The other month I realised I was developing a procrastination habit. It was creeping in, slowly (much like that innocent toast-crumb covered plate and knife on the sink can morph into a crockery pile of “did we have 20 guests over yesterday and just not notice?!” proportions). That one’s not just me, is it? You’ve been there with creeping crockery, right? RIGHT? Ahem. Anyway, that’s how my procrastination started. Slowly. At first it was hardly something I noticed. One slipped project timeline here, one day where that “important” stuff got put on the backburner – “never mind, it’s just one day ha ha!” – …and then a week whooshed by. Being a former chronic procrastinator I noticed the signs and swung into action (using the 6 steps below). You see while it starts small, I know from experience that left unchecked procrastination creep has a big impact. For one thing, it can turn you from someone who’s so full of potential… to someone who’s secretly spinning in circles with that one thing that’s so important to you in your life just not moving forward anymore. Even if you’re reading this and thinking “er, has Marianne been sneaking into my head again?” let me assure you, there is a way out. But it might not look the way you expect it to.
Why conventional ‘procrastination advice’ might not always work for youHere’s the thing. Most procrastination busting advice focuses on tactics. Like “turn off your Facebook notifications!” or “check email once a day!”. Don’t get me wrong, these are great pieces of advice – so why don’t they always work? Simply, because when you’re a smart and creative person (which you are) these “naughty child” approaches are so easy to get out of. Don’t check Facebook? Sure thing! Oops, there goes 3 hours on another site instead. (see, I do live inside your head don’t I? Freaky…). And that’s the point. You are a smart person, not a naughty child. So rather than diving into a range of ‘be a good boy/girl now’ tactics that stick for about 10 minutes, let’s treat you as an adult by starting with your ‘big picture’ (hint: this will give you a heap more control over things). Only after these first big picture tips will we dive into some on-the-ground tactics to help you see things through for real.
6 smart steps to stop procrastinating (and start living)
1. Distinguish between the urgent and the importantProcrastination is often misunderstood as being a thing you do when you don’t go ‘anything’. But being in the grip of procrastination does not mean you don’t get things done. It just means you’re focusing on things outside of your ‘important’ list. After all, procrastination can be a busy thing: we clever folk can always find something urgent to do instead – and urgent is not the same as important.
Which begs the question: what’s important to you, honey?
And is the time you are spending on that honouring its importance to you?Remember if the two don’t match up this isn’t about blame or telling yourself you’ve been ‘naughty’. It’s about what you do with it from here. And what I suggest you do? Is honour the heck out of your answer. One way to do that is to ask the question “how does this serve me?” For example I use this when I’m in the middle of ‘not doing very much’. In procrastination mode I typically justify my ‘not much’ with a line like “I’m just getting ready for the day” but with this in mind I’ll ask: “does this serve my future self?”. And answer it honestly. Try it yourself: when you are about to do (or not do) something ask this simple question: how does this serve me? (Or does this serve my future self?) At the start of every thing, I ask myself this ‘why’ question. Sometimes it means keeping going with that task, sometimes it means doing it for a shorter amount of time, and sometimes it means closing it the heck down because it doesn’t serve my future self nearly as much as the thing I’m not doing because of it. Tip: When you ask yourself this question, honour your future self with the answer. This isn’t about justifying one thing or another. There’s no one grading you on your life. There is no right or wrong, only what’s moving you toward the person you want to step into, and what is not.
(If you haven’t spent much time getting clear on what is most important to you and how that’s fitting into you life, I’ve put together a simple exercise to get you thinking: click here to download it)
2. Install Momentum on your computer (seriously, now you can download your own momentum. I love the internet)Momentum is a free Google Chrome browser app that I’ve fallen in love with. At the start of the day you are asked “what is your focus for today” and you plug in your answer:
Every time you open a new tab in your browser this page comes up, but this time with your one line reminder there in bold. A friendly hello from this morning’s you, if you will. (So you don’t get bored, it comes with a fresh new background photo every day too). To get the most from your Momentum page, think of the MAIN THING you would be proud of (or disappointed if you didn’t do) at the end of that day and put that, and only that, down. For example it can be something specific like “complete introduction of new course” or a theme to fulfill on for the day like “relax with family”. You may have more on your list for the day but you know that if you got THAT done you are serving the person you want to be. This is the power of the one line format: you get a few minutes at the start of each day to think about what you would really value by the end, and have that pop up at you as you go throughout your day. You can download Momentum here for free: http://frh.me/chromemomentumapp (note this only works on Chrome, not other browsers).
3. Distinguish between fake work and real workThis is a way of checking in on yourself and getting more done (while feeling like you’re working less). Diving back to the big picture for a moment, what happens after you remind yourself of your important and start on it? Well, you’ll get started. But it’s possible you will get distracted after a while, right? You might spend ages on formatting a document in a way that no one really notices… or find yourself ending up down a google rabbit hole until you look up and think “oh my, is it bed time already?”– fake work vs real work how you can end the day saying “I worked hard!” but not feeling like you got anywhere. You don’t get paid for face time (or fake time) in free range land. The worst outcome for a free ranger or free range fledgling is to feel like you have no free time and are exhausted but actually have just procrastinated the heck out of your evening or day. The secret to getting around this is to be ruthlessly honest about fake work and real work. Solution? The second you see you’re doing fake work, get the actual heck up and leave the scene. How to do this: when it’s fake work – shut down. Close off the laptop, or move out of the room, whichever is appropriate for you. Leave the scene and do something different. You’ll learn to get honest with yourself: if you know that you’re just not on this and are going to spend 2 hours faffing, then spend 30 minutes doing something you love AWAY from the work scene. Walk, hoop, eat, call a friend, do something for you.
Warning: at first this will feel indulgent (and you will probably tell yourself it’s not allowed).
“I don’t have time!”
“Do things for ME? That’s selfish”
“No, I need to focus”But it is allowed. It’s not selfish. And you’re not actually focusing in that time anyway. After all, if you think about it there’s no outcome difference doing something that’s an indulgence for you vs messing around doing fake work…. Well, no difference except the fact that you’ll come back refreshed, and possibly more creative. No difference except that your day won’t feel like a blur anymore. No difference except that at the end of the day you may look back and go “wow, I thought I was working hard all day, but a huge chunk was fake work.” And from that place you’ll have the power to either change how you spend that time in terms of working better OR you’ll take time off consciously, actually enjoy it… and spend your now limited time so much more focused. Sounds like a pretty good outcome to me. You might just find your life open up and your relationships improve with this one tiny question. And all it takes is being conscious and honest about what’s going on in that moment.
4. Morning mattersThis is our first pure ‘tactic’. Simply: do the most important thing, first thing. Spend 30 minutes or one hour on your one main priority for the day (or that one important project that keeps being put on the backburner…) before doing anything else in the morning. Hit that timer button, do not log into anything or check anything (turn notifications off the previous day if they are going to bother you) and go. I know, I know, you’re not a morning person: but hear me out. There’s are several reasons why this works (and why it’s used by many successful people). Firstly when you wake up your mind isn’t yet cluttered by the minutiae of the day: that first email you read, that first news story you see, that first conversation sets the tone for your day and your thoughts start spiraling in another direction. When you wake up you’re ‘clean’ and you get to set the agenda for that next hour (best of all once you do this you’ll often find the rest of your day goes more smoothly too). Secondly, the closer you are to sleep state, the better (no, really). When you’re waking up your conscious mind isn’t rattling around like a pissed off bag of jellybeans – your unconscious, where creativity comes from is far more strongly activated. You know that way your best ideas come to you on a walk or in the shower? That’s the sort of space your mind is most likely to be in first thing (even if you’re not a ‘morning person’). I had a reference here for a study that backs up this second point based on what’s going on in the brain first thing in the morning… but, er, I lost it. (*shakes head at self*). If you know the study I’m talking about drop me a line in the comments so I can link to it here! Note: this ‘first thing in the morning’ advice might well be one you’ve heard before so this time my challenge to you is to do it. It really does work – and doesn’t require any ‘willpower’, just an alarm clock and a chunk of time spent even before your day kicks off. It is honestly the quickest win you can get in getting things done land.
5. Time chunkGot a project or ‘should do’ that’s been built up in your mind so much that it now seems like an Everest? Answer: chunk it. You can’t do that project in one sitting (I’m guessing!), but you can start rolling in 15 minutes. I know, I know, doing just 15 minutes at a time can seem like a waste of time (that’s why it’s tempting to read this advice and then think “well not for me, for me I’m going to wait until I can dedicate a full 3 hours to it. But not this week, I’m snowed under this week”). These 15 minutes aren’t about doing all the things. They are simply intended to open up that closed door and set things gently rolling. Here’s how to do it:
- Set a clear outcome for what you want to do in that time (make sure this is do-able).
- Now put that in the diary, as firmly as an appointment with someone hard-to-reach…
- Show up for it, exactly as you would if it was an appointment with that person you admire who is only in town once every 10 years.
- At the end, congratulate yourself, and schedule your next round for longer if you like.
Hint: before you start your time chunk, turn your internet off unless directly related to what you need to do in that moment. Have to send an email? Write it offline. When I do this I am amazed at the time my browser will suddenly be in front of me with “no internet connection” written on it. Eh? I think. Browser? I don’t even remember clicking that thing! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
In short: be honest about your mind wander reflexes and set yourself up for them in advance. For many of us the internet is a distraction so turn it (and any notifications) off for your time chunk: the world will still be there when you log back on but this time it will be a world where you don’t have that thing hanging over your head 😉