13 tips for tackling procrastination

Posted by / October 5, 2020

Nothing quite compares to that feeling of inner turmoil and frustration caused by procrastination. It’s capable of rendering otherwise productive, intelligent and diligent professionals temporarily useless – and it happens to almost everyone. There’s no doubt that it’s a complex problem. But here are some quick, actionable measures that you can take right now to begin overcoming pesky procrastination.

  1. Accept it.

Not to add to your to do list, but your first job is to accept that you are procrastinating. Pretending it’s not there is just going to add to your tension and turmoil. You have to be aware of the problem to begin tackling it rationally.

  1. Get away from your phone.

Smartphones are the absolute enemy of productivity. Hurling it towards the moon would be preferable, but the least you can do is keep your phone in a different room when you are working. Seriously. Get tough with yourself. The incessant rumbles and pings and push notifications can and will derail your day if you let them. All well and good, but what if you use your phone for work? What if you are waiting on an urgent call? Putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode will block all apps. You can then grant permission for the apps you need for work and choose to let phone calls through. Everything else will be blocked for you to pick up when you take your phone off Do Not Disturb mode.

  1. Get away from your inbox.

Speaking of distractions, close your inbox. Unless you work in customer service, you don’t need to be responding to every email as it comes in. Stop feeding that expectation and have more respect for your own time. Designate little windows in your day where you check and respond to emails and blast through them in batches. Sometimes procrastination happens because you don’t have room to focus. Get away from your inbox.

  1. Break big things down.

When you are struggling to find flow and momentum, you need to break things down. Big tasks can feel insurmountable and unconquerable when you look at them as a whole. But when you make progress impossible to avoid, you will get yourself back on track. Make one sentence your first milestone. Create a new folder. Save the new file. Do the smallest thing you can do to nudge yourself forward. When procrastination has hold of you, baby steps are the best way.  

  1. Set tight feedback loops.

Accountability can be highly motivating. Instead of reporting into your team or your seniors at the end of a big piece work, break the project up into a series of checkpoints/milestones at which you point you share progress with the people who matter. Alternatively commit to providing daily updates on your progress. The feeling of being answerable for your productivity can keep you honest.

  1. Give yourself a break. Literally.

Maybe you are procrastinating because you need a break. A proper one. Stop beating yourself up and get away from your desk. Go for a walk. Do something different. You can’t chop the field of wheat with a blunt scythe. Factoring breaks into your schedule will help you stay sharp. Just don’t look at your phone.

  1. Remind yourself of the reason why.

There’s a reason your project matters. And there’s a reason you do what you do. Remind yourself.

  1. Be brave.

Take a moment to remind yourself of how capable you are. Rather than judging your entire professional ability on this single project, remember the huge body of great work that you have behind you. This project isn’t going to make or break you, no matter how much it may feel like it. It’s also worth remembering that not every project requires perfection. Don’t sweat over every nuance when it’s not necessary.

  1. Try the pomodoro technique.

The pomodoro technique is a time management strategy. Essentially you work at timed intervals – typically 25 minutes – then stop for a three- or four-minute break. Every time you complete four blocks of timed work, you take a longer break – maybe 30 minutes or so. You may need to adjust the times involved, but it’s a good one to experiment with.

  1. Reward yourself.

Sometimes you can hack productivity by bargaining with yourself. When you hit a milestone you get x, when you finish the project you get y. Give yourself something fun to work towards and reward your progress.

  1. Plan tomorrow today.

Before you stop working each day, try to get into the habit of taking five minutes to plan your next day. Really focus on how you will go about your tasks. Visualise yourself working productively and smashing through your to do list. Identify where there may be barriers to your focus and plan ways to eliminate them. It works. When you wake up in the morning you won’t have to waste any energy thinking about the hows and whys of your day because you’ve already written the blueprint.

  1. Be agile.

The above point notwithstanding, you need to remain agile and flexible. Having your tasks allocated to specific dates and times is good to keep control of your deliverables. But there has to be an element of flex and room for things to change. Because they always do.

  1. Design your environment.

Lockdown brought working environments into sharp focus. But if one thing is clear, it’s that you’re not going to do your best and most focused work when you are sat on the sofa with the television on. Find a space that’s for work and work only. Surround yourself with cues that help you to get into a work frame of mind, whether that’s a few books on your area of expertise or a mug that you only use for work.

Over to you…!

Falling down the procrastination rabbit hole can lead you to a lonely place, full of self-doubt and frustration and anxiety. But try to see procrastination for what it is. Something that affects everyone from time to time. Something you have overcome in the past. Something you will overcome again. You’re not alone. You’ve got this.

You may also be interested in:

>> 10 quick tips for working from home – productively
>> 12 ideas for beating stress (and why they work)

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