How to Beat Procrastination and Improve Productivity
'Stop procrastinating and just get on with it' - well, that's often easier said than done, and certainly for some more than others. The meaning of procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something, as we allow our minds to wander, to flit from one thing to the next, without actually creating a sense of focus in one place. But why do we procrastinate anyway?
According to a New York Times article, 'At its core, procrastination is about emotions, not productivity. The solution doesn’t involve downloading a time management app or learning new strategies for self-control. It has to do with managing our emotions in a new way.' This just scrapes the surface of the article, but the point is that we want to get to the root cause of our procrastination habits. Putting off a task (or three) may be linked to an insecurity about the task and its outcome - perhaps we don't think we have the knowledge to do the presentation, maybe we fear what people will think of the end result? Sometimes the precursor to the task is actually worse than the task itself - we overthink it, put it off, then put it off again and the whole situation then becomes more foreboding, and stressful when it really doesn't have to be. Once we actually get started, we realise that we're totally capable of achieving the task, and probably consumed more energy worrying about doing it than actually doing it. So yes, there is clearly an emotional and behavioural element to procrastination, and it can't simply be put down to laziness. Everyone's reasons will be different, and some will be more prone to procrastination than others. Decide what you want to achieve and set out your ideal plan. Be mindful that an ideal plan may not come to fruition in all the ways you set out, but the intention must be there. Here are some ways to improve your focus, your productivity, and in the long-run your mental wellbeing:
Set Small Tangible Goals
Setting small achievable goals will help to create focus.
Achieving a goal, whether small or large has a positive effect on our mood and motivation; our reward system is stimulated, which helps us to move on to the next task, as the list now feels lighter and potentially less daunting, or unachievable.
From work deadlines and fitness goals, to setting aside time to relax and unwind, make a conscious effort to map out these goals to see where you intend to spend your time and your energy.
For the workaholics and the entrepreneurs, sometimes it's all about work, work, and more work. But what about family time? How often do you spend time with friends? Or just alone, enjoying some down time? It's easy to dismiss the non work-related tasks in favour of work, often because it's a financially driven goal, but the catch-22 is that without those other habits to break up your time working, you will inevitably fall into procrastination mode, you will get sleepy, your mind will drift, you may even lead yourself to burn out, so a goal-focused plan will benefit you in the long-run, and will likely improve your levels of deep working, instead of time-wasting when you can't focus.
Create a Structured Plan
Time; it's always the thing we wish we had more of, more hours in the day to get everything done. And yeah, some days I feel the same way, and maybe it's just a really busy day. But surely if we were all just a little more savvy with our time, with our energy expenditure on each task, we would feel satisfied with our 24-hour clock? I believe in 'working smarter,' at least once I have put all the 'working harder' foundations in place. Then you can focus on working smarter with time, with effort and with overall efficiency.
Map out your day. Factor in at least 30 minutes of exercise, if not more. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes walking, getting your steps in, moving and mobilising your body. The physical effects of movement and heart rate elevation will have a profound impact on your ability to focus. You can't sit around all day and expect your mind and body to stay alert, remain creative and up to the job.
Design a nutrition plan to follow throughout your week. Maybe you’ve set yourself a specific fitness goal for 2023, or you're meal prepping to save time and money - whatever your situation, having even a loose plan will help to create structure with your daily meals, which takes away the procrastination factor because you don’t have to worry about what to cook. Not only does this help from a time standpoint, it also ensures that you consume a healthy distribution of food groups across your meals which will impact your energy levels, hitting vital vitamins and minerals, you’re potentially looking at an increase in attention span, focus, and hey, less of the procrastinating!
Be mindful; that moment of mindfulness can help to create a more intentional state of focus, avoiding the mindless scrolling and cheap dopamine hits we experience through social media and our incessant scrolling habits.
The Social Media Trap
Let’s be realistic; we are still going to be scrolling through social media, even if we set timers to reduce our time spent online. So perhaps set yourself a task to make your social feeds more intentional and educational. Look at who you follow and why you follow them. Do you learn anything from them? Do they inspire/ motivate you? Or do they do the very opposite and actually bring you down?
Make 2023 a little more focused, more intentional, less mindless – of simply going through the motions, so our inevitable social media scrolling is beneficial in some way.
Notice how often you reach for your phone during a simple task, how often you default to certain apps for an update, how you lose track of the task in hand by looking for a distraction. If you can’t switch your phone off, maybe put it in airplane mode, or put a limit/hold on certain app usage until that task is complete. We simply have too many distractions, our brains struggle to stay focused on one thing, instead we bounce from one distraction to the next without really achieving much.
Which leads me to my next point – taking note of your behaviour and your distractions, noticing your emotional state when you lose focus and seek distraction. Can you see a link between the two? Similar to emotional eating or drinking, that knee jerk response to hit the comfort foods (or drinks) is triggered by an emotional response, seeking that feeling of comfort, of solace, of release and all those feel-good hormones. Take note to see if you can form a pattern as to the peaks of your workflow and your attention span; we all have our natural dips in energy throughout the day, which will be influenced by many different factors - including sleep, nutrition, work, exercise and so on. If we can better understand our natural rhythm or better yet, create and optimise a rhythm that we can work with and benefit from, then that should be the goal here. It's about becoming more in tune with yourself and your habits, figuring out what's holding you back or creating blocks in your work/life flow. And there are certainly many ways around it, but the first step is to listen closely and take note.
I will be talking more about productivity and organising hacks, as well as ways to improve your mental wellbeing. For one-to-one coaching tips, feel free to contact me for a consultation.