Ah, the woes of being a responsible adult. As much as we like to think otherwise, none of us are perfect. We’ll admit: There are days where we wish we could lounge in bed all day doing absolutely nothing of value…especially when we’re still getting over that holiday hangover.
Don’t worry; we’re not here to judge. We understand how tough being productive can be.
Why? Well, we all procrastinate for various reasons. The project might be too daunting, we might be afraid to get started for fear of failing, or it could just be one of those days. Whatever it is, take it from a serial procrastinator, there is hope.
We all procrastinate. There are a myriad of reasons why, but it is far from what is commonly thought to be plain laziness. “Whilst it is easy to see them as the same, it is important to make a distinction between the two. Procrastination has little to do with doing nothing. Instead, it’s about doing everything else but the task at hand,” says psychologist Dr Joel Yang of Mind what Matters Psychological Consultancy. “A key contributing factor is doubting one’s competence. No one likes to fail and that belief can likely lead to avoiding the task.”
Here are some tried-and-tested tricks.
Evaluate and set just one or two bigger, high-priority tasks to tackle for the day, and don’t add too much to your list. Ensure that each is something relevant and can be achieved realistically.
Celebrate each small win along the way as you advance towards your ultimate goal, be it a good cup of coffee, or a date night out with your partner after a tough project. “This conditions your brain into making a positive association with the change and reward, and makes you less likely to veer towards procrastination,” Dr Yang shares. In the same vein, combine a mundane chore with something that’s more enjoyable, like a pumped-up playlist or filling in that spreadsheet in a nice cafe.
Big projects are often very daunting to take on because where do we start?! We completely get it. Feeling overwhelmed will derail any potential for productivity so splitting it up into smaller tasks will help get you started. Start by identifying the key elements of the end result and working on each of them in intervals. This won’t just make the task appear more manageable, it’ll also help you focus on acing each segment, rather than giving in to distractions. Bonus: Breaking your project down is, in itself, an act of planning so you’ve already kickstarted your productivity!
Social media (like that “quick” Facebook check) and instant messaging apps are obvious culprits but e-mails and even multi-tasking can also derail productivity. Not only do distractions waste parts of the day, you’ll also need time to get your focus back.
Ways to minimise temptation: Disable notifications from your e-mail, social media and messaging apps. Also close the 20 tabs you have open on your browser, except for those you’re actually working on. Instead, schedule pockets of time to check on them every half an hour or after a certain part of your work is done.
Taking the first step is always tough – and that extends beyond just work. So here’s what we propose: Don’t think about all that work that lies ahead. Instead, identify one task you’d like to start on, set a timer for three minutes and get cracking. Putting a short time limit on yourself will ease the pressure of getting it all done ASAP. And once you see yourself making progress, your motivation will start picking up accordingly. If not, well, extend it to 5, and then 10 and eventually 40 minutes as the day progresses.
Seriously. Stress may be a good motivator to some, but negative thoughts and emotions will get you nowhere. So your break has gone on for 20 minutes too long. There’s no use spending the next five minutes of your indispensible time fretting about it. Just close the Facebook tab and focus on the Excel spreadsheet that you forgot about. Learn to accept that failure in your willpower is all part of the game and the time spent on beating yourself up is even more time spent on unproductivity.
We like to believe that we’ve nailed the ability to multitask. And yes, for many of us, it’s probably true that we’ve gotten better at juggling multiple expectations and responsibilities. However, nothing beats the result of an undistracted brain that’s completely engaged in that one task. But how, you ask, do we isolate our to-do lists in an era of increased demands from our employers? Choose one task for a 30- to 45-minute interval and get brainstorming. Then, take a little break to reward yourself. And once that’s up, identify the next item on your agenda and get at that. Continue with this until you’ve ticked off everything on your list for the day.
Whether or not you’re an organised person, you should start every day with an itemised list of things you need to get done. It doesn’t have to be written out in perfect caligraphy, and it could be a simple list typed up on your iPhone when you’re in the MRT heading to work. What’s crucial, though, is your list remains reasonable. Planning to practice for a marathon on top of balancing your sheets and finishing your big sales pitch while still making time to cook dinner and get to bed by 11 is probably going to leave you feeling more overwhelmed and, ultimately, defeated than a smaller to-do list that might not look as cool.
Declutter your area to minimise unnecessary distractions. Think about having plants, the surrounding colours and find a spot with natural light. “Productivity is variable depending on the type of home office one may work in. If a brand emphasises boldness and confidence, then red is a good match,” says Dr Yang. “But generally speaking, light pastel tones are found to be more soothing to the eye and can help to boost periods of attention.”
“Keep yourself accountable. Write it down and place it somewhere you will always see. It could be on your bathroom mirror, your mobile phone wallpaper, or on your refrigerator door,” Dr Yang shares. For tasks without a deadline, set it on your calendar or book an appointment in advance, like that spin class you’ve been putting off.
Tell your work buddy, partner or family members about a goal you’re trying to attain and ask them to hold you to it. You can also hold each other accountable for your plans, and check in on the other’s progress regularly.
For instance, if you don’t feel creative most mornings, start with something else like administrative work so your plate is clear for when your creative juices are flowing. But if you possess more energy in the first few hours of the day, this is the time to complete tasks that are the most challenging.
Obsessing over perfection is fuel for procrastination. Simply dreading the thought of performing a task poorly can put some people off taking it on entirely. While you should certainly strive to perform to the best of your abilities, recognise that accomplishing a task can take time, and will more often than not, be imperfect. In other words, lower the bar and take that first step towards your goal.
Ultimately, it boils down to taking action. It may sound easy but it’s often the hardest part. But once you commit and get into the momentum of it, you may find that you don’t want to stop until you’re done.
A version of this article appeared on Home & Decor.