I admit it, I’m a full-blown procrastinator, even about things I actually want to accomplish (see: my novel). Sometimes, my brain just REFUSES to do anything, choosing instead to wallow in aimless thoughts, non-essential tasks…or more often, crippling worry about not getting things done. Often I rely on the sheer adrenaline rush of “THIS HAS TO BE DONE NOW” to complete the essential tasks.
I call this “getting bitten by the Procrastination Bug,” and my bug has a particularly venomous bite. The following meme I made over at Quickmeme describes it perfectly:
But there IS a way to conquer this bug! Actually, there are 3 ways I deal with the compulsion to procrastinate:
#1: Got Small Tasks? Good. Break Them Up Even Smaller
Nothing hurts my productivity worse than looking at my to-do list and feeling absolutely daunted by the enormity of my tasks. (And by “daunted” I mean “wanting to either cry or vomit.”) One trick that works: breaking up these huge tasks into itty-bitty sections.
Now, you’ve probably heard a variation of this tip before, but I mean taking it to the next level–break the huge task down into the tiniest pieces you can imagine. (Example: my procrastination on my novel got so bad that I finally set myself up a “100-word-a-day” goal. That’s right, ONE HUNDRED words a day. Not 500, not even 300. And it worked–it got me writing again!)
The logic behind this tip: if you break your task down into things you can do in 5-10 minutes, you’ll be exponentially more likely to do them because they “feel” easier to complete. Plus, if you’re having a “brain-doesn’t-want-to-focus” day, you can complete a couple of these teeny-tiny tasks and still feel productive, which may help reduce your anxiety about your to-do list.
#2: Take Frequent Breaks (With Rewards)
If an essential task on your list is really stalling your brain out, here’s another trick I try: taking a “reward break” for every set number of minutes of work/every part of the task completed. For instance, if I write on my novel for 15 minutes, I could allow myself 15 minutes of TV, aimless Internet surfing, or reading. Or, if I complete one blog post, I could allow myself 30 minutes of gaming time or Internet.
Using the standard “work before play” mindset in this way accomplishes two things at once. First, it trains my brain to like doing the essential task; second, it allows my brain to relax and regroup for a little while before settling back down to work. Having to work on one thing for long, unbroken hours drives me nuts, and makes me less likely to complete the task quickly the next time I have to do it. If it’s associated with rewards and breaks, it makes the work easier to bear.
However, the complete “brain rest” and rewards scenario sometimes just isn’t feasible with the amount of work you have to do in a short time. For those moments, I suggest the last tip…
#3: Have a Rotating List of Tasks
Sometimes, I procrastinate because my brain just doesn’t want to settle–I hop from TV to book to Internet to game to TV to book and so on, making it hard to focus on even things that I like, much less things I have to do. I would call it “boredom,” but it’s way beyond bored; I end up too bored to sleep, too bored to eat, etc. Yet the tasks are still piling up on my to-do list, even as I struggle to marshal my brain into adulthood for a few moments.
This is one reason I have a to-do list that includes all sorts of small tasks due within a typical week–I’ve got a few physical-labor tasks (like cleaning and straightening the house) mixed in with some mental-labor tasks (writing my novel and organizing my digital files), and they are all of various difficulty levels and require different amounts of time and effort to complete. Thus, I can hop from one task to another if the first one is getting too boring or time-consuming, and I can return to it at any point to complete it. Switching tasks gives me a form of brain rest, making my brain work in a different (read: non-bored) fashion.
You’d be surprised how well this works to combat procrastination; you’re actively working on new stuff every 5 minutes or so, give or take, and so you feel instantly more productive and less aimlessly energetic. Plus, you’re likely touching on all the tasks you need to do, so you’ll potentially be getting more work done in the long run even though you’re switching around a lot.
Procrastination can be a pain, especially when you’re trying to be an adult and get things done; anxiety and lack of focus can keep you from doing what needs to be done. These 3 tips got me through college and grad school (not to mention earlier grade levels!)–I think they’ll help you, too!