I am the last person who should be writing about ways to stop procrastinating at work. Procrastination has been my operating principle since high school, maybe earlier. I think I went into writing as a daily newspaper reporter and then daily blogger in part because I need firm deadlines or else I won't get anything done. I almost never miss deadlines, but I cut it close. I am on time. And nearly pathologically incapable of really working on something until I know I have precisely enough time left to get it done. At 28 I got tentatively diagnosed with ADHD, which is part of the problem I think (not an excuse, but an explanation). The point is: I procrastinate. Do you procrastinate? Let's investigate whether there are any possible ways to cut it out a little.
I've compiled advice from Real Simple to Scientific American, and I can't guarantee any of it will work but maybe some of it is worth giving a try? Because our collective tendency to procrastinate is only going up: In 1978, about 5 percent of Americans thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators, but now it’s 26 percent. Whether you're a chronic procrastinator like a quarter of us or you just get hung up on online distractions from time to time, here are a few expert-endorsed hacks for boosting productivity.
1. Understand procrastination isn't your destiny.
Procrastination isn't ingrained but learned behavior, often tied up with emotional response. This means that you can train yourself to respond differently and not procrastinate so damn much. "Chronic procrastinators tend to wrestle with anxiety, depression, and self-critical thoughts more than others do," according to Scientific American. "Research is showing that procrastinators use distractions and temptations as a way to neutralize negative emotions. Learning more effective techniques for regulating emotions can counteract the tendency to delay important tasks and help people commit to their goals." But not everyone procrastinate for the same (or only one) reason, and figuring out why you procrastinate might be part of the remedy, too. Some people find social media distractions hard to resist, some enjoy the adrenaline of cutting it close on deadlines, etc.
2. Do It Step By Step.
"Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us," says Lifehack. Try breaking work down into little parts and focusing on one part at a time. "If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking 'gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!'" Breaking projects down into smaller steps also gives you a better idea of how much work needs to be done, instead of the work just existing in some sort of amorphous shape in your head and on your to-do list.
3. Just make a decision.
From the Positivity Blog: "When you procrastinate, you want to do something but you don’t take the action that is in alignment with that thought. You become conflicted within. What you do always sends signals back to you about who you are. Sure, doing affirmations where you say to yourself that you are confident can help you. But taking the confident actions you want to take over and over again is what really builds your self confidence and a self-image of you being a confident person. When you procrastinate you lower your self esteem and send signals back to yourself that you are a, well, a kinda lame and indecisive person." Tough love?
4. Get All Buddhist About It.
Healthy living blogger Leo Babauta writes at Fast Company about how "letting go" enabled him to stop procrastinating. In order "to let go of the distractions and false needs that cause procrastination," Babauta says: "I watched my urges to check (email and websites online), to go to the comfort of distractions. I saw that I wanted to escape discomfort of something hard, and go to the comfort of something familiar and easy. I realized I didn’t need that comfort. I could be in discomfort and nothing bad would happen. In fact, the best things happen when I’m in discomfort."
5. Start Your Day Over at 2 p.m.
Time management consultant Eva Wisnik says to stop at 2 p.m. each day (or whatever time is mid-way through your workday) and "assess how much you've accomplished, remind yourself of what's critical, and alter your plan so you can tackle the most important thing." Kind of like one of those Scooby Doo do-overs. Add coffee, tea, or your morning beverage of choice to trick your senses into re-setting for productivity.
6. Incentivize productivity.
We get distracted by things like Twitter and online memes because they provide us with little hits of dopamine. Create the same effect by setting small rewards for yourself when you complete a task — a walk, a break, a cup of tea, a snack, 10 minutes on Tinder, whatever. "Procrastinators have a problem with delaying gratification," writes xoJane's Hristiqn Nikolov. By creating small incentives for oneself to finish tasks, you "invest in your personal development in terms that your tech-addicted brain is already familiar with."
7. Avoid "The Dark Playground."
The Dark Playground idea comes from graphic blogger Wait But Why, who describes something sadly and hilariously recognizable to any procrastinator. "It's a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn't actually fun because it's completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn't gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses." See advice for avoiding the dark forest of procrastination here.
Image: Wait But Why/Huffington Post