Dedicated to all those out there whose minds keep wandering…
You’re trying to work. You know you should work. For pity’s sake, you’ve got deadlines to meet.
But you can’t help it. You procrastinate. You might complete a little more of your task, but then click away to the easy distraction of social media, like it’s a small reward for getting a tiny bit of work done. It becomes a reflex action to jump to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or there’s also the news, BoredPanda, RightMove, Amazon… name your pet distraction.
Engagement in social media gives you a hit of dopamine. You feel validated, happy. You keep engaging, you keep getting more hits. Like Simon Sinek says (if you can ignore his slander against ‘millennials’), it’s highly addictive. I’m far from immune myself.
But what we are clicking away to is often inherently non-productive; it saps attention without giving anything useful back. Your brain is being passively fed to, you’re thinking to someone else’s agenda, and each bout of procrastination makes it more difficult to return to the task at hand.
And what do you have to show for this procrastination? Nothing, except for a long trail of likes, shares and comments on your activity log, and a whole lot of ‘where did the afternoon go?’
You can do better. This is your time, your life. Stop wasting it.
Swap one distraction for another, only make it one that helps you
Procrastination is self-defeating. Your concentration is repeatedly broken. You’re letting yourself down. To be honest, it’s best to find strategies to avoid it altogether.
But if you really MUST take those breaks that your brain nudges you towards, then why not make the most of it? Stretch your creative muscles, push your mind a little. This is where Progressive Procrastination can help.
You need to rewire yourself a little. Programme your mind to replace any time-wasting activities that you click away to with something that will benefit you while you’re at it instead. Fill your brain with something positive. Useful information. Productive or rewarding activity. Healthy interactions. Friends.
Create something, learn, or just take some action, however small, that makes your life a little bit better. And, just maybe, you might hit on something that can feed back into what you’re working on and make it more exciting.
Wondering what on earth I’m going on about? Here are a few ideas:
Read a book
Yeah, yeah, I know I sound like a schoolteacher. This idea is so obvious, I thought I’d get it out of the way early.
Next to my desk, I’ve got ‘Start With Why’, ‘Writing That Works’, ‘Building a Storybrand’, ‘Write Copy, Make Money’ and a few other useful titles. Instead of seeing what’s new on your timeline, dip into a book to learn new insights, remind yourself of key tactics and regain motivation while you’re at it.
To be honest, that photo of David Ogilvy on the cover of ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ is enough by itself to get me back to work.
Work on a blog post
Just like I’m doing now. Rough out some ideas and structure, chalk up some headings and key sentences and let the words flow when you feel like it. Jot down new blog ideas and have a few posts on the go, so you can keep going back to them to flesh out sentences, add extra sections you just thought of, or delete anything unnecessary.
Soon, you’ll have a finished article, plus a few others nearly ready, and your personal content schedule will look a lot healthier.
Work on another project
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I will sometimes take on a small, easy project while dealing with a big, main one, like a quick copy-edit job or a short blog post. A change can be as good as a rest, and if you’re going to click away from your main task, why not do something else you’re going to get paid for?
Call, email or message someone
A friend, or maybe your mum. Connecting with people can remind you what you mean to them and they to you.
Watch a tutorial or video tip
I’ve got quite a few lined up. Take the chance to learn something, or see someone else’s angle on a common problem. Luckily, not all videos are an hour long – some are only 10-12 minutes and concentrate on just one or two golden nuggets of info that could help the way you work. No matter how short, it can only augment your knowledge and expand your experience.
Read through your notes
All those courses and webinars you sat through? I bet you scribbled away while you were at it. Keep your notebooks within easy reach and flick through them in moments of idleness. Remember that energy you felt when you first made those notes, how they gave you the knowledge to be where you are now, and remind yourself of ideas you might have forgotten. And then get back to work.
If you find yourself moving the cursor towards the browser app, close your eyes for a second. Make some quiet space for your mind for five minutes. Allow yourself to block out the chatter, relax, clear your mind and let any thoughts or ideas come to you. Pay attention, it might be something interesting.
Go on a bike ride
Or a walk, or jump around, or some other kind of exercise. We all spend rather a lot of time sitting at a desk. Get your body working, blood pumping, oxygen flowing and adrenalin rushing in any way you fancy. And, similar to meditation, you might find ideas coming to you as you go. When you get back to your desk, you’ll have a fresh view on what you’ve got to do.
Dare I say it… It can be therapeutic to catch up on the paperwork, invoices, invoice chasing, email filing, follow-up emails, etc. And you’re getting something productive done!
Arrange a meet-up
Doesn’t matter if it’s a business meet-up or socialising with some friends, the reason for clicking away to social media is often loneliness or a need for some interaction. Cut to the chase and spend the time you might have wasted online arranging a meeting in a café or the pub. Who knows – your friends or colleagues might be just as glad you wanted to get together.
Work on a time management plan
Work out how to use your time better by making a list or schedule of how you want to spend your day. This is kind of ironic – using your procrastination time to actually plan when you might be able to procrastinate.
Work on your next novel
Who am I kidding. I mean open up the Word doc and read through the last couple of pages you wrote and wonder where you’re going to take it next. But at least you’re thinking about it, instead of scrolling down an endless timeline in case there’s a new political outrage or photo of a laughing unicorn you might have missed.
Write a list of ideas
Anything. Ideas for projects, recipes, a new career, a niche, people who might be interested in that niche, headlines, unusual names, ideas for more lists… it goes on. James Altucher recommends writing a list of ideas every day, and says doing so can become a super-power. Do it for 6 months and see what happens.
Something else creative
Got any other small or large projects not involving writing? Do a sketch or drawing. Think about your next photo shoot. Plan the elements of a new game. Compose a menu. Map out that video course. Pick up the guitar. Start a tune on Garageband. Anything apart from clicking and scrolling.
But with all these ideas…
Set a timer, or keep an eye on the clock. Progressive Procrastination can be useful, but it’s still taking you away from tasks you need to do.
Hang on… why are you procrastinating in the first place?
What’s the issue? Not ready to work on the task? Not sure how to approach it? Need more preparation? Don’t relate to the subject matter? Taken a wrong direction? This might just be your subconscious mind’s way of telling you to step away from the job and give yourself time to re-assess it.
Or is it laziness? While procrastination can look like a symptom of laziness, being lazy does not make you a procrastinator. Procrastinators like me tend to use a fruitless activity like browsing social media to make themselves feel busy while avoiding the task at hand. Lazy people can sometimes be the most efficient workers you’ll meet, finding the quickest, easiest way to get a job finished and off their plate, so they can get back to relaxing or doing whatever they like.
Take an honest look at what’s going on here
If you know you need to do more research, then there’s no easy way out – you have to step up and do it.
If it’s a confidence issue, then take a look at yourself from the outside – review your portfolio, read your testimonials, remember how you’ve made clients happy, and why you got into this line of work in the first place. You wouldn’t have got this far if you hadn’t got what it takes.
If you still find yourself stalling, try to imagine how quickly you could get the task done, and therefore how quickly you can make your client happy. Also – how soon you’ll be able to do something else without the guilt and/or stress.
Get back in the saddle
You needed a break, but the job is not going to go away. You’re a pro. You’ll feel more positive about both the task and yourself once it’s completed. Whatever your reason for seeking a distraction, you’ll get greater fulfilment from conquering it. Focus on the end result.
This wasn’t meant to be a tirade against social media channels. There are many positive aspects to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and I get a lot out of them – the exchange of ideas and information on certain forums or groups, awareness of campaigns and events I get involved with, and of course maintaining contacts with family and friends.
Social media channels are not the problem. It’s over-using these channels to get another dopamine hit that’s the problem. Don’t allow yourself to get lost on social media or YouTube. You might think you’re ‘at work’, but you’re not. It’s your own time you’re losing.
Instead, imagine the success of your project – taste it now in your mind – then make it happen. The best thing about procrastination can be mixing up work with creativity and ideas, and sometimes magic happens when one feeds into the other. Make it fun!
PS – I know… this productivity drive is all rather preachy and patronising of me. But hey, now I’ve written this post I’ve got no excuses any more either. Sorry, but goodbye Facebook. Apart from 20 minutes at lunch, maybe. And that quick burst later too. And that quick look while I’m eating my cornflakes… no, no, stoppit!
PPS – I think I’m going to tape that photo of David Ogilvy to the wall above my desk.
PPPS – There must be something in the air… About 2 hours after I posted this, good old Derek Halpern also weighed in with his thoughts on productivity here: https://socialtriggers.com/how-to-be-more-productive-my-10-best-tips/
Do you have other ideas for using procrastination productively? I don’t expect my brain-dump to be the final word on anything. Draw up your own lists now of what you could be doing instead of surfing social media, tweaking your website or reading this blog post for that matter…