Let’s get this out of the way right now: everybody procrastinates! I have never worked with a client, or spoken to a professional group, where procrastination was not an issue.
Engaging in low-priority activities is the most common way to avoid important work. Dilly-dallying in the inbox or searching online for that elusive piece of information is “pretend work” which our brain fools us into spending time on.
The brain’s part in procrastination works like this: as impulsive creatures, we seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our subconscious mind imagines the postponed task will be unpleasant and unrewarding, so we instinctively check our inbox “just in case” a more pleasurable diversion awaits.
So, how can you corral your impulses and get moving on the important task at hand? Learn to catch yourself at procrastinating.
Planning out your work day in advance helps a lot with this. If you plan on drafting a document before 11am, and you realize at noon that you’re dawdling online instead of writing…. voila – you’ve caught yourself!
Your commitment to the task – as it appears in your daily plan – makes it easier to be aware of any distracting activity. And you’ll be able to reset that compass and head towards your north.
Once you recognize that you need to refocus, here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling.
Quarter of an hour power
Here’s my favorite technique for procrastination-busting: set a timer for 15 minutes.
Usually, you’re procrastinating about a task that takes more than 15 minutes, so with this method you are instantly off the hook from attaining perfection (more on that in a future post). Instead, you give yourself permission to do anything related to the task – for only 15 minutes.
When the timer goes off and the game is over, you’ll often find you want to keep going because you’ve broken through the initial resistance. And if those distractions become tempting again, simply set the alarm for another 15 minute chunk of work.
Nothing is everything
This time set a timer for 15 minutes and allow yourself to do nothing the entire time. Yes, you read correctly, consciously and deliberately avoid the task. Don’t work on it, or on anything else, while a whole 15 minutes ticks by. By the end of this time, your mind will be bursting to start on the task!
It’s the “don’t think about pink elephants” game*, just applied to work instead of pachyderms.
So go on, give these a shot – how does applying these tips change your productivity? And tell me, do you have any favorite techniques to stop your procrastinating brain in its tracks?
*This is an adaptation of an exercise from a study by Wegener, Schneider, Carter & White (1987). It showed that suppressing your thoughts doesn’t really work – distraction is more effective.