A month ago, I sprayed compressed air all over my keyboard. I was convinced that once the dust dislodged, I would be able to work; because at this moment, I could not get into work. This was a serious problem. I had no motivation. I was procrastinating. I had work to do and no inclination to do it. Apparently, this was not only true for me, but also for two of my friends, Jackie and Shannon.

The photo above is not a yoga pose or a dance move. I am warming up. Some of the poses for my photo session took a lot of physical preparation with a focus on opening chest, back, quads, hip flexors, hamstrings and activating core muscles for stability. There was no way I could have done some of the poses without a good warm up. I have to warm up and ground myself before I start things.

Jackie does ballet. These are people who warm up; they even have warm up accessories to prep them for dance. Shannon is a runner. Distance runners have their routines; they just don’t dash out at a 6-minute pace. We all need warm ups to prepare us for the big tasks. In yoga, for the more challenging poses, I know what key muscles are involved and I ensure they are warm and ready.

Why should work be any different? How can this “warm up” apply to procrastination?

  • Define the objective and why. If I say, “Oh, I have so much work to do.” Well, that is meaningless; it doesn’t give me a definitive set of actionable items or how those items will get me closer to achieving my goal.
  • Determine or estimate a realistic amount of time it will take to complete the action and stick to it. If I am struggling with the time component or even a good reason – the objective may be too big, so rein it in. It may be a few action items in disguise.
  • Make a plan. List all the individual tasks you can identify and when you will get them done. I have to identify concrete actions and how they serve the endgame.

Opening my inbox with 150 emails overwhelmed me and immediately put me into a state of procrastination. Two years ago, I initially cleaned out my inbox down to one page every Thursday. I called it email amnesty day. It occurred to me, if I could get it down to one page, I could empty it out. For about a month, every Thursday I went on empty. Why not every day? Email is not a to do list. My inbox overflowed because I had no actionable items or timeframes – just a growing list a subject lines that mocked me.

I set an objective – clear out my work inbox. I set a timeframe – everyday. If I received an email that required action from me, I scheduled it in my calendar along with a reasonable amount of time to do it. I also immediately answered those emails I could. The bonus, I found that colleagues preferred a brief, quick answer rather than long, elegant prose. The key was looking at my email as actionable items versus informational items.

As for my more recent period of procrastination, I looked at my work calendar for the next month. I identified three projects. For each one, I determined the objective and the why. Then I went and had a cup of tea. You can’t rush these things. This is the warm up, as if opening the shoulders and hamstrings for yoga poses. Small manageable chunks. When I returned, I determined my time estimates and scheduled my deadlines in my calendar. Then I had a bowl of gelato. Back at the desk again, I started listing the individual tasks that had to be done.

Warming up is a great way to tackle seemingly large projects, and a reminder that I should not expect to sit down at my desk and suddenly be immersed in a task from start to finish. Small manageable chunks.

Alas, that was a few months ago, but right now my immediate pressing task was Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale. My objective was to supplement my wardrobe with new pieces at reduced prices. My timeframe was Friday at 10am, my lunch hour, before choice items were gone. My tasks included: review the sale items online and make a list of the items which interested me. This allowed me to determine the amount of funds I needed in my account to complete the transactions. With my list of scouted items in hand, I deftly maneuvered around my fellow bargain hunters, who tended to display the aggressive characteristics that are usually reserved for the holiday season. You see, for this task, I had an objective – buying. I had to differentiate “shopping” from “buying,” and this was definitely buying.

After all, I need to plan so I can balance active maintenance of this blog, excel at my career and enjoy my life.