What is Procrastination?
Dr. Timothy Pychyl at Carleton University. In his own words, Dr. Pychyl describes procrastination like this:
You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.
Does this sound familiar? Many people procrastinate and put tasks off until the last minute. The good new is that by practicing good habits and being mindful of how you spend you time, you can train yourself to match your intentions with your actions.
Here are four simple strategies to overcoming procrastination so your focus on work tasks will be on point:
- Set Mini-Deadlines (a.k.a. Chunking)
Large, complex tasks lend are easy to procrastinate. Typically there’s a lot of work to do before you can get the satisfaction of crossing a those big projects off your to-do list.
Try chunking, a two-step method to prevent large-task avoidance:
- Break up your larger tasks into smaller chunks.
- Set mini-deadlines for each part.
Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders says that mini-deadlines are an excellent tool to help you prioritize tasks, set goals, and pace yourself as you work.
Think of your mini-deadlines as checkpoints to keep you accountable. At each checkpoint, you are one step closer to your end goal, and you get to feel accomplished for completing part of the task.
Plus, working toward mini-deadlines ensures that you won’t accidentally forget about an important task on your to-do list until right before it’s due.
- Group Small Tasks (a.k.a. Batching)
Doing small tasks takes a different type of focus than doing more complex tasks. If you have many kinds of small tasks on your to-do list, you might be tempted to jump around from task to task or work on several tasks at once—in other words, multitasking.
The bad news is, multitasking is basically a form of procrastination in disguise.
You may think you’re extra productive by multitasking, but in reality, your brain is switching between a lot of tasks in a short amount of time. And every time you change tasks, your brain takes a second to re-focus.
The American Psychological Association reports that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
So, instead of trying to do mental jumping jacks all day, try to group small tasks into larger chunks of work. For continuity, group things that fit well together into clusters, such as:
- Checking and responding to emails
- Financial and administrative tasks
- Creative tasks
Once you’ve organized your task batches, plow through one group in its entirety before letting your attention drift to something else.
- Plan Uninterrupted Sprints
When things seem to be coming at you from all directions, it can be challenging to stay focused on any one thing. To tackle tasks small and large, scheduling uninterrupted work sprints into your day is a handy way to manage time better.
All you have to do is:
- Set aside a specific amount of time for your work sprint.
- Turn off all notifications—email, phone calls, texts, social media alerts…everything.
- Work until your time is up, and then enjoy a well-deserved break.
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular tool for overcoming procrastination with dedicated work sprints.
Following this method, you dedicate yourself to a task for 25 minutes with no interruptions. After you complete a 25-minute block of work (called a “Pomodoro”), you get to take a five-minute break. Then you repeat the process until your work is done.
Though 25 minutes might not seem like much, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done if you aren’t interrupted by texts, calls and social media. For many people, anything longer than 25 minutes isn’t terribly sustainable, and shorter time blocks don’t allow enough time to complete a meaningful task.
To try the Pomodoro Technique, you can kick it old school and use a timer—maybe even a cute tomato one—to track your work sprints. Others options include the TomatoBot, a Slack extension that creates these blocks of uninterrupted time, or Toggl (a time tracking tool), which has a Pomodoro timer built right in.
- Avoid Digital Temptation
Sometimes—even when you sit down to work with the best intentions—you get sucked into a black hole of procrastination, also known as the internet.
Turning off your notifications during work sprints is a useful strategy…but what about when you go looking for temptation?
Maybe you just want to glance at the front page of Reddit or quickly scan an article on Buzzfeed. The next thing you know, that five-minute brain break has turned into an hour of surfing the net on time-wasting websites.
Luckily, there are apps for that.
A simple Google search will yield dozens of apps and Chrome extensions with the power to block websites that distract you from focusing on work.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Distraction-blocking apps empower you to avoid online temptation and get control over how you spend time at work. For example:
- Block a handful of sites
- Block the entire internet
- Set time limits for individual websites
- Make specific sites off limits during particular time periods
- Manage Time Better and Focus on Work
Overcoming procrastination is a crucial part of getting control over your time and achieving the American dream—work life balance. Put these strategies to use in your daily life.
- Set small goals to achieve big ones.
- Batch similar tasks together.
- Have dedicated sprints of focused, uninterrupted work.
When you do those things, you can accomplish so much more than you ever thought possible—all without the stress and panic that go hand in hand with procrastination.
Written by Jessica L. Mendes.