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Dylan Oh
Dylan Oh

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Procrastination? You just need to break down your task.

Have you ever had difficulty maintaining focus while working from home (WFH)? I believe most of us face this issue when we tried to adapt to WFH and I was one of the victims.

This was what it looks like when I started WFH: I know exactly what task I need to work on, but I just couldn’t get on it. Everything else just seems to be more attractive than the task itself, like cleaning your desk or scrolling through social media, even when you are clearly aware that there is nothing else new for you to look at.

Due to this, I chose to commute to the office almost every single day, to keep myself more productive. I had finally decided to look at the root cause of it and started to take action.

There is the only huge reason that this is happening for me:

Procrastination caused by Fear

Like I said earlier, I know the things that I have to work on for the day, however, I have no actionable steps for them. The task looks so huge that I just subconsciously escape from it. I would rather do anything else that I can to avoid facing the problem.

Just an example of a software engineering task: I need to find out what is the reason for a bug that happened yesterday. But the task seems to be too general to start with. If I am not in the office on that day, I will start to tell myself: I need to get myself a cup of coffee before I can start looking at the task, or I shall give myself some time (to relax, to do some house works) before I am ready to look at such a complex troubleshooting task. But the fact is I will never be “ready” to start. There is no perfect timing to start, but creating smaller subtasks will make the change.

Next time when you receive a task to work on, do not start doing any analysis or brainstorming on the root cause of the issue. Just open up your notepad, and start writing down a step-by-step guide for yourself to tackle the issue. What I can do for the example task mentioned earlier, the task can be broken down into (can be in sequence or not):

  1. Find out the exact timing that the bug happened
  2. Look at the server log to check if there is relevant information
  3. Check if the bug is replicable in other environments
  4. Look at the past Jira tickets to see if a similar bug has happened before
  5. ...

After you have listed out the to-dos for the task, you should have an idea of where to start looking, and procrastination is not going to hit you hard. I have been personally using Notion to keep track of my daily workable tasks, this is an example of my daily to-dos:

My To-Do List

It seems to be treating yourself like a robot or machine, but this is the best way to beat procrastination based on my personal experience (and yes, I do write out what I want to say during daily stand-up in my to-dos). The reason that I do this is also to prevent myself from spending too much time thinking of what to do while in the midst of deep work.

If you do also have the problem of focusing while WFH, I do encourage you to try listing out all the tasks before the day starts. It can be as detailed as possible so that our brain is not suffering when we are executing it.

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