Everyone procrastinates. But if it feels like you’re postponing tasks and delaying work more these days, you’re not alone. The pandemic’s lockdowns have many workers struggling to stay focused amid an onslaught of bad news and a constantly changing remote work environment. When your job and home life overlap because it’s all being done in the same space, your work and leisure time can get twisted, often pulling at one another. The result? A lack of motivation and a desire to simply take a break.
Of course, despite the bad reputation, putting things off is not always wrong. In fact, it can lead to new and inspired ideas. According to Adam Grant, author of Originals, Steve Jobs was a major procrastinator. “The time Jobs was putting things off and noodling on possibilities, was time well spent in letting more diverting ideas come to the table,” says Grand. “As opposed to diving right in with the most conventional, the most obvious, the most familiar.”
Under lockdown, time appears to run in strange ways. It’s drawn out, ticking by and then suddenly, you’re running behind and have way too much to do. If you’ve been feeling particularly killed out and easily distracted, there are ways to combat procrastination in order to keep it from becoming a nasty habit that makes your life more difficult.
When you feel behind, getting started can be overwhelming. If you’re struggling, it might be that you’re unsure about what needs to be done to complete your work. When you’re working at home, it can be harder to get quick answers to reduce this uncertainty. When people aren’t sure about the next steps, it’s easy for them to procrastinate. Research has shown that people “experience unpleasant feelings related to a task that they can’t tolerate or manage.” Make sure you’ve got all the necessary information gathered before starting and to manage eventual roadblocks, put together a list of reliable people you can contact to get clarity.
One of the most common reasons for procrastinating is the natural aversion to facing a challenge. The path of least resistance always looks more appealing, right? The challenge could be an assignment for work, a personal project or simply the task of finally cleaning the house. Too large a task can seem like a Herculean challenge so we put it off. But if you break up that challenge into a smaller set of manageable jobs, you can focus on one at a time. Set a goal to accomplish each by a set time and watch how quickly you’ll see progress. It’s a practice known in scientific circles as “microproductivity.” Once you see that it doesn’t take as much effort as you feared, your confidence and motivation will soar.
Mind the “Slope”
Sometimes procrastination is simply a matter of willpower. Author and life coach Darius Foroux calls this the slope of procrastination. “There comes a moment between the start and end of a task when you give into one distraction,” he says. “And that’s exactly the moment you give up being productive.” Think of it like this: you start working on a task, you’re energized and focused, but then, after some time, you think to yourself, what’s happening on Twitter? “It always starts with just one thing,” says Foroux. He says self-imposed deadlines are key to keeping himself on track. “A deadline creates urgency, accountability will create responsibility.” He also recommends embracing that initial focus and working in intervals, allowing yourself breaks to rest and recharge before starting up again.
Somewhat of a no-brainer. But you might need to take a closer look at your WFH setup to fully recognize what distractions are popping up. Some may be there without you realizing it. Find a quiet place to work or invest in some quality headphones to help you maintain your focus. Refrain from checking personal messages or social media during work hours (use timed blocker software if need be). Mute your notifications. You might try removing unnecessary clutter from your desk. But the same should happen when you’re done. Don’t check your work messages during your off time. And reward yourself once you’ve accomplished your goal. The beauty of not procrastinating too much is that you’ve got the time to enjoy yourself without any guilt. And finding that balance is now more important than ever.