How To Overcome Procrastination and Get Your Important Work Done

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about procrastination and more importantly, how to over-come it.

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 71 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Procrastination. We all suffer from it to some degree or another and it can be a huge drag on our overall productivity. In this week’s episode, I go into depth on what causes it and how to fix it. 

And before we get into this week’s question and answer, if you are struggling to get the important things in your life done and find you have no time for the work you have to do, then take a look at my recently updated Your Digital Life 2.0 Online course. 

This course has everything you need to learn how to get yourself better organised and more productive. It shows you how to create the best productivity system for you and will give you the know-how and framework to reduce your stress, overwhelm and put you in control of your time. All the links to the course and more details are in the show notes.

Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Annabel. Annabel asks: 

Hi Carl, I really struggle with procrastination. Even when I have a deadline, I still do anything but what I should be doing. Do you have any ideas on how to stop myself? 

Thank you, Annabel, for your question. I think a lot of listeners will also thank you because procrastination affects us all at times. 

Before we go into how to stop procrastinating I think we should try to understand why we procrastinate in the first place. 

Procrastination is usually caused because the task or thing we should be doing is either too big or unclear. What I mean by this is most people write tasks out like “do presentation” and with a task such as creating a presentation, there are multiple parts. There are the slides to create, a story to weave into the presentation, a script—well a script is not a good idea— notes I should say. 

Of course, there’s likely to be a bit of research and quite a lot more. 

So if you have a task that says “do presentation” your mind is going to recoil and say “I’m not doing that, what can I do instead?” And that “instead” is going to be something like checking email, responding to tweets or reading the news. 

However easy you think the presentation is going to be, you need to break it down into clear, concrete steps. Now I don't mean micro breaking it down, what I mean is break it down into manageable chunks. For example, “Create introduction slides” or “Get last year’s sales figures from Simon” these tasks are manageable and could easily be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. 

Other reasons why we procrastinate is because we are not sure what we need to do. I recently was given a writing assignment on a subject I wasn't too familiar with. I found myself postponing starting the task and seeking excuses not to start doing it. As the deadline approached I knew I had to get it started and I had to step back and ask myself why I was procrastinating over it. 

Once I looked again at the title of the article I knew exactly why I wasn't sitting down and starting it—Unfamiliarity with the subject—So I asked the very next question. “What do I need to do to get familiar with the subject?” So I did a 15 minute Google search, found some good articles on the subject and was able to then formulate some ideas on how I could craft that into an article linked to my area of expertise. 

Unblocking the block—in this case, unfamiliarity with the subject—soon got me on track and I was able to write the article. 

If you do find yourself putting off what you should be doing, take a step back and ask yourself why. You will most likely find it caused by a lack of clarity about what needs doing or, as in my case, unfamiliarity with the subject matter. 

And that’s another thing you should be aware of. What are you doing when you find yourself procrastinating? Knowing you are procrastinating is a key step towards stopping yourself from procrastinating. These are the triggers that will help you to avoid them in the future. 

I find I procrastinate when I am tired. If I have a very creative morning, afternoons become an ocean of procrastination for me. Because I know between 2 and 4pm I am not going to be at my creative best, I schedule my exercise and news reading at that time. I am lucky because I can schedule my own work. I don't work in an office environment. However, even if you do work in an office, you still have some flexibility over the work you do and when. If you find you procrastinate during the afternoon slump, then work on something that does not involve a lot of mental energy. Better yet, go for a walk somewhere. 

One of my best strategies for avoiding procrastination is when I feel tired, I will take a 20-minute nap. I’ve found if I try to push through the tiredness I rarely do anything of quality anyway. Instead, by taking a 20-minute nap, when I come back to the work, my energy and focus are restored and I get a lot more quality work done. AND… It gets done faster than if I tried to push through. 

Being aware of your state when you procrastinate is the best way to reduce the amount of procrastination you do. We all procrastinate and sometimes procrastination is your brain telling you it needs some “down-time” to think through a problem or come up with a solution to something you have been thinking about. It’s your sub-conscious part of your brain asking for some extra energy to do the work it is supposed to do. 

Have you ever gone to bed with something on your mind and when you wake up in the morning the solution to whatever was on your mind is the first thing you think about when you wake up? That’s your sub-conscious brain doing it’s job. So you do not want to eradicate procrastination completely. Your sub-conscious brain needs some time to do it’s work too. What we need to do is control the procrastination so we get the work that matters done when it needs to be done without becoming stressed and worried about deadlines. 

How do we do that? 

One thing you can do is keep a note-pad and pen on your desk. Every time you feel the ‘need’ to do something you know you should not be doing, write down what it is you want to do and then return to your work. As I was writing my blog post earlier today, I had an urge to check out the prices of a new keyboard for my old iPad Pro. Instead of breaking off from my writing zone, I just wrote down “iPad Pro keyboard price” and returned to my writing. I never left the screen I was writing in. It took ten seconds to write it down and I was back on to my writing. The urge to find the price of the keyboard disappeared instantly. When I finished writing, I then went over to my web-browser and got the price. It was like a reward for not doing it in the middle of a writing session.

Funnily enough, that thought about the keyboard came to me when I was coming towards the end of the writing task. The thought came to me because my brain was getting tired and it needed a break. Our brains are amazing things, while our brain does not say directly “I need a break” it does so in a more subtle way. So if you do find your mind wandering and you get an urge to do something else instead of what you should be doing, it might just be your brain telling you to get up and take a break. Take that break. You will produce better work if you do and procrastinate less.

Another thing you can do is reduce the amount you have on your daily to-do list. Most people have way too many tasks on their daily to-do list. When you start the day with twenty to thirty tasks on your to-do list you are pushing your brain to say “urgh! I don’t want to do that” and it will go into spasms of procrastination. Realistically you are only going to get ten to fifteen tasks done per day and have more than say 25 tasks will result in you having to reschedule tasks for another day. 

So, get strategic and prioritise. Ask yourself “what ten tasks must be done today?” Then only allow those ten to be on your list for the day. Anything else you would like to do can be placed onto an “if I get time” list. When you see just ten tasks on your list for the day you are much less likely to start procrastinating. You will feel more positive and will have more energy to get started so you can finish those ten tasks as quickly as possible. It’s a simple trick that works and all you need to do is give yourself ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan out what ten tasks you want to accomplish tomorrow. 

So there you go, Annabel. I hope these suggestions help you to get a little more focused on your work and reduces the amount of time you procrastinate. Thank you for your question.

If you have a question you would like answering on this show, then please email me at carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll always be very happy to answer your questions.

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.