Procrastinating my way to productivity

Is it ironic I’m writing this post as a way of avoiding another task that I’m stuck on? We’re all prone to procrastination and it’s no surprise that it’s a productivity killer. What can we do about it?

I’ve always found that calling out bad behaviour whether it be by someone else or your own is a good way to defuse its power over you. Let’s identify how procrastination sneaks into your day and what I’m trying to do about it. That looming task list isn’t going to go away by itself.

7 Reasons I Procrastinate

1. Sense of being overwhelmed

When taken as a whole, most challenges seem insurmountable. I try to break the overwhelming challenge down into smaller actionable tasks I can start on immediately and complete in short time frames. It’s good to remind myself that I’m not tackling it alone and delegate what I can.

2. Fear of standing out by being too successful

Far from being a “Humble Brag”, anyone in tune with their inner Introvert will understand the squeamishness of being singled out for praise. I think a great way to redirect this feeling into something positive is actively sharing the credit for the project and making it a team win.

3. Fear of Failure or Lack of Perfection

Perfection and Procrastination go hand in hand. Have you ever wanted to do one more revision and tweak before release just in case you’ve missed something? I tell myself to learn to value the process and growth towards excellence over an elusive perfect product. The trick is to eventually decouple self worth from how others view the performance.

4. Lack of Interest or Motivation

Having a great team and knowing each other’s superpowers is a lifesaver. Swap tasks with others if possible to one that interests you. Even if the task itself doesn’t motivate me, I find motivation in not wanting to let my team down.

I notice how the act of completing a small task gives me that warm satisfaction of getting something done. More complex tasks build in reward as I work through them. I suppose I’m anticipating the future reward of completion and each milestone towards that is an affirmation. I revisit Admiral McRaven’s 2014 Commencement Speech for inspiration and recommend you all take a look (For the TL;DR among you, start at 4:35). He highlights how the simple act of making my bed in the morning sets me up for a better day.

Try to consider unpalatable jobs in light of the bigger picture and how each little success brings that closer to fruition.

5. Lack of structure or accountability. Unclear where to start.

Whilst taking time to break the complex challenge down to more manageable tasks may seem like procrastinating and delaying with busy work, it will give more clarity on where to best start, how to prioritise and identify what could be delegated.

Sharing progress reports and milestones on the challenge will help engage the team and create accountability to myself. We use Verbz as an effortless way to drive accountability and structure with a minimum of additional work. I’ve definitely fallen for the trap of spending time organizing task lists and sorting email as a way to defer actually working on a project. When I realize what I’m doing, there’s no one to be annoyed at except myself. I choose tools that amplify my productivity rather than add a layer of busyness.

6. Quick task bias

When breaking down challenges into bite sized tasks, it’s human nature to seek immediate gratification and resolve the easy ones. That can lead to the more tedious or complex ones to remain unresolved.

I focus on prioritising small tasks by their impact to the project overall and resist the urge to tick off all the easy ones straightaway. Aim to knock over one significant task before those little ones.

7. Just plain tired or distracted.

I look ahead in my calendar once I have gauged the extent of the tasks ahead and “pre-block” times to reserve adequate time and mental bandwidth.

Allocating time during your productive part of the day gives yourself space to focus on the task at hand and remove distractions so you can get into a Flow State of thinking.

Plan for the sprint of effort ahead of time and warn others not to disturb you for the duration.

I’m a big believer of the power and importance of Flow Psychology and highly recommend everyone looks into it. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept in his 1990 book; “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”

Achieving a Flow State is one of the key ways to happiness and internal reward. It’s that feeling you get when you are in the moment doing something you are passionate about and totally absorbed. When you are so focused in the present that you lose track of time and physical needs. A wonderful side benefit of achieving Flow States is that it seems to trigger deep learning and improvement in the skills being used.

Conclusion

In calling out the ways I procrastinate, I hope to minimize how it affects my productivity. These are some of the ways I’ve been using to tackle each reason and would love to hear any other ways you’ve discovered. In particular, breaking tasks down to manageable jobs lets me be productive even if I’m procrastinating on the bigger picture.

References

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-flow-2794768

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990 “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”

https://www.psycom.net/procrastination-why-we-do-it

Ersner-Hershfield et al 2009 “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self-continuity account for saving”

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