I don’t think anyone alive is some workhorse of productivity. We all get tired. We all struggle to keep chugging along. When important tasks lie in waiting, desperate for a checkmark on the proverbial to-do list, we are the ones who take up said task and promptly…find a way to procrastinate.
I think I’m someone who focuses fairly easy and likes to just dive right in and get stuff done.
Right up to the moment that I don’t.
Procrastination comes for us all. It’s a major productivity killer, obviously. But it’s a huge mood-killer. Rather, the task you’re procrastinating is–science shows that people who procrastinate don’t do so because they’re lazy or bad at managing time. They do it to avoid negative feelings, like fear of failure, or confusion at not understanding an assignment or project.
There are ton of articles that will tell you how to beat procrastination or how to focus better, but I’m here to condense that into the one single tip that truly works for me.
Are you ready for my gold-star trick that I use to stop procrastinating? Because it’s really academic and involved, so I need you to pay attention. Here it is:
I take a lot of breaks.
I’m not kidding. You can get yourself in the mood all day to work. You can visualize the way to attack a project. You can do outlines. You can do all the pre-work and pre-thinking you want.
But when it comes right down to it, you have to actually do the work to get it done.
So that’s what I do. I dive right in and just get started. As soon as I feel overwhelmed, confused, or irritated, I take a short break. I usually take the first one pretty soon. Between 5-10 minutes in, to be honest.
Then, I come back, and I work on my project or task some more. I work longer this time though. Once that wave of overwhelm hits me again, I take another break.
I work the whole way through like this.
How Does This Help You Stop Procrastinating if You’re Always Taking Breaks?
Good question, dear reader!
The idea here is not to force yourself to work some set amount of time, but to overcome the awful, gut-wrenching dread and anxiety of procrastination. Knowing you have small breaks, and that you can theoretically take them whenever, can be a huge motivator!
The trick is to know how many breaks you can actually take and how long they can be. You know your deadline, you know your favorite time-wasters, and you know how long it’ll take before you’ve completely abandoned your project in favor of Netflix.
When I’m just starting out on a project, a break of about 10 minutes is just right. Sometimes 15 or 20, depending on how long I’ve worked. But that’s only for the beginning stages.
I also know that I need to stay away from social media, and either do some light exercise or meditation, or a few short, funny, and lighthearted videos on YouTube. Anything else completely sucks me in or drains my energy and any positive mood I had going.
Once I return to work, I eventually get into a groove and I don’t feel I need another break for awhile. You know that sweet spot where you’re really into what you’re doing and you have some momentum. I try to work a little longer when I’m feeling like this. Subsequently, I give myself a bit longer of a break when I need it.
Whether it’s assembling a piece of furniture with a 106 parts, writing a 10-page essay, or doing a massive cleaning and re-organization of my apartment, I find this one tip to be useful for all my fiercest procrastination.
The dread and fear I feel is nothing compared to the awesome feeling of just getting started. Even if I don’t stay “started” for very long. It’s like putting your foot in the pool before jumping in, or doing calisthenics before a full workout, or just taking a single bite of your food before getting to sit down and enjoy the full thing: it’s a preview of what’s to come and it gets you in the mindset for what you’re about to do.
I find that it eliminates a lot of negative feelings just to get started, even if I don’t make any super meaningful progress. Getting started is often half the battle. Procrastination is an ugly fighter, but you can fight smarter.
The trick only works if you come back after the short break and keep going. It’s essential to give your mind a break, especially the more taxing the project is, but it requires the self-discipline to go back.
If You Are Having Trouble Getting Started
If self-discipline is not your strong suit, consider setting a timer for your breaks, or giving yourself a reward for going back to work (that seems counterproductive, but make it something that you can do while working), or even an app that will lock your “time-wasting” apps for a certain period of time.
To reiterate what I said earlier, you have to know your limits and your weakness. Avoid those and focus on your strengths. What would give you an enjoyable, restful break? But that will ultimately not completely distract you from your project, like a video game or a TV show. Save that for a bigger break or when you’re completely done!
My favorite trick though is cheating.
I cheat my brain into thinking I’m being more productive than I am.
For example, let’s say I’m writing an essay for college. I would pull up my document, set all my fonts, and head my paper, as well as writing a title. I’ll pull up google and all of the academic and scholarly resources I have through the school. Then, I may do my first search term, but I won’t click on anything, I’ll just skim the results. If I know a little bit about my subject, I’ll just write whatever comes to mind as an opening paragraph. Oh, it most definitely will not be good, but it gets my base thoughts out on the topic.
This helps me to feel productive, while also getting the brainflow going a little. Then, I take that first break, feeling productive, and already giving my mind something to subconsciously work on.
So maybe not so much cheating as it is a hack.
Now it’s your turn!
Do you have any tips or tricks to fight procrastination? What makes you the most productive you can be? I realize my method isn’t for everyone! I’m interested to hear what else has actually worked for people.