Something we all do, but can learn to limit
Procrastination has many causes: feeling overwhelmed, lack of interest, fatigue, abstract goals, rewards are not immediate enough, even perfectionism. As you try to manage distractions with self-management while working from home, procrastination can creep in without you realizing it. If you find yourself scanning recipes to make for dinner or glancing through Instagram when you know you have more important things to do (and you didn’t set aside this time to do something not associated with work), you may be procrastinating.
The good news is that it’s a bad habit you can break
Bad habits are our way of dealing with stress and boredom, and this is a powerful combination. Unfortunately, procrastinating can create more of these two things, leading to a vicious circle of behavior. The easiest way to veer out of the circle is to change your thinking about how to tackle it in the first place. Don’t just stop procrastinating. Instead learn to identify when you are, and have a list of tricks that you can quickly employ to divert yourself.
Tip #1 Change your environment
What’s in your eye shot – Take a look around your work area. Does it make you want to focus on your monitor or computer screen? Or make you want to thumb through a stack of papers? Wander down memory lane? Read the back of a cereal box? You may have heard the saying “clean space, clean mind.” There are many scientific studies that prove this to be true. One which is quite technical, but most often cited is the Journal of Neuroscience’s study on the implications of clutter on the visual cortex. To boil it down, it’s findings say that too many items in a person’s view leads to becoming mentally overwhelmed. And this–as we stated in the intro–is one of the main reasons people procrastinate. So start with the essentials that you need to do your job (computer, monitor, pen, paper, etc) and remove from your view everything that is not essential. Then tidy up loose ends like binding cords together out of sight and putting pens in a mug that you love.
Your general space – Many people find that moving around their space throughout the day helps them concentrate when they return to their work area. Some go a step further and actually move work areas for a short time to get a new perspective both figuratively and literally. Gathering up a few quick tasks or emails, unplugging your laptop from your monitor, and moving to another room for a short time can help you refocus. Particularly if you move from a sitting to a standing position (kitchen counter? bookcase?). It doesn’t have to be for very long, but often worker feel refreshed when they return to their usual work area after a switch.
Tip #2 Break your work into steps
Continuing on the point of feeling overwhelmed, often people who are procrastinating have trouble finding an obvious or easy place to start. Breaking up your project into steps or phases can help you mentally organize (hello Tip #1A) the work ahead and create small, achievable goals instead of one gigantic one. As many professionals say, eat the elephant one bite at a time. In the case of writing this blog, your outline of steps might be: Research Decide the topic Create an outline Draft the content Get feedback Redraft the content Get approval For a large project with phases that feel overwhelming in themselves, release this exercise for each step or phase. The more granular the steps, the quicker you can complete each one. And the more you complete, the more momentum you will create. If you’ve ever seen a soapbox race, you’ll know how momentum can push you over the finish line.
Tip #3 Create mini deadlines
Your calendar can be of a lot more use than simply to track meetings and appointments. Map the steps you outlined in Tip #2 into time blocks in your calendar in logical order, prioritizing the most important aspects of each step first. Aside from booking time with yourself to complete your tasks, ensuring their visible to other team members also limits distractions since they’ll see that you are booked for that hour or so. Knowing that you have allotted time before the deadline relaxes the pressure of getting it all done, and can help you focus on the task at hand instead of trying to complete everything all at once.
Tip #4 If you work better under pressure, work in sprints by timing yourself
Many people find that having too much time to complete activities can lead to overthinking (aka analysis paralysis) which can be a huge waste of time. It can be helpful then to work in sprints by identifying a task to completed, setting a timer to go off in 45 minutes (or so), and racing the clock. Knowing that you must finish your activities within the time allotted, can create a sense of hyperfocus where distractions and other considerations fade away. Of course, this is only effective if you can hold yourself accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself. A trick to this is by reviewing your weekly goals each day at its start and at its finish. Do a little mental happy dance when you’ve ticked all the checkboxes. There’s no need to kick yourself for missing something, but make a note to start there the next day.
Tip #5 Hardest first, then the rest
Even if you’re the kind of person that enjoys challenging work, it’s likely that you’ve put off things that were particularly hard for you. While this is normal human behavior, using Tips #2 & #3 together can help you keep from overloading yourself with difficult work. A trick not mentioned above is to allow time for enjoyable or easy work in the same day that you’re tackling something hard. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and ability among work that might make you feel a bit insecure. And then the best part of handling the hardest first is that when you’re done, you’re done. It’s all downhill from there.
Tip #6 Get a work buddy
Many people who are new to working remotely find accountability a challenge since they’re no longer have it build in to their environment. At the office, colleagues are usually a few steps away and it’s possible for a manager to swing by. At home, you really only have your walls to watch you. Even the most responsible worker can find themselves procrastinating, and there are time when not having an external something or someone is enough to let the procrastination last. This is when proactively finding that someone can help. Find a teammate who is also looking to boost their productivity and set meetings with them. Once or twice a week, get on a call and hold each other accountable to your current goals. You can even turn them into working meetings where you only speak to each other for the first 5 minutes, and set to task for the rest of it. Having someone on the other end of the phone or the video can help you keep your work to yourself since you also gave it to them.
Tip #7 Be vocal about your goals
Capitalizing on Tip #6, bring up your self-imposed deadlines to your team on calls and to your manager during check-ins. Setting expectations with others can build in a sense of duty, particularly if you’d like input or approvals at various points through your project work. Being ready for these checkpoints reinforces that you are an able and committed worker. And who doesn’t want to be seen as that? The bonus is that each checkpoint is another step toward your main goal, so keep mentioning it on your team calls!
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