Welcome, fellow procrastinator, you are among friends. Whether you feel intimidated by your ever-growing to-do list, struggle with concentration or have been putting off that one task for weeks, I think it’s fair to say: Trust me, we’ve all been there. I’m also constantly trying hard to increase my productivity and come up with the best solutions to not only get things done, but make me feel excited about doing them.
In order to reduce my own top-notch-procrastinating, I ‘monitored’ myself for a while and thought I’d share my findings with you. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out and never procrastinate anymore. Sometimes, it can even be good for you! But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the time we’re making excuses, and those need to stop. So, here’s my advice on how to deal with procrastination:
Sit yourself down and get real
If you find yourself not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, take a moment and check in with yourself. Why are you avoiding this task? Writing your thoughts down can help visualise a problem at the back of your mind that you might not even have been aware of. Once you know the reason why you are procrastinating, it gets easier to effectively conquer it. Or maybe you realise that the problem is actually much smaller than you made it out to be! If you keep these notes, over time you might also see possible recurring patterns of similar reasons why you procrastinate. Getting some insight usually shows that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think.
Do as little as possible & allow mistakes
Often, we procrastinate because we are afraid. Of failure, mediocrity, struggling, or nothing specific at all. Take a deep breath and do the tiniest part of your task. Don’t think about all the steps it entails – just set one foot in front of the other. Open that empty document. Give it a name. A headline. Write the first word. The first sentence. The tiny things add up, and you will be further ahead than before! Even if it’s not where you planned on being, that’s okay. You did something, and that counts. You can also set yourself a time limit and work on it for a few minutes only. Even if it’s daunting, you can manage five minutes. And tell your inner perfectionist to go for a walk right now – they will be needed for revisions and improvements later, but in this moment all that matters is getting started. Whatever you’re doing, it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Create the environment you need to stay concentrated
Getting into your work flow is a major success, but of course, it can be difficult to stay in it. There are lots of different types when it comes to concentration. Some people can only stay focused for a short amount of time, others cannot get interrupted for hours or they lose their train of thought, and for some it always changes. If you don’t know where you belong here, try different methods and keep track of your results to see how you work best. Then, model your surroundings accordingly. It sounds cheesy, but putting motivational quotes around my workspace really helps me. I also like to listen to my favourite radio station, a study playlist with instrumental music, nature sounds or use the brilliant Coffitivity, which lets you choose from different cafe sounds for a motivating atmosphere. Add an actual cup of tea or coffee, and you’re good to go. Remember to drink lots of water too!
Don’t let yourself get distracted
Different types aside, distractions can derail all of us from a productive roll. With notifications and the world wide web only one click away, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist them. Thankfully (and maybe ironically), technology can help us there. Checking your phone is a sinkhole for you? Try apps like ‘Forest‘ that will stop you from absentmindedly scrolling around. Do you need smaller working intervals? Use timers like Pomodoro that remind you of breaks and let you concentrate on your work. They exist as websites, browser extensions and apps. If you need to go one step further, the most extreme website blocker I know is the Chrome extension ‘StayFocusd‘. You can customise a bunch of personal settings, and there’s even a ‘Nuclear Option’ that will block everything (of your choosing) for a certain amount of time. This extension is my last resort because it’s so extreme, but therefore effective. I tried a similar app (I think it was called OffTime?) for a while, but on my phone I’d rather use Forest which gives me more flexibility. I did delete the Netflix app, though. We just don’t go well together.
Be productive instead of forcing yourself
If you’re like me, there are lots of different tasks on your list that need doing. Use that variety to your advantage: If you’re really not in the right headspace for a task, pick another one that stands out to you at this moment. You just can’t form a coherent thought on paper? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Get some admin or manual work done that doesn’t require much thinking. It’s difficult to draw the line between procrastination and being productive elsewhere, so remember to stay honest with yourself. But personally, I think that even if you didn’t make much progress, it’s still better to have an empty page but a tidy workspace than an empty page and a cluttered workspace at the end of the day. Just don’t overdo it, and make sure to try again tomorrow.
Take a break, change the scene
If all fails and you just can’t do anything, listen to your body. Sometimes, we expect too much of ourselves and even ignore break times in favour of work. On short term this can be okay, but being exhausted won’t help you in the long run. At other times, our thoughts can get all tangled up and we think it’s our fault, when we actually just need some time off and get outside our heads. Change your perspective, go to a different room or place, open the windows and put your phone away if possible. Go for a walk or do an entire workout! Make sure to get enough fresh air and take that break if you need it. Moving and resting are productive too.
Sort out your priorities
Prioritising is one of the most important skills to have, and I found out only recently how to make it work for me. My to-do list had become incredibly overwhelming and I had no idea where to start. As a pitiful slave to my mood, assigning tasks to specific hours of each day never worked for me. Often I would want to do something else than planned, or some tasks would simply take longer than expected, life would get in the way, and the whole plan was ruined. In the end I probably spent more time (re-)scheduling than actually doing stuff.
Finally, I tried something new. I grouped all the tasks in different categories and prioritised each one – and suddenly, they didn’t seem so daunting anymore. I could structure my work but stay flexible at the same time. Since then, I’ve tweaked the system here and there, and integrated it into my bullet journal. It is now my Priority Log, and here is how it works:
I decided on five “priority categories” which decrease with the amount of effort a task requires:
- urgent – tasks that require a lot of effort, are of high importance and/or have a deadline
e.g.: adulting, work, administrative paperwork and important messages
- general – tasks that require considerable effort, need to be completed in a specific time frame but can also be personal
e.g.: drawing up plans and schedules, things involving friends, social media work
- personal – tasks that require effort but are also enjoyable and not very pressing, mostly private things
e.g.: writing letters, bullet journal work, blog posts
- choice – tasks that are relaxing/repetitive/good for my health, things I personally want to do, long term projects
e.g.: working out, writing, reading, art, cooking healthy food, housework/tidying
- random – unspecific tasks that aren’t very important and can be done partly and/or at any given time
e.g.: decluttering, some calls, making lists
Each category is assigned a colour, which helps me visualise what the most pressing tasks of the week are, and also the progress I made over the days. I now put one of the little trackers in my weekly spreads, either like in example one, which shows how many tasks of each category I completed each day, or like example two. This linear approach shows the order in which I complete the tasks of the different categories, and it helped me understand that I sometimes need to get as much as possible from one category out of the way, and sometimes mix it up. Example one is good to notice when you are avoiding a specific category for a few days (it’s usually category one) so you can get back on track towards the end of the week. As always with the bullet journal, you can use this concept the way it works for you! It will probably change with my needs as well, but for now it’s really helpful to me. If you use it and share a photo on Instagram, please tag me – I’d love to see what you make of it.
Reward yourself – You deserve it
Perhaps even more important than prioritising is reflection. Keep track of your progress, reward yourself and be proud of everything you did! Appreciating my work is something I never really focused on, because it all felt insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I’m still learning to take a step back and value the small achievements. So, I’m bribing myself with books. (This system might not be fully developed yet – you see the problem with limited money and shelf space here, but books just make me happy and I want to buy them anyway!) I count how many tasks I have in a week – the last total was 37 – and calculate several stages of rewards. When I get 25%, 75% and finally 90% of my to-do-list done, I buy myself one of my most anticipated titles. This is not optional, because until now, I’d give myself guidelines like this and then put off the reward. I didn’t feel like I deserved it, as there was still so much more to do. But this time, I want to recognise all my efforts. The 25% book is now on its way and I’m really excited! Obviously I can’t do this forever, but right now it motivates me to check more tasks and get to the next book.
In summary: Do the things. You are capable of Anything.
Working and studying can be quite isolating tasks, so remember that you are not alone in your struggle, and that you are doing better than you think. You got this. Almost every time I complete a task, I feel this immense relief and think, I’m so glad it’s finally done. I did it, in spite of that voice that told me I couldn’t, and that makes me proud. This is the feeling I want to concentrate on, that I want to have every day. And if I check in with myself, the difficult tasks are usually not as bad and awful as my head makes them out to be. Still, I need to take my own advice more often, so here’s the short version to come back to whenever you need it:
A quick guide to being more productive
- identify why you procrastinate
- start small and allow mistakes
- create the working environment you need
- minimise distractions
- focus on productivity
- take breaks and move
- prioritise tasks
- be proud and reward yourself
What are your tips for procrastinating less?
Thank you for reading this far, and please let me know if this post was helpful to you! Also, feel free to leave requests for other subjects you’d like me to cover in the comments. For now, I’m sending you all the best wishes for whatever you’re setting out to do. You got this!
Love, Sandy x