Before you clicked on this article, were you scrolling through your Facebook news feed? Or perhaps you were watching those crazy cats on Youtube? Better still, did you spend an hour Googling ideas about how to make dinner – quickly? Seems a bit counterproductive doesn’t it.
Before I wrote this piece, I absolutely HAD to do the laundry. But not just the laundry. It was also essential that I wash my hair, did some dishes and emptied the fridge of mouldy leftovers before I turned on my computer, watched a cute cat video on Youtube and (finally!) got to writing.
Procrastination can really mess up your day and it’s like kryptonite for creativity. We can all do it from time to time but, like any bad habit, stopping it is the really hard part.
Procrastination can affect more areas of your life than you might think. Here are just four:
- Friendship: Are you always the one who’s running late? Sure your friends joke about it now but after a while you might find the social invites start to dry up. It’s also time to make that long overdue catch-up for coffee (I’m guilty of this!).Procrastination destroys time management and potentially your friendships.
- Career: Filling out that job application or meeting that deadline might fall into the too-hard-basket for now but it could cost you that dream job or a payrise – see the next financial point!
- Financial: Paying bills late (and paying interest), buying gifts last minute (and paying more) or getting a taxi (instead of public transport, because you’re running late) are all little expenses that add up.
- Health: This could be one of the most serious consequences of procrastination. Not making an appointment with the Doctor about that strange lump? Prioritising a Google search over some gym time? I’ve been guilty of the latter!
On the flip side, however, procrastination can (very occasionally) work to your advantage. Like yesterday when I simply had to go to the gym before I put that presentation together. With a clearer mind for a more productive work day, my health and my clients all won!
Generally though, procrastination just leaves you feeling flat and unfulfilled. I know because I’ve been doing it for years.
I remember back in my school and university days when I still lived with my parents. My bedroom was never cleaner than at exam time. This habit followed me into the corporate workplace but instead of cleaning my bedroom, I’d ensure my email inbox was perfectly up to date and my collection of Post-It Notes was colour coordinated.
Now that my business operates (mostly) from a home office, distractions like the laundry have been known to take precedence over client deadlines (just don’t tell my clients that!).
Unfortunately, despite all the great technological advancements that have been made in this world, those brilliant men and women still haven’t discovered a way to make my work write itself!
Procrastination is like superglue for productivity. You get stuck doing <insert unimportant task here> and your day goes nowhere. Sure you might get to watch that cat video or get that hair out of the shower drain (WIN!) but you’ll also never get that promotion (LOSE!).
Being fully aware that I procrastinate has meant that, over the years, I’ve paid particular attention to anything or anyone with suggestions on how not to procrastinate. Basically, there is a lot of conflicting information so you have to find what works best for you. Here are some ideas that you might find useful:
- Write a list
You might already write a To-Do list but the next step is to prioritise the tasks on that list. From there, you might want to apply some of the next 4 steps to keep you going.
- Remove distractions
Distractions could be anything from social media to chatty colleagues. The first step is to be aware they exist then put strategies in place to avoid them. On occasion, I’ve taken my laptop to work from a café with no Wi-fi and put my phone on Flight-mode so that I can’t be distracted.
- Do small tasks first
Yes and No. It all depends on what the simple task is. Does it relate to the priorities on your To-Do list? Alphabetising your bookshelf is simple enough but it’s not going to help you get to the gym.
By breaking important tasks down, they’re not so daunting and don’t feel as overwhelming – which we know can lead to more procrastination.
- Publicise your intentions
I’m a big fan of accountability and its capacity to kill-off procrastination. In the past, I’ve even updated my Facebook status with intentions, to avoid procrastination. There’s nothing like the threat of a mass virtual butt-kicking to get me working.
- Start small
This is by far my favorite tip for pulverising procrastination and it’s very different to the first point about starting small tasks first.
Here, the focus is on doing something, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. “Just Do It” is how Nike would put it. “Just Start It” is how I would put it.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be started. Or as Elizabeth Gilbert put it, ‘Done is better than good.’
There’s also some interesting science to this concept that I think you’ll be interested in. The Zeigarnik effect was first conceived by Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s. It’s a productivity boosting concept that highlights the importance of just starting, even if it’s a small start.
Zeigarnik conducted a series of studies and showed that the brain actually prioritises incomplete tasks over completed tasks (you can read more about it here).
So if you just start small, at least your brain will be more likely to remember the task and keep that momentum going until you complete it.
If your procrastination was around writing a report at work (for example). Start small. Open a new word document and save it to your desktop so it’s there for later (unless you want to write the whole thing now – that’s ok too!). It’s a very small but it’s a start.
Or perhaps your procrastination isn’t so much around work but related to your fitness? Again the principles are the same. Start small. Start something, anything – just start.
You might not enter a marathon tomorrow but you can at least walk to the end of the street and back or even just do a few stretches in the living room and work up from there. It’s not huge but it is something.
Ok, it’s time you stopped procrastinating and reading articles online. Get back to work!
P.S. Do you have a good way to stop procrastinating? We’d love to know about it so share below!