Procrastination is the reason I haven’t taken over the world already.
If I wasn’t so good at it I would have surely finished writing my novel, started my social enterprise, and applied to write for cool sites like Hello Giggles and Huff Post. However as it stands I’ve wasted many hours of my life doing things entirely counterproductive to my goals. I’ve watched several TV series all the way through on Netflix, read countless ‘really interesting articles’, drooled over thousands of recipes I’ll probably never make, and sunk hours into bejeweled. This all leads me to wonder why I can’t just do the things I say I will. I have the best intentions, but they doesn’t always lead to the best results.
Of course, I don’t always procrastinate; there are various examples of times I followed through on a project or plan successfully. For example I chose a university to apply to, moved to London to attend it, and ultimately completed my degree. When it comes to work I will always do the things others expect from me; I’ve completed pretty much every work assignment I’ve been given. The problem is when it comes to my own projects and intentions I often forget my past positive outcomes, deferring long term actions in favour of instant gratification. It’s a trait that human beings are prone to. James Clear wrote about it recently on his blog – it’s called the Akrasia Effect. This is why it’s so easy to watch another episode of your favourite sitcom instead of working on your passion project.
Then there’s the problem of focus. I am well known among my friends (and especially to my boyfriend!) for trying to do a million things all the time. Does that sound familiar? I spoke about it a little in my last blog; I always plan lots of projects and come up with great ideas, then don’t do most of them. I end up worrying about other to-dos when trying to work on a single thing, and just go into meltdown. The human brain can only deal with so much at a time, and I overwhelm myself with different options and tasks, then freak out and get annoyed at myself when I can’t focus on anything.
If I look at it a bit closer though, there’s another reason I don’t always take action on stuff. Doing things which I really, really care about is scary. It’s far easier to do something mindless which requires little energy or thought than it is to put myself out there. As much as I like to talk the talk, and try to inspire and motivate others to take a leap and go after their dreams, I don’t always follow my own advice. The thing that overrides this fear, which is what got me to start this blog in the first place, is remembering my motivation for doing something, and then leaping. I know that if I just start, most times I will finish.
The solution then seems simple enough; to follow through on things I need to apply focus, tap into my motivation, and just begin.
In the age of a million distractions, from the internet to making another cup of tea, and even doing the laundry(!) it can be difficult to find and maintain focus. Luckily technology also offers many solutions to aid you in beating procrastination. There are countless websites and extensions which will block or monitor site usage to encourage you to get on with your work, and then there’s good-old analogue methods; turning off the internet, locking yourself in your office (perhaps a little drastic), or even simply promising yourself a reward if you get the work done can all help. Everyone’s different, and you’ll probably find that certain things work better for you than others – use trial and error to figure it out.
One method which I’ve found particularly effective is the Pomodoro technique. This runs on the principle that humans can only focus intensely on a task or thing for a certain amount of time before our attention wanders (around the 25 minute mark). By breaking your workload into chunks of time, and giving yourself small breaks in between, you should be more focused and productive during those short bursts. After trying it out I can definitely attest to this theory. When I set a pomodoro timer (I like to use Strict Workflow for Chrome) I know that I only have to work on something for a small amount of time which makes my brain feel less overwhelmed with the full task, or any of the other things I have to do. I’m forced to focus on a single thing so everything else waits until later. This helps me to just get on with it, taking away the anxiety as I don’t have time to worry! In essence the pomodoros are forcing me to work more mindfully. Coupled with remembering my motivation for the work I’m doing, it helps me to get a lot more done.
I’m motivated to do things that I’m passionate about. Without that tingle in the base of my neck which I get when I’m excited by something, I find it extremely hard to keep doing it. The reason I write is because it feels like the thing I am meant to be doing (yes I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true!) The reason I talk about mental well-being and happiness is because I have been through a lot of things, and I want to use those experiences to help others. I have worked and volunteered in the youth sector because I have such great memories of being involved as a teenager. The key to motivating yourself is to work out why you’re doing something, then keep reminding yourself of that. Be it through writing it down and sticking it on your wall (a personal favourite of mine) or telling others about it like I am in this post, just find a way to keep your motivation at the front of your mind, and it will help keep you motivated. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget why you’re doing something when you’ve been working for hours, days, or even years on it and you can’t see the finish line.
So for the next step of my productivity plan I will make a list each morning of the things I want to get done that day, then assign each one some pomodoros. Hopefully by breaking things down into measurable chunks, I can see how much time I have in the day better, which will help me to use it more wisely. I wrote this post using the pomodoro technique, and I feel like it’s gone a lot better than when I just leave it up to my brain to keep focused on its own.
My challenge to you is to find your own way to do pomodoros. You could set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes, use one of the many apps available (I’ve linked to a bunch of Android apps as that’s what I use, but there are a ton for ios too) or even buy an egg timer! Pick one thing you want to get done, a small project or piece of work you’ve been struggling to keep focused on, and then pomodoro it. Of course it may not work for you, but you won’t know until you try. Let me know how it goes, and I’ll report back on if my productivity has increased after a week of using the technique.
P.S I promised I would write a table of my goals for the next 6 months, so here it is! It’s a work in progress as I go on my productivity journey.