If you’re struggling to maintain focus, here are 10 top tips to help you avoid falling into the procrastination trap…
- Break down your work into bite-sized chunks
Very often we procrastinate because our workload is too overwhelming to face. But if we break each job down into smaller, more manageable parts, it can become easier to focus on one thing at a time. If you find yourself still procrastinating, break tasks down even further. So that big presentation you have to put together, which seemed like such a daunting prospect, can suddenly be reduced to 10 small sub topics you need to cover, with one slide for each.
- Create a detailed timeline of micro deadlines
Setting aside a whole day to write a proposal, for example, is in invitation to procrastinate. This is because a single deadline creates the false belief that we have lots of time available, and so we waste our time on frivolous tasks, pushing back the ‘big’ deadline. As in the tip above, break down the project into smaller chunks, and then assign a specific timeline of deadlines for each individual element. These micro deadlines need to be tough enough to create a sense of urgency, but realistic so that they are achievable. Such timelines can be monthly, weekly, and daily, to help you keep on track.
- Limit your social browsing and message alerts
Apparently the average professional receives 304 emails per week and checks their smartphone 36 times an hour. At work, we are typically able to attend to one task for about three minutes before we are interrupted by our mobile device buzzing or beeping with an email or message alert. It’s no wonder we procrastinate! Identify the biggest sources of interruption for you, and disable the automatic notifications, or make them less easily accessible, so that you can focus on the activity in hand. If you’re really lacking in willpower, consider using a social media blocker or limiter, such as Anti-Social or StayFocusd and LeechBlock.
- Organise your workspace
Learning how to structure our workspace, to suit the goals we would like to achieve, can help to make a big difference to our output and creativity at work. I personally find lighting is very important to my mood and productivity, and I procrastinate far more in a dingy, poorly-lit room. Einstein argued for the benefits of a cluttered desk, but that’s not necessarily for everyone. For more advice on how to set up your desk for a good day’s work, please check out this earlier post.
- Follow the blogs of inspiring, go-getters
When I’m stuck in a writing rut, I have a few go-to blogs I like to turn to, which never fail to inspire and help get me moving. It’s healthy to always have something or someone to aspire to, irrespective of where you are on the career ladder. If you haven’t done so already, track down several creatives, or inspirational people within your industry, who write regularly updated blogs. Turn to these go-getters and their musings when you’re feeling yourself procrastinate.
- Allow yourself to procrastinate between intense bursts of work
It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you allow yourself scheduled ‘procrastination’ breaks, this can help combat the urge to procrastinate. Some people will thrive off taking one long break, while others will find their productivity soars when they take frequent small breaks. It’s important you do something you really enjoy in these breaks, whether it’s catching up on your Facebook timeline, chatting to your best friend in Australia, reading a magazine or going for a walk in the park. This will help you to feel refreshed to focus on work again, and you can even think about turning these breaks into pockets of creativity.
- Make your goals public
If your project goals and timelines are private, it can be easier to procrastinate as there’s no one holding you accountable. This is particularly true if you work from home, or independently. Make a point of telling people, including friends, family and colleagues, what you are working on, so that when they see you, they ask you how you are progressing. If you write a personal blog, share your goals and ambitions there too, so that readers can help to keep your progress in check.
- Befriend someone who has already achieved your biggest goal
I don’t mind sharing here that my ultimate goal is to one day have a book published. It’s a long way off, but I have begun connecting with successfully published writers, who will hopefully prevent me from procrastinating too much with my ambition. If they’ve achieved it, why can’t I?
- Change your scenery and find inspiring places to work
This point is particularly relevant if you’re a home worker. Working from the same space each day, with little social interaction, can lead to tedium and is fertile ground for procrastination. Mix things up a bit by finding a quiet, creative place to go when you feel yourself losing focus. It might be a local coffee shop, a member’s club, a library or even a museum. Changing your environment is proven to help boost creativity and mindset.
- Become religious about meeting deadlines
The journalist in me is meticulous about hitting deadlines. I never miss them, unless the circumstances are exceptional. This can be a great antidote to procrastination. As in point 2 above, if you find this strategy works for you, you could even ask your clients to set you more detailed deadlines, which you know you must meet.
If you have any tips to add to the above list, to prevent yourself slipping into a procrastination sinkhole, we’d love to hear below…