If you’re reading this during work hours, the chances are you’re putting off something you ought to be getting on with.
One in five people consider themselves a chronic procrastinator1 – and it’s not just students who are affected. This tendency doesn’t just affect our ability to complete a task, it hinders our progress in many other areas of life.
A third of employees in the UK claim to be distracted for up to 3 hours a day in the workplace, adding up to 60 hours a month or a staggering 759 hours in a year. Noisy workplaces disturb roughly a third of people, while almost a quarter blame slow computers or poor internet connection and the same number are distracted by looking at their phone2.
So what makes some of us so prone to procrastination? Tim Urban, blogger and writer, has broken down the tendency to procrastinate into three ‘characters’3 which battle for control of the procrastinator’s mind.
The first is the Rational Decision-Maker, who sees the bigger picture, helping us makes sense of tasks and plan accordingly to meet deadlines. We all have a Rational Decision-Maker. However, some of us also have an Instant Gratification Monkey in our heads, constantly looking to pursue exciting, off-topic tasks when an important (maybe less enjoyable) task is on our hands. According to Urban, the only thing that can keep the Instant Gratification Monkey in check is the Panic Monster. This guardian angel appears when deadlines get too close, public embarrassment could occur or serious consequences are on the cards.
The key to beating procrastination, therefore, is to tame the Instant Gratification Monkey, reduce your dependency on the Panic Monster and give your inner Rational Decision-Maker space to do their job properly. Here are 5 tips to help you get back in charge.
- Eat the elephant, one bite at a time
‘Eating the elephant’ simply means breaking a large task down into small chunks, enabling you to get a grasp of exactly what needs to be done and allowing you to focus on hitting key milestones. If you find you’re still struggling to complete these milestone tasks, cut it down even further, until the task becomes clearer and easier to digest.
- Take procrastination pit stops
Going cold turkey on all those micro-moments of enjoyment throughout the day is painful. Instead of aiming to totally cut out distractions, use them as a reward. Break the day up into manageable chunks and allow yourself time to procrastinate after you complete each one, e.g. giving yourself a 10-minute break mid-morning. The key here is being strict about when these moments occur and breaking the habit of unearned gratification.
- Spend time with people who inspire you
Spending 10 minutes with someone inspiring makes you more likely to act. It’s true that few of us are likely to get the chance to spend 10 minutes picking Mark Zuckerberg’s brains. But having a coffee with someone who inspires you within your immediate network could work wonders. And organising a mentor system within your workplace could provide dedicated time to become inspired to do better work.
- Focus on the results
There are many experiences in life that we don’t love, but do for the sake of the results. Think of long-haul flights to beautiful destinations, or stripping wallpaper to achieve a fabulously decorated room. The same logic can be applied to tasks in the workplace. Aim to look past the initial strain and focus on how it will feel – the sense of accomplishment you’ll experience – when the task is completed.
- Make a life calendar
The aim of this is to give yourself a visual reminder of how little time we have. Google ‘Life calendar’ to find sheets of boxes showing a typical 90-year life broken down into years, months or weeks. Notice how many of the boxes are already in your past? Marking your personal life goals on the sheet and pinning it up somewhere you’ll see it every day could be just the motivation you need to achieve your daily goals.
So, maybe don’t think on this for too long and get down to some productive work? In the wise words of John Trusler, ‘There’s no time like the present’.