When I sent you the Monday Mailer survey, I asked what’s holding you back, what your challenges are, and what you want to learn in 2017. Out of the 133 people who responded, an overwhelming number of you expressed a desire to improve your time management skills, feel more motivated to finish your work, and improve your focus.
There’s one problem that crops up in each of those areas, time and time again: procrastination.
Beating procrastination is a tricky subject to discuss. Like most problems, it’s intensely personal. Your reasons for procrastinating are different from mine. But it’s an issue we all deal with, every once in a while.
When I’m procrastinating, it usually manifests as binge-watching old episodes of House, playing mindless video games, or simply staring off into space.
None of those activities are inherently wrong. We all need a break, sometimes. If you’re consciously choosing to relax and play video games, that’s great! Like I said last week; if you’re always working at 110% of your capacity, you’ll burn out pretty quickly.
Procrastination can be valuable; it allows your brain time to relax, calm down, and generate new ideas naturally. But sometimes you sit down, ready to crank through some work, and realize you feel stuck.
Here are some ways I’ve fought through those moments. Next time you’re struggling with procrastination, give one a try.
Find a Friend
It can be helpful to find someone you trust and walk them through your project. Explain what you’re trying to accomplish, how it’s been going so far, and where you're stuck. Other people can provide advice and points of view you might not have considered. That discussion and feedback can be just what your brain needs to kick into high gear.
If you don’t consider yourself a gifted conversationalist, try sketching on a whiteboard or piece of paper as you go. Visualizing your thoughts can help you smash a mental block — particularly if art is a tool you don’t usually use.
However you approach it, find a way to get your project in front of someone else.
Take a Tiny Step
I’ve written previously about Activation Energy. It refers to the amount of energy needed to kick off a chemical reaction — which is always higher than the amount required to sustain it.
If your car broke down, you might be inclined to push it to the side of the road. You and your passengers would strain and grunt at first — struggling to push it even an inch. But, with a bit of effort, the car would begin to move a little. Then, a bit more. Eventually, thanks to the magic of momentum, it would take less and less effort to keep the car rolling.
The same concept applies to your work.
When I’m struggling to write an article, I know typing something — anything — increases the chances I’ll keep writing. So, I tell myself I have only one goal: to write 250 words.
It isn’t much if you think about it. This article passed the 250-word mark about 260 words back. Once I hit 250 words or so, my brain feels sufficiently warmed up. I often end up writing 1,500 words or more.
Next time you’re stuck, try taking just one tiny, little step toward your goal.
If you need to write 500 words, commit to writing 50.
If you need to finish coding a new page for your website, commit to completing just one part of it.
If you need to run 5km, commit to running just 1km.
You get the idea.
Once you start moving, you’re far more likely to keep going and meet — or exceed — your original goal. By reducing your commitment to something trivial, it feels silly not at least to try starting. And getting started is often the hardest part.
Make a Plan
There’s one big reason I keep talking about outlines and breaking tasks into tiny steps. It’s easily the most effective strategy I’ve found for improving my productivity.
I often start to procrastinate when there's a task to complete, but I’m unclear on how to make it happen. It’s easy to focus on the big picture and start to feel overwhelmed.
Rather than saying, “I’m going to code the new About page for my website,” you might break the task down into:
- Creating a new document
- Coding the header
- Coding the sidebar
- Coding the main content section
- Refining the CSS for the various text styles
Don’t forget; planning is real work, too. If you’re honestly not feeling productive at the moment, just commit to finishing your outline. You’ll have made measurable progress and maybe, just maybe, it will allow you let yourself off the hook a bit.