9 Time-Management and Procrastination Tips for Smart People

Tactics for managing your time and any tendency to procrastinate.

Posted Jan 18, 2018

Wikimedia, CC 4.0
Source: Wikimedia, CC 4.0

These tips on time-management and procrastination have helped many of my clients...and me. They come from my new book, Careers for Dummies.

Make it worth your while. Most foundational, if you feel your life is hopeless, you won't feel it's worth managing your time well. But, pollyannish as it may sound, almost all lives can be improved enough to make you feel it's worth making the most of your time. Of course, whole books have been written on how to improve your life but, for space considerations, I'll just remind you of the cliche, which has become cliche because it's true: Take baby steps, whether to improve your health, find work, build a relationship, save money. whatever.

After you've made some progress in improving your life, you may find yourself more motivated to work on time management and to avoid procrastination. If so, these tips should help.

Is a given task worthy? Relative to your life's priorities, ask yourself whether a task is worth doing. For example, if for you, family is first, spending evenings at home with family may well be worth doing. If you value your work more, you might spend some evenings doing work.

Heed a time-effectiveness voice. Crucial to making the most of your time is having a time-effectiveness voice. It's like someone always sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear, "Is this a time effective way to do it?"  Not "Is this the fastest way." That's often slipshod. No not, "Is this the best way?" That often devotes more time than justified: If a carpenter can frame a door to code in an hour but takes three more hours for it to be perfect, that's rarely a good use of time or a customer's money. The time-effectiveness voice should be whispering, "Does this approach yield the most benefit per minute's time."

That voice is whispering not only at the beginning of a task but throughout doing ir. At the risk of personalizing, I consider the time-effectiveness voice central to my having gotten so much done in my life: 10 books, 3,400 articles, 170 videos, 5,300 career counseling clients, hosting a radio program for 29 years, and having played 2,000 piano/keyboard gigs..

Log? This is laborious but may be necessary if you're one of those people who doesn't know where the hour went, the day went, maybe your life went. Set the timer on your watch or phone to chime every 15 minute. Each time, on the memo pad in your phone or an old-school paper kind, write what you were doing. Review your log at the end of the day. Do you want to reallocate your time?

Start with a one-second task. That's an unintimidating amount of time. If you don't even know where to begin, is there someone you can ask? Then do the next one second task and the next, and often, you'll find yourself having built momentum—an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Use the one-minute struggle. Sometimes, people get started on a task but quit when they reach a hard part. Generally, it's worth struggling with it for only a minute. If you haven't made progress on it by then, chances are additional struggle won't help. At that point, decide whether to ask for help, can complete the project without that hard part, or to come back to it later so you can view the problem with fresh eyes.

Invoke social pressure? Some people respond well to fear of embarrassment. So consider telling your goal to your Facebook or real-world friends Then let them know whether you accomplished it on time, or if it's a long-term project, whether you met your daily goal. Or start or join a goals group in which, at each meeting, each member reports on their goal attainment or lack thereof. Such meetings could be on FreeTeleconference.com, Google Hangout or, of course, in person.

Confront fear of failure. Some people procrastinate for fear of failure. Sometimes, that's justified. I sure would procrastinate getting into a boxing ring—My head would get knocked off. But most times, the benefit of trying outweigh the liabilities. To assess that, picture the benefit and the worst likely negative outcome. Is it worth trying it or not?

Forgive yourself. When you screw up, forgive yourself. Everyone fails. Successful people learn from it if possible, dust themselves off, and start on their next one-second task.

The takeaway

Ad nauseam, you've heard Thomas Edison's assertion that time is our most valuable possession. Perhaps one or more of these tips will help you make more of your time.

I offer a 9-minute talk on this topic on YouTube.

This is part of a series of tips for smart people. The others are: Five Tips for Smart People in a Not-So-Smart World, Seven Money Tips for Smart People, Five Learning Tips for Smart Adults, Tips for Smart Gardeners, Seven Stress Management Tips for Smart People, Five Tips for Smart Job Seekers, Four Dating Tips for Smart People, and Ten Tips for Parents of a Smart Child.