You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank screen. The report that you need to send out by tomorrow at noon is looming and all you have running through your head is that Taylor Swift song telling you to “Shake it Up!”
Yes, there is a time and place for booty shaking. It’s just not at work when you’re on a deadline. Instead try this:
1) Figure out YOUR WHY
What’s your rationale for creating this deliverable? If the answer is, “Well, my boss told me to,” do this exercise.
ACTION STEP: Grab a clean sheet of paper. In the center, write “WHY [insert your task here]” and then let your inner 3 year old go wild here. Keep asking “why?” until you get an answer that hits a nerve for you.
Why should you do it?
Why will it help you?
Why does that matter?
HINT: The goal is to identify a WHY that’s more motivating and meaningful to you than satisfying a boss you may not even like.
2) Get clear on the Requirements (and how they serve you).
When I started my career in consulting, I would get tasked with taking notes at client meetings. I loathe note taking. It brings out my inner perfectionista. Back then, I would stress over how much detail to include, if I would miss something, and would sometimes stay up late after all my other work was done just to make the notes “perfect” before I sent it out.
In the beginning, I was assigned the task simply because I was the lowest person on the career food chain. However, since the notes were so detailed and thorough, my boss kept assigning the task to me! I was missing out on juicier tasks because I wasn’t clear on my boss’s requirements. He later mentioned to me that a “few key meeting takeaways would have sufficed.”
ACTION STEP: When assigned new work, talk with your boss and make sure you know the goals, audience, length, and absolute musts for the deliverable BEFORE you start.
3) Step away from your desk.
Sometimes the best thing we can do when we have a deadline and we’re stuck is to change our environment.
– Change WHERE YOU WORK. Grab your laptop and head to the cafeteria or an empty conference room. I used to simply move to the desk on the opposite side of my cube. You’ll get a new perspective and that will get ideas flowing again.
– Change YOUR STATE. Take a walk outside and get some air. Get some water from the water cooler on the opposite side of the building and while you are there chat up some of the folks in that department.
– TAKE A BREAK every 25-50 minutes, work any longer and your decision making and thinking abilities start to decline. The easy way to get back to your prime level is to take a 5 minute break where you use either your body or another part of your brain. (i.e., Working on a detailed data analysis? Go people watch or doodle a bit to engage the creative and intuitive right side of your brain.)
With all of these ‘breaks’ be careful, the goal is to just change your perspective and rejuvenate, not procrastinate. Set an alarm on your smartphone for
ACTION STEP: Take a break every hour.
4) Start small.
Break up the big goal into smaller tasks. For example, instead of writing “complete systems requirements document” on your to do list, write “outline major headings for requirements doc.” Then, give yourself 15-20 minutes to do it. Hold yourself to the time pressure and use an alarm to keep yourself on track.
ACTION STEP: Take a moment to look at your task and see if it can be completed in 15-20 minutes. If it can’t, break it up into a smaller to do.
5) Reward Yourself.
After you’ve completed the deliverable, be sure to reward yourself. And I don’t mean saying “ok, it’s done. What’s next?” If it’s the end of the day, close up and head home. Or head to lunch a bit early and go out with a friend for lunch. Remember, it’s got to be something you like to do to be motivating.
ACTION STEP: Write the reward you’ll get after you finish the deliverable as a task on your to do list.
Alright, now it’s time to get back to work!