Procrastination is insidious. We want to do something, but yet we find myriad ways to avoid it. Maybe we have a few minutes of productivity followed by a few hours (days?) of facebook, youtube, twitter.
I’ve found that starting a task is always the hardest part in overcoming procrastination. It’s fairly easy to keep your car going down the road once it’s moving but breaking that stiction to get started is where we fail.
There is no magical solution but here are some things that have helped break me loose
- Don’t turn mistakes into failures
- Walk before you can run
- Screw around honestly
- Find an external driver for your intrinsic motivation
- Don’t be yourself
- Do what you can, not what you should
- Stop in the middle of a task
Don’t turn mistakes into failures
If you’re driving down the road and you steer too close to the shoulder, you don’t just let go of the wheel and give up. You simply, non-dramatically, steer back onto the road.
It should be the same way when you find yourself not being as productive you had planned. When we realize we are in trouble because we waited too long to do something we beat ourselves up for it. At some level we are substituting the emotional satisfaction of being hard ourselves for the true challenge of getting back up.
Being accountable doesn’t only mean admitting when you messed up, it means fixing your mistake as well. When you set a goal and don’t reach it, don’t stop trying. The difference between a mistake and a failure is not giving up.
Walk before you can run
Be realistic. The other aspect of being accountable not setting yourself up for failure by creating unrealistic goals. Setting stretch goals is not a bad idea, but only when we are ready for that.
If you are having issues with procrastination then now is not the time to be loading more weight on your back by adding tough goals. For example, if you haven’t exercised for years despite wanting to get in shape, start off by walking more, not running a marathon. Build a drumbeat of small successes.
It may not feel much but there is a certain kind of heroism in the perseverance needed for baby steps to eventually make a difference.
Screw around honestly
Often when we are distracting ourselves from work it’s with something we don’t really enjoy or care about. We feel guilty about doing something really fun or enjoyable because we are “supposed” to be doing something else. We aren’t honestly working, we aren’t honestly enjoying ourselves, we are in this grey area of blah.
Part of being effective is being honest with yourself. To that end, it helps to schedule our free time rather than only our work time. Something like setting a side a specific 30 minutes of your work calendar each day for doing something you actually enjoy. It could be as simple as reading a magazine or just enjoying some time leisurely drinking a cup of coffee. Just something that you really truly enjoy.
And just like you would respect a scheduled work event by not scheduling something on top of it, treat your personal enjoyment time the same way.
Find an external driver for your intrinsic motivation
People talk about internal motivation all the time, eg finding your passion. I’m not necessarily saying that is not good. Intrinsic motivation is great.
But part of the problem with intrinsic motivation is that it is a high bar to require that for motivation in our everyday life. It is subject to your inner demons. You are your own worst enemy and your own best friend.
Humans are social animals and the pressure of outside expectations can be a useful thing to harness for our own internal goals. For example, I am very motivated by my kids. In particular, I’ve found that thinking about setting a good example for them is a useful boost to get me over the hump when I am dilly-dallying about something.
Don’t be yourself
We are sometimes harder on ourselves than other people are because we compare other people’s great external end results with our own messy internal process. We don’t recognize that everybody has an imperfect process and instead assume great results only come from a perfect person. We put success down to a trait that we are missing.
If you think of yourself as the “type of person who screws around all the time”, then pretend you’re someone else. What would that imaginary super-together person you have in your mind do in the current situation? That person who always works hard and never screws around?
Pretend you’re that person. Do whatever you think they would do. Faking it until you make it is not faking it
Do what you can not what you should
Sometimes perfectionism becomes the problem. We don’t know what is the exact right thing to do so we freeze.
But you can’t steer unless you are moving so it is helpful to start with something we are sure is not completely wrong rather than with something we are sure is exactly right.
Once you’ve broken loose and started to move down the road you can start steering and being more effective about your decisions
Stop in the middle of a task at the end of the day
So we managed to get something done today. Great! But then we have to start the battle all over again tomorrow.
When I was working for myself, the hardest thing I found wasn’t necessarily getting work done but figuring out what to start with each day.
So what I did was stop in the middle of a task at the end of the day. That way, I knew the first thing to do the next day was finish off that task. I didn’t have to spend time thinking about what to do and that initial action naturally led into something else.
For example, if I was writing something, code, a blog post, etc, I would literally stop in the middle of a sentence or sometimes even a word. The next day I would pick up at that obvious point and be back in the flow in no time.
None of these are magic but they are good tools to have in your belt when you are trying to be productive.