How to stop procrastination and get out of work on time

Get through your to-do list in record time

‘I often have to work after hours to catch up, but I want to enjoy the long summer nights. How can I change this?

Summer evenings – sometimes hot, frequently not, but there’s always something exciting to do. The snag is while the daylight hours are longer, our workload isn’t any lighter and very often you’re still slogging away long after office hours. However, there are simple ways that you can win more free time in your evenings (and still have a lunch break).

Perhaps the biggest thief of time is our old friend procrastination. A 2015 study, published by lending company RateSetter and based on a YouGov survey of 2,000 adults, revealed that on average we spend 218 minutes procrastinating every day – 55 days of lost time each year. Employees waste 43 minutes daily doing non-work-related things. That’s precious time that could be better spent enjoying a balmy summer’s evening.

As you can see, the problem for most is not a lack of hours in the day, but poor time management. The first step is to stop trying to do everything at once. It drains your time and your brain. Experiments at Stanford University found multitaskers perform worse and have lower attention spans. It’s much more productive and time-efficient to do one task at a time. Take your to-do list and prioritise it according to how long each task will take. Once you know this, you can optimise your day to achieve maximum productivity.

‘Employees waste 43 minutes daily doing non-work-related things. That’s precious time that could be better spent enjoying a balmy summer’s evening’

For example, workplace productivity experts Shani Harmon and Renee Cullinan (co-founders of Stop Meeting Like This) advise sorting them into three groups: quick tasks that take 15 minutes or less, which can be completed whenever you have a brief moment; medium-length tasks that require more focus and can be completed perhaps when a meeting is cancelled; and finally, very time- consuming tasks that require a considerable amount of concentration and would need time blocked out in your calendar to finish.

The idea of pushing through the day without any breaks is tempting, but working full-throttle isn’t going to improve productivity. Psychologists at the University of Illinois found that taking brief breaks has been found to increase focus. Perhaps even think about going for a run during your lunch hour – research shows that regular exercise boosts energy levels and sharpens focus. Working in some mindfulness meditation throughout the day will also help you stay calm and boost concentration.

That doesn’t mean all down-time should be squandered. So-called ‘dead time’, such as the daily commute, can be filled with simple tasks, such as reading and replying to easy-to-answer emails. Ever heard of the two-minute rule? It says if a task only takes a couple of minutes, you should just do it rather than wasting time organising to complete it later. Get it done – now go out and enjoy yourself.

Matthew Jenkin is The Jackal’s careers columnist and expert to-do list conqueror