How to slay the procrastination dragon

Ahhh… procrastination. The destructive art of ‘putting it off’. It plagues us everywhere – work, home and yes, even play (e.g. “If I put off organising that restaurant reservation for 6, will someone else do it?”)

It afflicts even the greatest of us and has necessitated its fair share of unusual methods to fight it. Did you know that one of the greatest writers of all time, Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) reportedly wrote in the nude to make it less easy for him to duck out of the home for distracting drinks with the lads?

On the eve of Fight Procrastination Day (6 September), we have put together a list of no-nudity-required tips and tricks to beat the procrastination monster. 

Be kind to yourself

You might assume that the key to combating procrastination is to be super-strict with yourself. In fact, the research says that you’re more likely to beat procrastination if you show some compassion for your previous slacking rather than beating yourself up about it.

Procrastination - Road sign

Get enough sleep

Fatigue is the enemy of focus. Being well-rested will make you less likely to be distracted and waste valuable time.

Procrastination - Koala

Wake up and smell the roses!

There is evidence to suggest that being exposed to bright colours early in the morning can lift your mood and energy levels. So instead of staring at your bowl of bran flakes in the morning, why not go outside and smell some fresh flowers?

Procrastination - Smell flowers

Shake it off!

Does perfectionism or fear of failure underpin your tendency to procrastinate? If so, shake it off – literally! Researchers suggest that if you catch yourself plagued with thoughts like “I want this to be perfect” or “This project will be a disaster”, you should shake your head while thinking these negative thoughts. Sounds quirky but SCIENCE!

Subtract the distractions

Did you know that multi-tasking can increase stress and lower IQ? Eeeep!!!

Where possible and practicable, set aside dedicated time each day to complete your tasks uninterrupted. That means no calls, no checking emails, and no chatting with coworkers. You can download an app such as Selfcontrol, which will help keep you from checking social media.

Write a list

Based on the “better out than in” philosophy, writing a list is cathartic as it gets the jumbled thoughts out of your head and can also help you feel calmer and more in control.

Procrastination - Hand list

Determine your top priority

It’s (unfortunately) not enough to simply write the list. You also need to prioritise the items.

To decide what should be crowned the number one priority, identify the tasks causing you the most stress. For each item, ask yourself “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”

Share the love

Don’t keep deadlines to yourselves. Tell another person as that will make you feel more accountable for reaching the goal, thereby motivating you to keep working at it.

Procrastination - Deadline

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. To boost your motivation to do a task, remind yourself of the bigger goal. Is it a clean house that will make you feel happy and fresh? Is it a project that will help your company achieve an important goal and further cement your reputation as a good employee?

Get cracking!

Do something, anything, to get the ball rolling. Getting over that first hurdle will not only give you some momentum to get started, but your brain is likely to keep nagging you until you finish it. This phenomenon is called the Zeigarnik effect.

Break it down

It’s tempting to put off big projects because they seem so overwhelming. Try breaking it down into smaller components and doing one thing at a time.

Procrastination - Work

One tomato, two tomato…

Try the Pomodoro Technique, which recommends that you do 25 minutes of solid work then take a break for 5 minutes. This technique aims to direct intense focus for a period of time, with breaks in between to refresh the mind. For more on the Pomodoro Technique, see here.

Take a hike

Well a short walk, actually. Spending a few minutes outside will help you return to work more focused. Research has found that simply walking through a nature setting boosts attention and focus by 20%. The more ‘nature-y’, the better. However, a quiet street with a few trees or looking at a potted plant will still have some benefits

Treat yourself

Implement a rewards system for every goal you meet. It can be something as small as getting a coffee or checking your texts from friends once you’ve finished a task.

Procrastination - Coffee

Perform regular self-audits

Just like performance reviews at work, you should also assess your own performance in meeting goals and deadlines to ensure that your methods are working. These can include:

  • Making ‘Done’ lists at the end of each day. By writing down what you’ve accomplished, not only will that keep your motivation up, it will also help you assess how efficiently you are working and identify areas that need improvement.
  • Finding your peak. Work out which part of the day or under which conditions you are at your most productive. Use this information to optimise your use of time. For example, if you find that your peak productivity tends to occur in the late morning, or immediately after a cup of coffee, assign these times to your most difficult tasks.

Procrastination - Checklist

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