August 19, 2019
There are days when you can’t seem to get down to any business you have on your priorities list. Maybe you’re having a day like this right now, being the reason why you’re reading this article. Maybe once you finish, you’ll move on to some equally useful-but-not-essential activity, such as tidying up your drive or mailbox. Let me introduce you to our hero – procrastination – and share 7 time management tips that will help you understand the nature of procrastination and take the first steps to fight the bad habits.
Is there a difference between procrastination and laziness? Certainly. Laziness refers to a state when you avoid taking an effort or particular activity without taking any other action while procrastination means putting off essential tasks for later by keeping yourself occupied with something else. In fact, this “else” activity might be more demanding than the one you’re trying to escape from. That’s one type of procrastination. The other one is when you try to deal with the task ahead, but distract yourself with little interruptions such as social media, unproductive meetings, checking email every 30 minutes, and so on.
No matter what type of procrastination you’re struggling with, there are battle-tested ways to help you tame the bad behavioural patterns. By starting with the simple time management tips below, you’ll be able to make some mind space and analyse what happens before and after you procrastinate.
The plethora of self-help books, blogs and YouTube channels contains so many examples of daily routines that you might end up totally confused.
In the morning, Benjamin Franklin spent 30 to 60 minutes naked in his chamber while Winston Churhill spent about 3 or 4 hours working from his bed.
Napoleon slept only 4 hours a day while scientists say our average sleep time should be twice as much.
Some of your friends try intermittent fasting while others follow the good old “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.
How do you wrap your head around it?
Of course, it feels noble to live like all-time geniuses. It also feels right to follow the latest science discoveries. But the non-scientific truth is… you are you. Get to know your most optimal daily schedule by observing such activities as:
As you can see, there are many factors that affect your daily rhythm. To make things more complicated, you body also functions in monthly and seasonal cycles. No matter how hard it may be to listen to your needs in the firs days and weeks, observing how your body and mind react in different times of day will let you adapt the daily schedule and overall planning in the most optimal way.
What do frogs and procrastination have in common?, you may wonder. It takes a lot of imagination to connect the dots between these two. It was Mark Twain who came up with it: a frog is a metaphor of the most aversive thing you need to accomplish during the day. Once you eat a live frog, is there anything worse that can happen to you?
In his book “Eat that Frog: Twenty-one Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time”, Brian Tracy, a productivity and time management guru, advises to tackle the biggest and hardest task – eat the frog – without hesitation. The sooner you’re done with it, the better. On the one hand, it’s hard to disagree, but on the other hand, how do you combine the “eat that frog” strategy with instant gratification, the urge to obtain a benefit or reward as fast as possible?
Instant gratification has spread among millennials and generations Y and Z like fire. We want everything to be fun, enjoyable and effortless, and we want it NOW. Even though such a behavioural pattern is only natural and helps you stay enthusiastic (I’ll give you an example in tip 3), you must realise it will rather keep you away from getting things done instead of bringing you closer to tick that position on your to-do board. To avoid the irresistible trap of instant gratification, try a short trip to the future and emphatise with the way you’ll feel after reaching for an instant reward – and compare it with the delayed one. Which one feels better?
I promised an example of instant gratification done right, so here it goes – a conscious and pre-planned break. In some jobs, you may easily notice the tendency to spend a long time working (or procrastinating) without taking a proper break. By proper I mean changing the environment for a few minutes and focusing on something completely different from the thing you were doing. Examples? Spending two hours programming and taking a peek at your friends’ updates on Facebook is NOT a conscious break. You stay in the same position, in front of the screen, and keep processing chunked content without any concrete purpose. A proper break in this case would be taking a short walk or talking to a colleague about something not related to work.
Remember to take a break after at least one hour of continuous work – otherwise, you’ll lose focus and your productivity will drop. There are many easy-to-follow patterns you can use, such as the Pomodoro technique.
Have you ever checked how much time you spend at work on such activities as social networks, games, digesting unnecessary content (such as YouTube videos with funny cats or memes) and alike? And how much you could have done during this time? Computer technologies and the internet are as much of our friends as they are enemies to productivity, which means you need to curb the amount of time you dedicate to popular online distractors.
In an ideal world, you would avoid your online temples of procrastination once and for all. An effective way to get hold of your online presence is installing a browser plugin that will block the access to pages of your choice (try Freedom or Stay Focusd). But let’s not be too cruel too soon – maybe taking a look at your daily and weekly smartphone activity time will be enough to realise where you stand and introducing smaller time thresholds on your most time-consuming apps?
Let’s assume you’ve already swallowed your frog in the beginning of the day. Congratulations, but what happens next? How to avoid turning your agenda into a pond full of frogs waiting to be eaten? The magic you’re looking for lies in dividing your frog-sized tasks into smaller ones. At first, it might seem gross, but once the magic dust settles, you’ll end up with a regular salad consisting of multiple ingredients: large and small, soft and hard, neutral bases and taste breakers. Sounds more appetising, doesn’t it?
Formulating short to-dos can seem difficult at first because you need to verbalise the little activities you do to commit to a larger tasks. The 2-minute rule authored by James Clear might me a good warmup and just the magic spell you’re looking for. Let’s take a look at some examples:
“Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
“Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
“Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
“Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
“Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
The tasks on the left are rather time-consuming and demanding while the ones on the right are the two-minute chunks that will get you started, give you a sense of accomplishment and grow your appetite for more.
Another difficulty you might come across when dividing tasks into smaller chunks is the exponential growth of your to-do list. Your go-to paper journal and post-its might not be enough anymore. Online project management tools are here to save the day. Their highly visual character and intuitive interface can even bring some fun factor to the dreadful planning. Our picks for freelancers, small and medium teams are Trello and Asana.
Having a set of carefully divided, achievable and purposeful tasks can boost your morale and bring some excitement into everyday routine. But there’s one more thing you can do to motivate yourself and plan further work with ease. Measuring the amount of time you need for different tasks will help you estimate daily and weekly plans more accurately and provide you (and your team) with a steady workflow. After a few weeks, or even days, you’ll observe that the amount of neverending stories is shrinking.
To cut down on the daily app routine, get started with a time tracking tool that can be connected to your project management platform. Timenotes provides seamless integrations for Trello and Asana. Give it a try once you pick your favourite planning tool.
The last of the time management tips – and the summary of all six above – touches a more implicit aspect of our decisions and their consequences. On a rational level, people realise procrastination is a bad choice. But if you still do it, there must be some other, subconscious reason for it. Taking a closer look at your work-life balance, social interactions and emotional condition might also help with focusing on what’s important to move your work – and other life areas – in the right direction. I hope all the ideas and time management tips in this article will inspire you to take control over your time and productivity.