Gavin Aldrich is one of PageLines’ third-party developers and we’re really excited to have him sharing his insights on productivity and procrastination. Gavin is the Founder of Kyle & Irving, a digital agency based in London.
Being productive while managing procrastination is something that most designers, web developers, contractors and freelancers have to combat at some point. After all time is money. So, here are my very personal tips on what can be done to control procrastination so that it does not impact your productivity.
Most articles about procrastination tell you that postponing the moment you start working is really bad. They might even go so far as to tell you that you need to stop being lazy and just get on and get the job done. This is great advice if the goal is to make you feel ashamed after reading these moralising pieces of advice.
I did, and when I started Kyle & Irving, much of my (limited) free time was taken up reading about how to be more productive, how to get things done and “How to stop procrastinating” guides. In fact I had succinctly developed the fine art of procrastinating whilst reading about how to stop procrastinating, pure genius – right? I eventually managed to stop blaming myself and I began to see the fight against procrastination as less of a fight or a source of guilt and more as a challenge. Now I consider procrastination as an insignificant, but natural part of my day and that is probably the same for any person who has the luxury and the freedom to organise their working day.
Commit to Building Better Habits
Procrastination can be considered a habit, similar to overeating, smoking or locking the door three times (or is that last one OCD?). We will do these things unconsciously, even if we rationally realise they may be causing us harm.
It is very easy to break a useful habit, far too easy, however starting or changing a habit takes commitment. It is commonly believed that it takes three weeks to create a new habit. New research shows that you need even more time to create a habit, from 66 days to eight months.
Let’s take a look again at the pestering habit of procrastinating. You are procrastinating if:
- You spend the whole day performing a task that should have taken just a couple of hours.
- You feel worn-out after finishing your work. When you are procrastinating, you are wasting a lot of energy avoiding work and the feeling of guilt that comes with it also leaves you exhausted.
Once you learn how to recognise these symptoms of procrastination and start rallying against them, you’ll feel a lot better.
Prioritise your tasks
The first trick I use works when you have the luxury of performing various types of tasks during your working day. Psychologists have discovered that people are willing to perform any boring task as long as this helps them avoid something they hate even more.
What you need to do is create a list of the tasks you should complete. Commonly we are encouraged to prioritise these according to; Must Do, Should Do and Could Do. Allowing us to ensure that the absolutely essential gets done. However, how many of you have a rolling and ever growing list of could dos and should dos? Exactly, try this – place a ‘most boring and not urgent’ one on top. You will feel happier when you have completed this and it will encourage you to get on with doing the rest.
Or you can try and flip this – pick a boring, general and ‘could do’ task at the top. Place other tasks, that you are more likely to do, in the 2nd, 3rd positions and so on; play games with your mind – avoid boring task number 1 and end up completing 2, 3, 4. The point here is to recognise what needs to be done. Practice making to do lists you might like to read about Getting Things Done.
Change your attitude
Create more choices and remove guilt.
When you have a bad habit, like procrastinating, you can end up feeling guilty. You know you should work, but you resent that “should” so procrastinating becomes a rebellion against that obligation. In this instance try practicing non-judgemental Mindfulness. Changing your mindset is the best way to stop seeing your tasks as annoying constraints that you need to endure and start seeing them as the better option. e.g. Create a guilt free choice for yourself – Do I want to work or do I want to procrastinate?
Try Thinking in terms of “I want to work” instead of “I need to work”. Another idea would be to focus more on the idea of starting to work rather than on the obligation to finish something. Starting is better than doing nothing, and once you get on the track, you are more likely to complete the task successfully.
As Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, writes: “Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself.”
The obsession for finishing things will take time to diminish so you could try something in order to stop being a finisher and disperse that anxiety. Instead of performing a task from beginning to end, try chunking your time.
Chunk your time
A technique that many are embracing is the pomodoro technique Francesco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique® in the 1980s. It is now practiced by professional teams and individuals around the world
This encourages you to break tasks down into 25 minute segments. At the end of the segment you take a 5 minute break. If you have finished the whole task you can tick it off your list. After 4 segments or pomodoros you can reward yourself with a 20 minute break. There are great (some free) resources that you can find that will plug into your browser or as a desktop app and will block all distractions from you for the length of the pomodoro.
One more thing: if you allow your mood to be influenced by your work, you are ‘allowing’ yourself to bark up the wrong tree. Being angry or disgruntled because you have to do something you dislike or even hate will obviously prevent you from starting the task. When you feel guilty, you are more likely to avoid the thing that makes you feel uncomfortable. You must break the cycle and elevate your mood with other beliefs and thoughts.
Take a moment to reflect on when these thoughts and feelings start – notice when the feelings of resentment start and consider how these negative feelings can be replaced by more useful feelings.
Also instead of making the outcome of your work a condition for feeling satisfied try using mini outcomes – it’s ok to enjoy the little things that make you happy and reward yourself whenever you manage to perform a task efficiently and on time.
Get used to good enough
Most procrastinators are perfectionists, too. They expect things to turn out great; for them, it’s all or nothing.
There are some great words from the cartoonist James Thurber. He said “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Simple right? – Stop striving for perfection and just start doing. Instead of defining yourself as a human ‘being’, start considering yourself as a human ‘doing’!
This doesn’t mean you should do sloppy work; the cure to procrastination is getting used to the idea of doing things good enough. Most of the times, you can improve something you have done, but you will never be able to improve something you have not even started.
Working from 9 to 5?
I’m sorry to break it to you, but one of the most effective cures against procrastination is sticking to a schedule. Or put a better way – useful rituals. Eat regularly, sleep well, take breaks and get outside. Try to do the same things at the same times. The good news is that when you work for yourself, imposing upon yourself a routine is less oppressive than having to respect someone else’s imposed schedule. Do the same things in roughly the same order and at the same time every day and your mind will flourish. Also make sure you schedule time for play. You may even want to consider just scheduling the breaks and play times and allow the work to happen in the many moments in between. Postponing your work will simply become out of the question.
Empty your wallet or rather not
When all else has failed try this – sometimes sluggish people need an even more mundane incentive to work: money. A friend of mine, whenever he has a daunting task ahead of him, gives me £100 and tells me to keep it unless he completes his work by the end of the day. It is an emergency solution and the only thing I can tell you is that I have yet to still have the £100 at the end of the day.
So, in just a few words, my recipe for proficient productivity and managed procrastination consists of:
- Prioritising tasks,
- Giving up the obsession for finishing work,
- Not feeding your guilt
- Sticking to a schedule.
It may not sound too revolutionary, but you’ll be surprised at how well it works.