Let’s face it, most of us procrastinate to some degree or other. It’s natural to want to “take it easy”. But too much of a good thing can be detrimental. So, here are 21 productivity hacks for procrastinators that will inspire you to be more productive so you can get more out of life.
Before we launch into the list of productivity hacks for procrastinators, let’s take a quick refresher on what procrastination is and why it’s generally a bad thing.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination can be defined as
“… a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing it might have negative consequences.”Joseph Ferrari, “Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations” (June 2018)
From this definitions, we notice that for a delay to be categorized as procrastination, it must be
- habitual or intentional,
- it can apply to the starting or finishing of a task and
- the person procrastinating must be aware that their delay may have negative consequences.
While some believe that procrastination is not always a problem, most experts agree that procrastination is a hindrance to productivity that can be associated with depression, guilt, low self-esteem, and inadequacy. In short, procrastination is bad.
Beware Productive Procrastination
Don’t be fooled by thinking that being busy means that you are not procrastinating. Being busy does not mean that you are being productive as you may not be completing your productive tasks.
According to Jari Roomer in an article on Medium.com, productive procrastination is a “…silent killer of your goals and ambitions…”. Feeing productive does not mean that you are actually productive. If you are trying to simply stay busy to fool yourself into believing that you are being productive, then you are guilty of productive procrastination.
Are You a Procrastinator?
In an article on procrastination, Leon Ho states that according to a 2015 survey an average person loses about 55 days of productive time each year through procrastination. That’s over two and a half working months (assuming about 22 working days per month). It’s a big deal!
If you could be productive for even just a quarter of the time wasted through procrastination, you would effectively add over two working weeks to your year.
It helps to know what kind of procrastinator you are, so you know where the problem lies. This, in turn, will help you devise a strategy to replace procrastination with productivity. The writer of the abovementioned article identifies 5 types of procrastinators;
- The Perfectionist
- The Dreamer
- The Avoider
- The Crisis Maker
- The Busy Procrastinator.
You may fall somewhere between the types, with traits from two or more. Which type are you?
Uncover Your Inner Procrastinator
If you are a procrastinator, take some time to think about and answer the following questions posed by Phylicia Masonheimer in an article on lightworkers.com;
- When during the day do you tend to procrastinate?
- What tasks do you usually procrastinate on?
- Where do you usually go when you procrastinate?
- How do you procrastinate? What do you do when procrastinate?
When you have your answers, figure out ways to “plug the holes” to address each. For example, set aside time to take a break during the time you are most likely to procrastinate. You might also consider changing or reorganizing your tasks (doing things like breaking them up) so they are less likely to cause you to procrastinate.
The Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators
Okay, here we are at the main event; the list of 21 productivity hacks for procrastinators. As you will see, some of these hacks overlap with those found in the GREATER² Goal Achievement System. That’s no coincidence as both countering procrastination and achieving goals relate to completing tasks.
It may not be feasible to use all of these hacks in your situation, but take those you think may be useful and try them out. And don’t be afraid to modify them or mix and match them to find a solution that works for you.
Hack Your Surroundings
Your surroundings can have a huge effect on how motivated and focused you are. Distractions, disorganization, and clutter can lead to an inability to concentrate on a task at hand. Let’s look at a few ways you can optimize your surroundings to help minimize procrastination.
They say that a change is as good as a holiday, so why not redecorate your working environment, if you can. Reorienting your work station and changing the colors and pictures around you can go a long way to freshening up your surroundings. This, in turn, can help reinvigorate you. Use some of the points that follow to guide your redecorating efforts.
Use Red and Blue
Try to use red and blue in your environment. Obviously don’t overdo it or your office will look like a garish nightmare scenario or something out of a postmodernist painting. Use these colors judiciously, and remember to use shades to add flair.
But why use red and blue?
Red invokes energy and can improve performance on detail-orientated tasks, especially those related to memory retrieval by over 30% according to a study on sciencedaily.com.
Blue is said to inspire imaginative thought, which can help improve the quality of your work, especially if you need to be creative.
Remove anything that may distract you while you are working. While that includes desk toys and books, the main culprits are cellphones and tablets. If you don’t need them for your work, move them to where they are out of sight.
You should also remove post-it notes and other reminders that are in your line of sight and that may derail your train of thought. Either move them to where they are not visible from where you work, or add the notes to your to-do list and get rid of the post-its completely.
On a related note, clean up your working environment. Remove the clutter and mess. A clean desk and office with only the bare essentials visible will help calm and inspire you.
Get Away From the Familiar
If you find that you always seem to procrastinate in your normal work environment, try working at a library or coffee shop. The change of scenery will be refreshing and may just be what you need to stay focused.
Productivity is all about making more of the time you have and getting more done in less time. In other words, it’s all about efficiency.
The (10+2)*5 Hack
This is a hack developed by Merlin Mann over at 43folders.com and involves breaking each hour you work up as follows;
- Work for 10 minutes
- Take a 2 minute break
- Repeat this 5 times
And there you have it – one hour of work, done and dusted. You then do that six or eight hours per workday and you will have completed a substantial amount of work.
The creator of this system, Merlin Mann, suggests you set up a timer that can easily be reset, so that you know when to work and when to take a break. If you are on a Windows platform, you can check out Remind-Me, a free app that I use and find very useful.
He also suggests having a concise to-do list handy so you know exactly what to start on next when you finish a task.
Create a To-Do List
This is a no-brainer. Having a to-do list, whether on a sheet of paper, in a diary, or on an electronic device, helps you stay proactive and focused, and removes having to think about what you need to do next.
Your to-do list should be prioritized according to task importance so that you can get through your essential assignments first.
You may also consider the principle of “eating the frog”. In other words, get the tasks you dislike doing most out of the way as early as possible or they may distract you. This, in turn, may just cause you to procrastinate.
Create a Break List
Related to creating a to-do list is creating a break list. This is a list of times that you will take breaks, along with what you plan to do during those breaks.
This not only functions as an incentive, but it helps make your free time more efficient as you don’t have to think about what you want to do when you start each break. Most importantly, you must schedule a set time for each break and stick to it.
Doing this will prevent you from getting distracted by what you are doing. We’ve all been in the situation where we took a break to quickly look something up online and when we look around, we’ve ended up surfing the web for two hours. Setting limits for breaks and sticking to this will make you more productive without having to sacrifice your breaks.
As you work, try to find shortcuts to optimize your workflow. You can look online for ideas. It’s not possible to find shortcuts for every task but you may be able to find ones that work for you.
The fact is that shortcuts make work easier which means you are less likely to get distracted by frustration or negativity.
Break Up Big Tasks
Similar to goal setting, where you break up your goal path to make the achievement of your goal more attainable, you can break your tasks – especially large ones – up into mini-tasks. This makes them seem less intimidating, more manageable, and therefore, more achievable.
When breaking your tasks up into mini-tasks, add them to a list and check them off as you complete each one. This will not only allow you to move from one mini-task to the next without having to think about it, but it will also give you a sense of achievement that will help inspire you to get through the list.
You can also consider taking a short break between mini-tasks. Grabbing a coffee or taking a walk around your garden will help refresh you and reinvigorate you to get stuck into the next mini-task after your break.
Reminders are prompts you set up to remind you what your should be doing and why. These could be digital (such as automated reminders on your phone or computer) or they could be physical notes strategically placed to remind (and inspire) you.
An example of the latter could be a reminder to yourself not to let procrastination get the better of you with an inspirational quote added for motivational purposes. Often, all we need is to be prodded and pushed in the right direction and that is the purpose of reminders.
Use Chores as Scheduled Breaks
We all have chores to do – which most people don’t particularly like doing – but why not use them as diversions in-between work sessions. You need to get your chores done anyway, and peppering them in-amongst the tasks you have undertaken to complete may make the latter less unpleasant.
Set a False Deadline
You could also try setting a false deadline to add urgency to your task(s). This will force you to put more effort into what you are doing and make procrastination less likely.
Use Rewards and Penalties
Using this technique, which is borrowed from goal achievement strategy, you can set rewards or penalties (punishments) for completing or failing to complete your tasks.
The reward could be anything; a cup of your favorite coffee from your local barista or a meal with your significant other.
Penalties should be less like punishment and more like chores. The threat of self-flagellation isn’t something that gets the best results in the long run.
Whether you try rewards or penalties – or both – honesty is key. There is no point in cheating and rewarding yourself when you didn’t actually complete the task you assigned yourself.
You may want to rope in a friend or loved one to confirm that you have in fact completed (or failed to complete) your task. They can be given the authority to “release” the reward or assign the punishment.
Find an Accountability Partner
Accountability is an important part of taking action and completing the tasks you have set for yourself. At the end of the day, you have to take responsibility for doing what you need to do. However, it’s very easy to give yourself a pass when you don’t do what you set out to do. It’s easy to put things off or not even do them when no-one is watching. After all, who is going to know?
And that’s where an accountability partner comes in. Their function is to keep you honest and call you out when you don’t do what you have undertaken to do. They are valuable for goal achievement and can be equally valuable in the fight against procrastination.
Finding a committed accountability partner can be difficult, however. You can search for one on websites like tribemine.com. Finding people who undertake to keep you accountable is not the problem. Their ongoing commitment to your undertaking, however, is. Most accountability partners lose interest or get distracted by other things going on in their lives, which is completely understandable.
The best way to counter this is to set up a reciprocal arrangement where you act as an accountability partner for another person and they do the same for you. That way, you both have a vested interest in keeping the other person accountable.
Prepare for the Next Day
Take a few minutes before going to bed to prepare what you need for the next day. This way, it will give you one less reason to procrastinate. This hack is especially useful for going to the gym or exercising. Lay your exercise clothes out so that all you have to do is get up and get dressed or grab your gym bag before heading for the door.
Do Some Exercise
Exercise is a great way to clear your mind and increase your sense of well-being. Consider taking a walk of a jog when taking a break and you will find that you are reinvigorated and motivated when you get back to your tasks.
Have Your Snacks at Hand
Stopping what you are doing to grab a snack can end up distracting you. To counter this, organize your snacks so they are prepared and handy before you start working. You should also try to eat only during breaks.
Start Again if Your Stumble
It’s important to realize that failure is part of the learning process. If you find your procrastination taking hold, don’t beat yourself up about it. Take a little break to refocus, reorganize and motivate yourself. Then launch yourself into your tasks once more.
Remove Procrastination Triggers
When you answer the questions asked in the section titled “Uncover Your Inner Procrastinator”, above, you will be able to discover what “triggers” your procrastination in some cases, and so you can work to eliminate or circumvent those triggers.
Try just starting a task you think may trigger procrastination. Don’t give it any thought. Just get started. The act of simply starting can generate enough momentum to keep you taking action. And at a certain point, you will have invested enough time and effort to want to finish the task.
Yes, procrastination is a problem for most people. It wastes time and does nothing to enrich your life. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It is essential to recognize how pervasive it can be and to watch out for the signs that you are procrastinating. And then, when you suspect that it is taking hold, use the hacks listed above to get you motivated and focused once more.
Featured Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash