You’ve got an important project that needs to be completed. However, instead of working on it you are busy doing other things like watching funny videos on Youtube, checking what your friends are up to on Facebook, browsing cat pictures on Reddit, hitting the new messages button on your email, or surfing yummy food blogs. Doing anything else seems like a better idea than working on what really needs to be done.
Does this sound familiar? If you are nodding your head yes, then you understand what it is like to suffer from procrastination. I would know because I’m a master procrastinator. Basically, for procrastinators we need some type of deadline or urgency before we can get our brains into gear and focus on the task at hand. Otherwise we would happily spend all day playing video games and taking naps. In college I would put off writing papers until the night before and then stay up all night cranking out something amazing.
Being self-employed, over the years I’ve had lots of times where I’d put off doing what needs to be done because I am not accountable to anyone but myself. Even now, I would hear bloggers say how they can hunker down for a week and write over a dozen new posts while it would take me sometimes a week just to get started on one.
Don’t let procrastination get in the way of accomplishing your goals. Time is one of the few things in the universe that can’t be recovered once it is gone. Here are a few things I do when I find myself stuck in an infinite loop of do-nothingness:
1. Break apart a big project into smaller parts
One of the reasons why we procrastinate is because we get overwhelmed by what needs to be done. Say for example if we had to read a manual or textbook. Instead of looking at the hundreds of pages full of words that need to be tackled, break it down into chapters. If that is still too much, break it down more, into individual pages and paragraphs. When I bought a foreclosure that needed a lot of work done, I worked on one thing at a time. When that thing was done, I either started on the next item or called it a day and went home early as a reward. It’s the same thing with writing blog posts. If I find myself stuck, I will sit down and tell myself I will write a paragraph before doing something else. Even doing something as simple as typing out the title helps.
2. Create a to-do list
Like many people, I don’t like cleaning. Yet I do it because I like the feeling of a job well done and seeing the results of a clean place. One thing that I’ve done to keep me on course is to get a whiteboard. Create a list of projects and write them down. I find that writing things down helps me be more accountable and keeps me focused on what needs to be completed and in what order. Then cross out items or check them off the list as they are completed. This way, each time you see your to-do list, you are seeing your progress towards the finish line.
3. Make goals along the way. Reward yourself
Rather than one big reward at the end of the project, look back at the first tip of breaking a project into smaller parts and reward yourself as you hit each goalpost. This will keep you from getting burnt out from throwing yourself headlong into a big project without any breaks. With only one reward at the end, what could happen is you start the project all gung-ho about getting that project done. Then as you get further along into the project, you lose the initial enthusiasm and before you know it, you are stuck in the procrastination loop again. With rewarding yourself along the way, you stay motivated. This reward could be anything. If your goal was to read for an hour, reward yourself with 15 minutes to check the sports scores or your email.
4. Create your own deadlines
Remember how I mentioned how I couldn’t sit down and focus on writing a paper until the day before it was due? By creating deadlines to get things completed, you are forcing yourself to stop putting things off until the very end. If there was only one deadline at the end of the month, you will see that you have plenty of time available to procrastinate. By breaking up your work into weekly goals and deadlines, you are forced to at least get something done each week.
5. Change your environment
Do you remember seeing in the movies how in the old days someone would get up in the morning, pour themselves a cup of coffee, and then read the newspaper before going to work? That is a type of habit, and procrastination is one too. I’ve been working from home for over a decade. It’s really easy to get into a habit of getting up, walking 15 feet to the computer, and pulling up news or social media to see what has happened overnight and end up spending all morning surfing around on the internet. I’ve found that leaving the house and working elsewhere like at a friend’s office helps immensely with my productivity. Other places you can go for a change in environment are coffee shops, public or college libraries, coworking spaces, or even outside at a local park. Instead of being somewhere where you’ve fallen into a comfort zone, you are in a new location with new stimuli and less regular distractions like the fridge full of snacks in your kitchen or that fidget spinner sitting on your desk.
6. Get rid of your procrastination time-sucks
If you find yourself constantly distracted by Youtube channels, Facebook updates, your phone, or items on your desk, you can make it harder for yourself to access them. In my case, my computer at home has my online accounts logged in and cookied, so it is really easy to visit my daily sites by clicking on the down arrow on the address bar of my browser or typing the letter “F” in the browser will immediately have the browser prefill it with “facebook.com” because it knows you spend so much time on there and it only wants to be more “helpful”. On my laptop however, I have none of those sites saved and because I might not even remember the password for them off the top of my head, I can’t easily access them. If you are more computer savvy, you can set up virtual machines for work use only, or have your browser delete your history or cookies upon exiting. For items on your desk or if it is your phone that distracts you, you can move them out of sight like in a drawer, or put your phone on vibrate or turn off notifications.
7. Make work fun
If something seems boring to you, combine it with something you like doing to keep it interesting. When I did a 2,500 mile roadtrip across the country, I spent most of it listing to audiobooks, which made the drive feel faster and take away the monotony of watching hundreds of thousands of lane markings go by. You can do something similar, like listening to music when you clean; enjoy a candy bar while you do TPS reports; study outside at the park on a nice day. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
8. Create a procrastination distraction
When I wake up, the first thing I do in the morning is go downstairs to check my email and the news while I eat lunch (I don’t do mornings). At one point, I found I was spending too much time surfing the internet and not doing my work. So I started going back upstairs to brush my teeth and to wash my face after I finished eating; things I would normally do every morning after breakfast if I had a job to go to. What I did was break my focus on the web browsing and retrain my brain to start thinking about work once I come back downstairs afterwards. If you find yourself spending too much time doing everything but what needs to be done, consider getting up and clearing your mind with a short break.
9. Tell others about your goals
Have you noticed how many blogs will have a notice saying there will be new updates on certain days every week? Not much else will kick your butt into gear more than having thousands of people who are expecting to see something new the next time they visit. Tell your friends, colleagues, and family about what you are working on. This could spur you to get something completed for when they ask you about your progress.
10. Find a friend
This is similar to the above advice, but offers a little more personal touch. This could be someone who is in a similar situation as you so you can bounce ideas and plans off each other. Examples of this could be a fellow programmer, blogger, small business owner, or another stay at home mom. They aren’t exactly your competition, so you are helping each other succeed by holding each other accountable to his/her goals. I have a friend in b2b sales I talk to regularly who asks what I’m currently working on with my online businesses, and I ask whether he has gotten any good deals lately in return.
11. And finally, just get started
I know this advice sounds really simple and you’ve probably heard it all the time already, but it works. Sometimes you just need to take action after all the time spent planning, researching, and spinning your wheels. In my experience from writing papers and now blog posts, words and ideas would start flowing once I start putting my thoughts on the screen. The hardest part of anything is getting that initial momentum going and once that ball starts rolling downhill, it is easier to keep it rolling.
Do you suffer from procrastination? What are some methods you use to get back to work after getting off track?