How To Overcome Procrastination and Get Your Important Work Done

Working With Podcast Promo 3.jpg

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



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. 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 57 | How To Stop Procrastinating.

Working With Podcast Promo 2.jpg

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to stop procrastinating and get the work done.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 57 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.

This week, the question is all about procrastination and how to overcome this real productivity conundrum. It affects us all and it can do a lot of damage to our careers, relationships and goals. 

But before we get into this week’s question, I want to tell you all about my fantastic Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale. There are some fantastic offers available for you and I would love you to get yourself a bargain while you can. I have bundles of courses, including the brilliant Pathway To Productivity, AND… I am also offering 12 Months of weekly one on one coaching with me personally at half price. Those places are very limited, so if you want to get yourself in, you need to go to my website right now and book yourself a place and save yourself $600! 

Okay, on to this week’s question and that means 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 Tim. Tim asks, Carl, I really struggle to get things done. Whenever I sit down to do some work I find myself procrastinating by flicking through Instagram or watching your videos on YouTube. Do you have any advice on stopping this? 

Thank you, Tim, Not sure I want to stop you watching my videos though! Anyway, to answer your question this is something I know many people have difficulties with. I too, from time to time, find myself procrastinating and it can really hinder the work I want to do for the day. The good news is there are a few strategies you can use to stop you from flicking through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. 

The first one is to have a plan for the day. We often find ourselves procrastinating when we have unclear plans for the day. If you turn up to work with no plan you will spend the first part of the day thinking about what to do and that is when social media and unimportant work shouts the loudest. It’s human nature to turn away from the hardest work and move towards the easier work. If you have no plan, the unimportant will be shouting at you and you will not do the important. This is one of the many reasons why I recommend you do the Golden Ten at the end of the day and not in the morning. When you wake up in the morning with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish that day you are much more likely to get it done. 

And that leads me on to the second tip. Don’t set yourself too much to do. Another reason why we get drawn to procrastination is because when we look at our to-do list for the day it is too long. It becomes overwhelming and overwhelm often leads to procrastination. I have been recommending that you do not have more than ten things on your daily to-do list each day for a long time. Now that might not seem very much, but every day you are going to have crises, demands from bosses and customers and you are going to have to deal with them. If you only have ten or fewer items on your to-do list you will have time to deal with the crises as well as get your planned work done. That creates a circle of success. The more days you complete your planned tasks, the more focused you will become on completing those tasks. It’s a case of you not wanting to break the chain and you become determined to get your work done. 

How you write out your tasks is also a way to prevent procrastination. If you write tasks out that are unclear, such as, “Shopping”, “dog food” or “Wife’s birthday”, you will procrastinate. Sometimes you will remember what it was you meant when you wrote that task, other times you will not. If the task is something like “write report” that will guarantee you will procrastinate because although it is just two words, the work involved is unclear and you will resist. Far better to write tasks such as “Buy dog food for Barney” or “research gift ideas for wife’s birthday” for the report break it down. You could create three of four tasks such as: 

  • Write introduction to report

  • Prepare charts for report

  • Ask Jane for report template 

These tasks are easy, clear and manageable. You are much more likely to get them done rather than waste time thinking about what to do next. 

Another way to help stop you from procrastinating is to make good use of labels or contexts in Getting Things Done terminology. What this means is you label each task according to the tool, place or person required to do the task. For example, if you need to be at your computer to do a task, you would label it @computer. Likewise, if you need to be with your colleague to find something out, then you would label the task @colleague’s name. Shopping tasks can be labelled @supermarket and so on. This way, when you find yourself in front of your computer you pull up the list of tasks you need your computer for and get started. Now of course if you are using my Golden Ten system you would move on to your labels AFTER you have completed your ten tasks for the day. 

Another trick I’ve used in the past that works well is to schedule breaks between the work I am doing. For example, I know in a morning I am good for around two hours. So, every two hours I will get up and walk around. Refill my water bottle or check my email. I limit these break times to ten minutes and if you are a serial procrastinator I would suggest you set yourself a ten-minute alarm. You can check your email from your phone, so you can walk around and check email via your phone. If you want to scroll through your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed during these times then do so. It’s a break remember. BUT… After ten minutes get back to work. In the afternoons, I find my attention span reduces so I take breaks every hour or so. This really works, particularly if you are following your plan for the day. When you have a plan you know exactly what you will get to work on once your break is over. 

Having all your information organised is another way to avoid procrastination. When the information you need to do your work is scattered all over the place you go in search of it. This will take you down avenues you do not want to go down looking for files. I group reference materials and files in project-specific folders (or notebooks in Evernote) I also copy and paste website links into the project note for the project in Evernote so I don’t have to open up my web browser blind. All I need to do is click on a saved link and it will take me to the page I need to reference. Not only does this save a lot of time it also keeps me focused on the task at hand. 

Turn off your notifications and silence your email when you are doing your important work. This one is a biggie. If you are working on a report, presentation or design and you keep getting pop-ups telling you-you have new email, or a new Twist or Slack message you are going to be tempted to look at it. STOP! No, No No! - This is going to cause you a lot of pain AND you WILL procrastinate. Turn them off and focus on the work. You can check your messages and emails between your work sessions. Seriously, no one is ever going to get upset with you if you don’t reply for an hour. If something was very urgent, they would call you. So there’s no excuse at all not to turn off your notifications. Do it… Just do it. No excuses. 

There’s a couple of other ways to stop procrastinating. The first is to gamify your work. Give yourself a reward for focusing on your work for an hour (or ninety minutes if you prefer) Allow yourself ten minutes on Instagram if you complete a piece of work or spend two hours on focused work. Gamification is fun and you not only get to check your social media feeds you also get a lot of work done. After all, work doesn’t have to bring and serious all the time. 

Finally, if you are in the habit of checking shopping sites randomly while you are working then set up your to-do list manager to collect from a keyboard shortcut. Recently I have been redesigning my home office and I have been looking at office chairs, hard drive storage solutions and plants for my desk. Often as I am writing or planning I get an idea to check Ikea or a furniture store’s site. To avoid me going off on a shopping expedition, I will use my quick capture keyboard shortcut to Todoist to collect what it is I want to look at and carry on my work. I write and plan in full-screen mode on my computer, so I never leave the screen I am working in. It’s just SHIFT+CMD+A and I type “look up office chairs at Ikea” and hit return. Done. My thought was captured and I can carry on planning or writing. I can then look up whatever it is I wanted to look up when I take my next break. 

Well, I hope that has answered your question, Tim and I hope it will help you to overcome your procrastination. 

I know procrastination is a problem for many people, but if you adopt these strategies you will soon find yourself getting more important work done and procrastinating less. Be clear about what you want to get done, schedule regular breaks and turn off your notifications when you are doing focused work. These three strategies alone will help you. But the biggest one of all is to discipline yourself. Procrastination is really a sign you have a lack of discipline. Work on your discipline, and to do that start small, and you will go a very long way to stopping procrastination from rearing its ugly head. 

Good luck and thank you, Tim, for your excellent question. And thank you all for listening 

Don’t forget to check out my Holiday season offers, I am sure there will be something there for you all. 

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 19 | Tricks to Overcome Procrastination

This week, I answer a question about procrastination and offer some tips on beating it.


Transcript

Podcast Episode 19

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about overcoming the bad habit of procrastination.

Hello and welcome to episode 19 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a question about procrastination and how to stop yourself from procrastinating when there are important things that need doing. I think this is a problem many people face and I too, from time to time, fall into the procrastination trap. 

Before we get into the answer, I want to let you all know that my special offer for March will be ending soon. In fact, it ends on Sunday, so you have about one week left to take advantage of this incredible offer on one of my most popular online courses. My Complete Guide To Creating a Successful life currently has 50% off the normal price. Instead of being $95.00 you can get yourself enrolled for just $47.50. 

The complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life has been created to help you discover what you really want out of your life, what you want to achieve, what you want for you and your family and how you want to live your life. As the course title suggests, it is a complete guide and is 3 hours of videos, over 15 downloadable PDF Worksheets and help guides. This course will set you on the road to achieving what you want out of life.

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

This week’s question comes from Anatoly who asks:

I have a bad habit of putting important things off and instead watching videos on YouTube or just watching TV for hours even though I know I have to finish some important work. Do you have any suggestions on how I can stop myself from doing this? 

Thank you do much for your question, Anatoly. This is a question I am sure many people would ask. How to stop procrastination from interfering with getting the important stuff done in your life. 

I believe not all procrastination is bad. We need procrastination to allow our creativity to flow and develop ideas, so we should not be trying to cut out procrastination completely. Often it is when we are lost in some form of procrastination that we come up with some amazing ideas or brilliant solutions to problems we are facing. What we need to be able to do is to prevent procrastination from stopping us from getting important work done when that work needs doing. How do we do that?

Well, as with all bad habits we first need to identify when we are doing it. What are we doing and where are we when we slip in to the bad form of procrastination. For example, do you find yourself procrastinating when you are trying to do work in your local coffee shop? What is happening here is your environment is telling your brain that this place is a good place to procrastinate. If that is the case, what you should do is find another coffee shop and only do important work in that coffee shop. Your local coffee shop can be used for browsing YouTube, chatting with friends online and reading magazines. The second coffee shop is for work only and you only ever go there to do focussed work. This is a trick I use all the time. I move around Seoul pretty much every day and I have a number of select coffee shops I use for only doing focussed work. I also have a few coffee shops around the city for what I call “creative play” I use these when I am brainstorming ideas or just want to do some non-essential research or reply to messages. 

The coffee shops I use for doing focussed work are places that the moment I walk in I go into a focussed state and I can lose myself completely in the work I have to do. My phone is on do not disturb and all I have on the table is the work I am working on. It’s a simple, yet very effective way of preventing negative procrastination from creeping in. 

Another trick, and somewhat related to the previous one, is your normal work environment. I do a lot of my work from home and my desk is where I write and plan out my videos and courses. My desk is incredibly minimal. I do not have anything on my desk except for things that are essential. Computer, lamp, water bottle and my journal. There is nothing else. This means there is nothing around to distract me and cause me to procrastinate. Once again, I do not have notifications turned on, so there are no popup windows distracting me. It means I can just sit down and focus on my work. The same can apply at your office, if you find you procrastinate when sat at your desk, then look around you environment. If there are a lot of distractions, files, books, phones, tablets and so on, remove them from your desk. Only have the essential items on there. Don’t allow anything to come between you and your work. 

Still on your working environment, I find music is a good way to stop me from procrastinating. If I am at play, or doing something that is not important I listen to 80s/90s pop music or uplifting dance tunes from the music festivals I have been to. This music brings back wonderful memories for me and it’s just great fun to listen to. 

However, when I want to do some focused work, I change the music. I listen to music from Cafe Del Mar or the Anjunadeep podcast which is all slow, deep, electronic music. This music is incredibly relaxing and does wonders for my focus. (a link to a Cafe Del Mar Apple Music playlist and the Anjunadeep podcast is in the show notes)

The scientific side to this music idea is when your brain recognises a type of music it knows you want to focus. Of course, this is not going to happen overnight. You need to train your brain to understand that slow, deep electronic music means focused deep work. You can also do this with the lighting. Change the lighting in your workspace when you want to do focused work. For example, if you want to get some focused work done, turn on your lamp. This way you are subconsciously telling your brain it’s time to focus. All other times, when you are watching videos on YouTube or in Facebook, turn it off. 

Other ways to beat procrastination are to use your calendar to assign times to do focused work. Lets say between 10 and 11:30am you rarely have any meetings or lectures. Then schedule focussed work for these times. What you need to do is be specific about the work you want to do. For example, if you have an important presentation to prepare, you write in your calendar “Work on next week’s presentation” for 10 to 11:30am on the specific day. Then on that day, when you see you calendar you see “work on next week’s presentation” and you subconsciously tell your brain it’s time to do focused work. This might seem a bit simple, but it really does work.

Part of the reason we procrastinate is because we are not being specific about what we want to do. If you are not specific, you are giving your brain an excuse to procrastinate. You need to be very specific about what it is you want to accomplish. If you write something on your to-do list or calendar like “do some work” I can guarantee you will procrastinate. “Do some work” is not specific. What work? That’s the question your brain asks and then it goes off into all sorts of different places and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour. Be specific. 

Last week, I did a video on the Golden Ten minutes, a practice you should follow every evening before you finish. I’ll put a link to this video in the show notes. What the Golden Ten minutes does is prepares you for the next day so you can get the important work done. It keeps you in control of your projects and deadlines and allows you to plan what you will do for the day. This means you are being very specific about what you want to accomplish and does not give your brain any chance to procrastinate. It’s very powerful and it only takes ten minutes. If you really struggle with procrastination, then I strongly suggest you start making the Golden ten minutes a part of your everyday routine. 

Bad procrastination is caused because you are being unclear about what you intend to do. To overcome procrastination all you need to do is to become more specific about what your intention is. So if you have a piece of work that needs completing by Friday, then schedule the time to sit down in a place that focuses your brain on work and make sure you are specific about the outcome you want for that period of time. Repeat this process and you will soon be training your brain to focus on the work that needs doing and not cute puppies on YouTube or your Facebook newsfeed. There are times for YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat, but when you have important work that needs doing, then that’s not the time. 

And don’t forget to create a specific work environment. This simple trick does work and is very easy to implement. 

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. If you have a question you would like answering about productivity, time management or goal planning, then please email me at carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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