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To Do Lists – Working Session notes on Procrastination

Procrastination - How to conquer your To Do List as a VA - Sharon Stephen

We were delighted to have Sharon Stephen, The Personal Development Coach., who specialises in working with women entrepreneurs in the creative industries on Friday to help with our procrastination and list planning session.

As I explained, the background to this was a post we shared which had a phenomenal response on our Facebook group, the Map of Procrastination by Gemma Correl.

(Caroline’s comments in bold, Sharon’s in normal text)

We know rationally that we have to do marketing and our billing and all sorts of stuff to make our businesses successful – but instead we end up on Facebook all day. Why do we procrastinate?

  • First of all, it’s important to acknowledge what Procrastination is – it’s a form of stress relief. How often have we got a deadline looming and we decide to do the ironing or clean the bathroom! Yep we have all been there. And sadly, it doesn’t make the deadline go away – it’s still there we just have less time to do it in! which results in more stress.
  • You may have heard of Parkinson’s Law which is the rule that….“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” For example – you have 2 weeks to do a task so you will take that full 2 weeks to do it!
  • There is also a misconception that procrastination is associated with laziness and that is not the case at all! The difference is, is that you are actively choosing to procrastinate!
  • Of course, we all work better with a deadline in place but why give ourselves this pressure and put everyone within our environment at the mercy of our stress?!

What strategies are best for overcoming procrastination?

  • The good news is because procrastination is a habit, we can break it!
  • Understand that you are not a procrastinator – you have a habit of procrastination!
  • As procrastination is a form of stress relief we need to acknowledge where that stress is coming from. That is step one – what is going on behind the scenes for you.
  • Be kind to yourself! There is so much going on at the moment that isn’t within our control so please consider that.
  • The only way to break this habit is to acknowledge that you have a habit.  In order to break a habit, you don’t deal with the trigger, but what you can change is your pattern of avoiding work.
  • So next time you find yourself about to procrastinate, pause that thought… and I highly recommend the Mel Robbins ‘5 Second Rule’
  • This technique interrupts your thought pattern and lets you take back control, it also surges you to focus.
  • Then GO!  Just starting and spending 5 minutes on something, 80% of us will continue. It’s the starting element which is the hardest part!
  • The most common one, is sleeping in – you know when your alarm goes off and either you get up, or you hit snooze! Next time when you find yourself wanting to hit snooze use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, interrupt your thoughts and get out of bed!
  • Research shows that your most productive hours are the first 2 – 3 after you wake up and get ready. So, do what you have to do maximise those hours to do what is your biggest priority .
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We asked on the SVA FB Group what strategies people use for overcoming procrastination and the overwhelming answer was: “we make lists”. As a serial list maker, who often puts stuff I’ve already done on a list just to tick it off, how do we make sure those lists get done? 

  • Start of your list and the day with something you know you are going to achieve, that could be as simple as making your bed – that first score of the To Do List is going to encourage and motivate you to keep going.
  • Take the time to get organised – I like to take a couple of hours on a Sunday or just before I finish on the Friday afternoon to look at the week ahead to see what I have looming and plan in my To Do List around that.  I do that with my Gmail Calendar and insert to do’s as I would an appointment. An alarm goes off as a wee reminder and it keeps me on track. This also means I start Monday having a clearer idea of what’s what, what my priorities are and not that impending doom when you open your emails first thing.
  • I also have a notebook and write down anything small (usually life admin tasks) that crop up and try to group them together so I can deal with them all at once.
  • When are you most productive?  Identifying the time when you feel like you are firing on all cylinders! Is it first thing or in the afternoon and use that time to dedicate to the priority tasks? Also looking at how long that task is going to take? Can it be done in one sitting or does it need to be thought out over a couple of days?  When are you least likely to be interrupted? Research shows that the first 3 -4 hours from getting up and organised is the most productive of the day so……. Getting up earlier could be an option!
  • Eat That Frog!  What is the biggest task and chunk it right down – when is the deadline and work backwords, plan in additional time for anything that might crop up. DO this first.
  • Set boundaries – A friend messages you for a coffee? Take a minute to acknowledge how this is going to take you away from your goal? Can you reward yourself with this later?
  • Turn your phone on silent or delete your social media apps! What is the biggest distraction – mine was constantly checking my emails, of course nothing major came through but what I found was that I was spending all my time answering unimportant emails completely deflecting me from the task at hand.
  • Tidy your workspace – what does it mean to you to get organised? For me its ensuring my space is clean and tidy! I find it difficult to get into the work ‘zone’ otherwise.
  • Reward yourself! have a coffee, go for a walk! Taking breaks is so important especially when we are spending more and more of our time working and socialising on Zoom.
  • Redefine your goal – if you are really up against a deadline then let’s look at the implications – how can you still deliver and what will that now look like?
  • Remember it’s not a one size fits all situation; all our schedules and work/life patterns are different particularly now!  Spend some time working out what it means for you to be organised. Factoring in family time and breaks are just as important as planning in tasks.
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Let’s talk about goals – what makes a good one?

So, the other thing – we all have 24 hours in a day, we need to sleep for some of those, we have other commitments for our time… So how do we make sure everything gets done?  Paper diary? A list? OneNote? Online task list like Asana, Smartsheet, Trello etc?

  • When I create my To Do List I sit with my notebook and Google diary and block out time which I like to call focus time – this is the points of the day I can’t be interrupted, great for getting those bigger tasks out of the way. I also have a spreadsheet where I have my 5 year plan and every now and again I check in on it to see how I am working towards or away from it – it helps to keep me focussed on my long-term vision and also lets me reassess if my goals are still relevant / achievable.



  • Get Specific!!! What do you want – get exact! You want to be rich, exactly how rich do you want to be? You want more social media followers – how many do you want?  By being more specific you can start to visualise your goal and see it start to come to life – this helps you to focus.
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Measurable – how do you know if you have achieved your goals?

  • Break your goal right down into a step by step process, be realistic on how long this is going to take you and factor in what you can do each day, week or month to reach it.


  • See the progress and focus on what is in your control right now. Looking in at your goal every week or so helps you to be realistic and focussed it also gives you a moment think about how relevant this goal is still to you – has it altered in any way?

Relevant –

  • Why do you do what you do? Are the actions you are taking relevant?

Time Bound

  • Set a deadline! Make a schedule – work backwords (what are the steps you can take to get to this deadline). Can you make yourself accountable? If not, can you find someone that can hold you accountable?
  • Being self-employed can be tricky as we often need to determine our own deadlines. We need to be extra strict to manage them. I found having someone holding me accountable for my personal deadlines really help and it’s probably why Coaching is so effective.

Keep yourself on track! 

Add your goal or plan for next week to the Private SVA FB Group, we’ll check in with you when your goal is due to see how you are getting on!

Include: SMART goal, deadline, what difference it will make to your business.

For any further information or if I can help to hold you accountable, please feel free to drop me a line at: [email protected]

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