Procrastination can strike at any time.
Whether it's staring at a blank page first thing in the morning or drinking a third cup of coffee to face organizing your emails at 3 pm, the urge to procrastinate is always hiding. It's our lizard brain in action trying to keep us on the easiest path possible.
The result of procrastination is that your work doesn't get done.
Sure, you might start work on some other task but only to avoid the big important task on the top of your list. However, as a designer, spending time organizing your Figma file isn't the same as finalizing that mockup for a client.
Procrastination can be difficult to overcome but the key is to become aware of it and learn how to tackle it depending on what form it takes.
In this article, I'll share with you what I know about procrastination triggers (the things that cause you to procrastinate) and how to overcome them.
A boring task is very hard to concentrate on. You struggle to stay awake while working on these types of tasks. For me, this includes email management and small admin tasks that don't need a lot of brainpower.
Here are some things to try if a task is boring:
- Go someplace else to do your work. Go outside, go to a nearby Café, or literally just go to a different room in your house.
- Listen to music. If the task doesn't need your full concentration, play a Lo-fi playlist on Spotify and bop along (here's what I listen to: Pokemon Lofi).
- Task batching - Group a lot of small "boring" tasks together and work on them in one go.
A task can be difficult to work on when you don't understand a complex concept or a particular way of doing something.
Here's how to overcome difficult tasks:
- Get clarification from your boss or your peers; ask for some help to understand a topic you're struggling with.
- Take some time before you start a task to do some research. Focus on the areas you don't fully understand and work from there.
- Eat the frog - put this task on the top of your list to work on. You'll be surprised at how much motivation you have first thing in the morning to overcome a difficult task.
A task can be frustrating for lots of reasons. For me, it's when I don't know what's expected of me from my boss. For you, it might be when you don't know the due date for a project or you are working with someone challenging.
With all that in mind, here are some things to try:
- Try gamifying your work - there are lots of fun to-do lists like Habitica that make tracking and completing tasks much more enjoyable.
- Use the Pomodoro Technique to block out your work sessions. I wrote about how I use this technique to write more articles here: My Writing Workflow For Content Creation.
- Take steps to alleviate your frustration. If it's not getting clarity from your boss, send them a message. If you're working with someone challenging that might be a bigger rabbit hole but here's an article that might help: 10 Tips for Dealing With Difficult People at Work
It's hard to find the motivation to work on something that has no personal meaning for you.
Fortunately, there are some simple actions you can take:
- Determine the why behind your work. Ask yourself why this task is important and write it down so you remember. It might be to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, or it may be a cause you believe strongly in.
- Understand the consequences of not doing that work. Flip your mindset and think about what would happen if you didn't do this task.
- Delegate or discard meaningless tasks. It's OK to have tasks that don't have any personal meaning but consider if you can delegate them to someone else or get rid of them entirely. Pruning back your tasks often will leave you with the tasks that provide you with the most value.
With a lot of knowledge work, it can be hard to find the reward at the end. Publishing a blog post doesn't immediately get you anything, submitting a color palette to your team doesn't either.
With that said, here are some ways to reward yourself:
- Take a break and go for a walk. It might sound crap but rewarding yourself with a break to go for a walk is an excellent way to clear your head after the challenge of completing a task.
- Indulge in social media for 5 minutes. If you use the Pomodoro Technique, use the 5 minute break time to do something your brain will find fun like scroll Twitter or TikTok.
- Treat yourself to something nice when a bigger project is completed. I'm a big fan of buying the latest video game to treat myself for a job well done!
An unstructured task is like a tangled mess of cables. You don't know where to start to clear up the mess.
Here are some techniques to add structure to a task:
- Create a detailed plan and carefully outline each of the steps involved. By knowing the next actionable step, you've made the task easy to pick up and work on.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth as much as we'd like to believe otherwise. Stick to one item until you are finished, then move on to the next item.
- Limit the time you work on something. This helps you to overcome Parkinson's Law: If you gave yourself 2 hours to do a task, then it will take 2 hours to complete. Aside from the Pomodoro technique, consider how long it will take to do a task then cut that time in half.
How to prevent procrastination:— Michelle The Creative 💎 (@mishacreatrix) April 19, 2021
Add Structure To An Unstructured Task pic.twitter.com/JnUeqCB2FN
As you can see, the best way to overcome procrastination is to understand which triggers are at play then take steps to reverse them.
Make a boring task more exciting, make an unstructured task more structured, etc.
People procrastinate when work is:— Michelle The Creative 💎 (@mishacreatrix) April 20, 2021
• Not meaningful
• Not Rewarding
Learn to flip these triggers on their heads and you can overcome procrastination 💪
Before we finish, here's a little bit of homework for you. I highly recommend making your own list of procrastination triggers and techniques you can apply to overcome them. This would be a great resource to have the next time you feel the urge to procrastinate.
Most of what I learned to write this article came from the book: The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey. I highly recommend this book if you're totally new to productivity (after you read Getting Things Done of course - you should read that first).
This article started life as a Twitter thread which you can find here: Original Thread
This article was originally published over on my website: 6 Procrastination Triggers And How To Overcome Them As A Designer