and projects, I use the Eisenhower Matrix to get an overview of everything that is going on and to identify the topics which are most relevant and urgent for me.
The following picture describes the basic idea of the Eisenhower Matrix:
In the beginning, I tried to use the Eisenhower Matrix as specified. But over time I discovered that the quadrant “Not important but Urgent” and also the quadrant “Not urgent and Not important” do not fit my needs.
First of all, I cannot delegate my tasks to someone else, except I would pay for some support which I do not want to. And secondly, I seldom have work which I can just delete, even if these tasks are not urgent and also not important. However, these are still things which I want to do at some point.
Therefore, I started to use only two of the quadrants, whereby I combined the “Decide” and “Delegate” quadrants because both of them result in scheduling my work.
Over time I also started to use the Eisenhower Matrix on different media.
- Online, in my favourite work management tool Asana:
- Physical, in one of my notebooks
I use the Kanban board to visualize and keep track of my work within a specific time frame, and when I collaborate with others.
The Kanban boards which I use with my collaboration partners have columns such as “Backlog”, “in Progress”, “Done”, “Pending”, “Todo Karin”, “Todo someone else”, “Selection for the week”, …”. Depended on our needs, we experiment with various columns and workflows.
For my private tasks, I use a physical Kanban Board in my notebook next to the Eisenhower Matrix. I use the Eisenhower Matrix for a general sorting and prioritization of all my tasks and my Kanban Board to select the work for the upcoming week.
If you want to know more about Kanban Boards, read here: https://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanban/boards
For particular projects, I use Post-its to split it into smaller tasks and get an overview of the things which need to be done. I start with a brainstorming session where I use for each idea a Post-it. I write everything down which comes to my mind without giving it a second thought. After the brainstorming session, I group Post-its with a similar purpose, throw some of them away and add headlines for identified groups. Finally, I sort them by putting the highest priority and most essential ideas on the top left side. With that approach, I create a two-dimensional sorting. Headlines get sorted from left to right and topics within a group get sorted from top to bottom. When I start to work on that project, I begin with the Post-its on the top left side. Whenever I am done with one step, I tick them off with a colour.
If I want to be more creative, sometimes I draw pictures on the Post-its instead of written text.
Whenever a lot is going on and my days get filled up with meetings and appointments or I feel the need for more focus time, I start to block my calendar with “Working slots”. It helps me to avoid days of endless meeting sessions and to have time for concentrated work. During such times, I turn off all my notifications and focus on the tasks, which I have planned to do. Only as a last resort, I allow myself to cancel one of my reserved slots for urgent and essential appointments.
Below you can see an extract of my calendar. I tend to use different colours for different types of events. The yellow arrangements are my “Working Slots.”
The Pomodoro technique is a straightforward productivity technique. Most of the time, I choose a time of one hour in which I want to work undisturbed and be focused. During that time, I turn off all my notifications and work on the tasks which I have decided on beforehand. As soon as my timer rings, I do a break of 15 minutes away from technical equipment.
I often combine the Pomodoro technique with my “Working Slots”. Whenever I reserve time in my calendar, I use the Pomodoro technique to have focused working time.
Read more about the Pomodoro technique here: https://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730
Sometimes an unspectacular To-Do list is all that is needed. As already mentioned above, I use the work management tool Asana to prioritize and sort my collaboration tasks. Either I use the Kanban board view or display my tasks as a simple To-Do list which is grouped into the two quadrants from the Eisenhower Matrix.
For my private tasks, I switch between my physical Kanban board and simple Post-its on which I write down my To-Dos. As with the Kanban board, also the Post-Its are in my notebook, which I always carry with me. Whenever I have finished a task, I tick it off. Physical To-Do lists or Kanban boards motivate me more and are fun compared to online task lists because I can move Post-its around or tick things physically off.
If I want to build up a new habit or keep me motivated for ongoing activities, I use the X-Card technique. At the moment, I use it for my daily training plan. Whenever I successfully followed the training as written down, I cross it through.
If you want to know more about that technique, read here: http://saeedgatson.com/x-card-technique-how-to-build-any-habit/
When I have the feeling that I am not very productive, but I am not sure why, I start to track my time for a full day or sometimes even several days. With that tracking, I create awareness of how I spent my time. I identify the time killers such as Social Media or watching movies and decide for myself how I want to use my time differently in the next days. Having focus on outcomes instead of forcing myself to work a specific number of hours a day also helps a lot to keep up motivation and be more productive. Even when I finish my work already after a few hours, I can enjoy other things.