Procrastination is something the human race has struggled with for a long, long time.
Just see what Aristotle? Had to say about it: “Excellence, vice and procrastination are not an isolated act, they are formed by the constant repeat of actions.”
Obviously if he was advising people how to avoid procrastination, it’s not something new to us.
But the interesting thing is that there are several types of procrastination:
- Putting off things we know we should do for something more fun (like watching Game of Thrones.)
- Doing less important, easier tasks to avoid doing what we know we should really be doing.
The first is the one most of us think about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put off doing something for work or school to watch TV or play video games.
You can’t blame me of course. In general it’s much more fun to just veg out and do an enjoyable activity than start on that paper for school. Turning off your brain is always a tempting endeavor, hence why Americans watch TV every day.
But to be honest, I think the bigger problem in our culture is the second type of procrastination. The kind where we stay “busy,” but aren’t really doing anything.
As Tim Ferris points out in his book The Four Hour Workweek, all you really need to do to be seen as a “productive employee” is to keep moving. He says we should “Focus on busying productive instead of busy.”
I’m also reminded me of this clip from Office Space where the protagonist claims that he really only does about 15 minutes of work every day.
While that’s a stretch (I hope) for most of us, there is some truth to it. We often stay so busy doing minuscule tasks that we don’t get the most important done. And before we know it, the entire day is gone and we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything!
This even happened to me today. I’d planned on writing this article a bit earlier, but I got sidetracked by setting up my new phone. I”m making the switch from Verizon to Google Fi, and the new phone came in today. What I thought might take 5-10 minutes probably took an hour by the time I’d
- Installed my favorite apps
- Imported my contacts from my iPhone
- Transferred the number
- Installed multiple updates
Obviously I would tinker with other things while apps and updates were downloading, but still. I really didn’t do the most important activities during that time. Instead I should’ve waited until I had a natural lull later tonight and done it then.
We’re always capable of finding things to distract ourselves from the most important task. We stay so busy that we let the big things slip through the cracks just so we can hold up the minor ones.
For example, in 2015 Mark Zuckerberg said the average U.S. consumer spent 40 minutes a day on Facebook. So we can spend that much time on Facebook, but most of us only exercise for 17 minutes a day?
Obviously that time spent on Facebook is (probably) spent in tiny increments- 5 minutes here, 8 minutes there. But as you can see, it does add up to be a major chunk of our day. And when we regularly spend that much of our time just checking Facebook…. We’re in trouble.
The good news is that there are certain things we can do to keep ourselves on course. Here are a few to try:
Keep Your Phone 50 Feet Away
When my phone isn’t at my side, I’m ridiculously more productive. I don’t have to worry about text messages, phone calls, or emails bugging me.
I’m also not tempted to just grab my phone on a whim and check Facebook for the 31st time today.
Obviously this sounds weird, but it’s difficult to understand until you try it. Just knowing that you have a little more peace and quiet will help you focus much better.
Plus, keep in mind what a phone call, email or text message actually is. It’s someone else demanding your time when it’s convenient for them. If you have something else you’re working on that’s more important- they’ll just have to wait.
Set Weekly Time Goals
This is something I learned from an interview from Rory Vaden’s book Take the Stairs. The guy he’s talking to basically recommends that you set goals for how long you’ll do certain things each week, then keep track of daily progress.
For example, maybe you set a goal to exercise for 2 hours a week and read for 5 hours a week. Each night you record how much you did each of these activities. Then when you get to the end of the week, you can easily see if you met your goal.
This works well because you’ll see the daily progress you’re making. If you have a few days go by without taking any action, you know that the last few days of the week need to be focused on that activity.
Work in Short Bursts
It’s easy to think that by sitting down for a few hours at a time, we’re being very productive. That’s not always the case, though. When you do that, you may get sidetracked and before you know it, an hour or so has gone by.
I just had this happen to me yesterday. I sat down for (what I thought) would be just a few minutes to sign up for a conference.
Well before I could, I first had to register to join the website. This took longer than I expected- like 30 minutes.
Then I had to wait for my profile to be approved, which took about another hour.
Once I did register, I realized I needed to find a hotel. So then I started researching hotels and figuring out the logistics of the trip.
…but I didn’t plan on doing that stuff. Even though it had to be done, I should have put it off to do more important things. But I didn’t because I was down a rabbit hole with nothing to pull me out.
I (and many others) work best by setting an alarm to go off after a certain period of time, like 25 minutes. Then I take a 5 minute break before going back at it. This is called the Pomodoro technique.
Here’s why it works:
- Your focus is improved because you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes.
- Even if you do get sidetracked, the longest it can last is 24 minutes! (Because come on- if you get sidetracked in less than a minute, there are other issues going on.)
- The short break rejuvenates you and prepares you for another work session.
It may sound silly but it works- trust me!
Most of us are people pleasers and like to say yes to everything. Unfortunately, that just fills out calendar with more stuff than we can handle.
Instead, start saying no more often. Maybe that means your child only does one extra curricular activity each season, rather than 2-3. Perhaps you say no to joining the local running club your friend asks you to join. It could be you turn down the opportunity to volunteer somewhere.
Just make sure you aren’t saying no for no reason. Realize that by keeping your calendar more open and reducing your busy-ness, you’re giving yourself more time to do what matters most.
There are a lot of other tactics out there to help you become more productive. But being the most productive person in the world doesn’t mean you do the most things. Instead it means focusing on the most important first, and then letting the rest fall into place.
In other words- don’t be busy just to be busy. Be busy working on things that have a positive, lasting impact.