It’s a beautiful, sunny day outside… Why not leave this work for tomorrow?
I could write this report now… Or play another round of Tetris?
I’ve typed 3 sentences… Surely I’ve earned another Netflix break?
Procrastination - It’s the little voice that never goes away. It nags you to seek immediate fun and gratification instead of doing real work. There’s always tomorrow, it whispers.
But procrastination is the enemy of success and happiness. You don’t progress towards your career goals. You feel stressed and unable to relax, with unfinished projects and obligations weighing on your mind.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could kick procrastination to the curb? Learn how to be more productive with these 10 proven techniques, and silence that nagging voice forever.
1 - Do the first, tiny step
The urge to procrastinate is strongest when you’re tackling a large, daunting or unprecedented project. But when you learn how to be more productive, you can trick your brain into thinking the job is easy.
The best way to do this is by breaking your project down into tiny steps. These steps should be so simple you can do them in a few minutes (e.g. create a document header, choose a presentation template, write one sentence).
Now pick the first 3 tiny steps and complete them. Congratulations! You’ve officially begun, and that’s the hardest part. Starting a job triggers a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect. It states that people remember unfinished tasks better than completed ones.
In other words, the project is now ingrained in your mind. It’s easier to fight procrastination because you feel inclined to finish what you’ve started. Like trainer wheels on a bike, the first tiny steps get you moving. Now you just need to build momentum.
2 - Create tight deadlines
I’ll never forget those university essays I somehow managed to write the morning they were due. A whole semester’s worth of work crammed into 6 panicked hours of writing… But somehow it always worked out. And funnily enough those were often my best grades.
This is how I learned that work is elastic. It can stretch or shrink depending on the gap it needs to fill.
Tight deadlines turn you into an efficiency machine, increasing productivity to an extent you never thought possible.
If you want to learn how to be more productive, enforcing tight deadlines is one of the most effective techniques out there. Give these due dates weight by sharing the timeline with your boss or client. You won’t procrastinate because it simply isn’t an option.
3 - Acknowledge your fear
Fear plays a big role in procrastination. The bigger a project is, the more reluctant we are to start being productive. It’s not just because we don’t know where to start… It’s also because we’re scared of screwing it up.
These fears are healthy and normal before any important project. Whether it’s your career, your reputation or pride on the line - it’s ok to feel anxious before starting work on something big.
So how do you manage fear, without letting it overwhelm you?
- Take a quiet moment and acknowledge your fear. Allow yourself to feel doubt, and accept the fact that you might not produce 100% perfect results.
- Forgive yourself for being afraid. It’s a completely natural emotion, especially when there’s a lot of importance riding on the project outcome.
- Realise that the worst case scenarios are unlikely. And the worst thing of all would be failing to attempt the project.
- Know that even if your results aren’t perfect, you’ll gain valuable experience. You’re almost guaranteed to do a better job next time.
Accept these feelings and work through them. Then learn how to be more productive and tackle your project head on. Once you actually start working, your fear will melt away.
4 - Get an accountability partner
When I was a teenager I was famous for being late to things. School, family dinners, weddings, you name it. To combat this my parents gave me a watch set to 30 minutes earlier than the actual time. They thought it would make me panic in the mornings.
Guess what? I was still always late to things because I knew the time was wrong.
Just like the fake time on my watch, it’s hard to hold yourself accountable to fake deadlines, especially if you don’t have a boss or client looking over your shoulder. The solution is finding a long-term accountability partner, who can help guide you as you learn how to become more productive.
It could be a workmate, your partner, best friend or a mentor. Choose someone who is reliable, honest, and understands the importance of your productivity goals.
Share them into your project calendar and a list of weekly goals, then give them scheduled updates on your progress. Give your accountability partner permission to criticise, and call you out if you’re not sticking to the timeline.
For the best results do the same for them, and increase your productivity together.
5 - Recognise your own excuses
It’s crazy the things we tell ourselves to justify procrastination. Your brain comes up with a million excuses, telling you it’s not the right time to work.
Something smells strange in the kitchen, I should clear out the fridge.
I’m thirsty and sleepy… Better go make myself another coffee.
The cat is staring at me… Maybe she needs a second breakfast.
Learn to recognise these thoughts for what they are… Excuses. It’s your brain telling you to take a micro break instead of getting stuck into actual work.
Say no to that third coffee, get away from the cat (no matter how cute she is) and buckle down. You’ll thank yourself later.
6 - Use a timer
Instead of taking breaks randomly, train yourself to work with a Pomodoro timer. Research has shown that our brains are capable of 20-45 minutes of pure concentration. After this our attention starts to wane, and a short break can be beneficial.
Pomodoro timers are designed to work harmoniously with your brain’s natural attention span. You set the timer for a 25 minute work period, followed by a 5 minute break. The timer will beep or produce a pop-up notification, keeping you on track.
I’ve recently started using a Pomodoro timer myself and I’ve noticed dramatic benefits. My thoughts of procrastination are easier to push aside, because a 5 minute break is never far away. I’m happier, less stressed and more productive than I’ve ever been!
7 - Follow the 2 minute rule
The ‘2 minute rule’ is one of my favourite personal productivity secrets. It teaches you how to become more productive by working smarter, not harder.
The golden rule is very simple, and it goes like this - if something takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it straight away.
It could be firing off a quick email, fixing a report error or sending a text. Never delay these small tasks by writing them down, or saying you’ll do them tomorrow.
This helps to keep your to-do list free of clutter instead of piling up with small tasks. It leaves space for you to concentrate on bigger projects. It also helps to keep your mind clear, because you don’t have a million little jobs in the back of your mind.
8 - Remove internet temptations
What’s your internet poison? Do you browse Facebook and Reddit for hours on end? Are you an online shopping addict? Have you ever fallen down a rabbit hole reading articles on Wired?
We’ve all succumbed to productivity sinks and traps, especially on the internet. It’s a dangerous place, and some websites are just too tempting to resist.
If you’re serious about learning how to be more productive, it’s crucial that you invest in a website blocking tool. Apps like Freedom and Cold Turkey are essential weapons in the fight against modern day procrastination.
You can customise them to block websites at certain times, or use them to increase your personal productivity for days at a time.
9 - Find a powerful ‘why’
If you don’t have a powerful reason for accomplishing a task, avoiding procrastination will be almost impossible.
You need to dig deep and find a personal or professional reason for what you’re trying to achieve. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
How will completing this project benefit you? What skills will you learn, what experience will you gain? Who will you impress? Will you add it to your CV or portfolio? How will you grow personally and professionally?
Once you have some benefits in mind try to visualise them every day. Motivation is one of the best ways to fight procrastination, so push yourself onwards with positive thoughts and incentives.
10 - Have a ‘Daily 5’ list for long-term goals
What’s on your to-do list at work today? Does it contain regular, mundane jobs that would be accomplished anyway - like ‘reply to emails’ or ‘write daily report’?
It’s tempting to create lists just for the sake of crossing things off. You invent a bunch of chores to get done, and when the clock hits 5pm you feel like it’s been a good day.
But these short-term lists don’t help with long-term success. They don’t bring you any closer to achieving your dreams, personal or professional. You’re still procrastinating when it comes to real progress.
You need to make a new list.
Where do you see yourself in one year? Two years? Five years? What are your big ambitions, both professional and personal? Maybe you’re trying to build an amazing creative portfolio to score a dream job, learn a new language so you can work overseas, or build up your real estate knowledge so you can invest in property.
Every day, your to-do list should contain FIVE small steps that bring you closer to these goals. This will stop you from procrastinating on the things that really matter.
Have you mastered your personal productivity? If you’re a small business owner that’s only one piece of the puzzle. How can you simultaneously motivate your team, and empower those around you to become more successful? In the next series of articles we’ll be sharing our best tips for boosting staff and team productivity. Stay tuned.