Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about time we finally got around to dealing with the evils of procrastination. In doing so, we’ll cover ten great tips on how to deal with occasions where you feel too distracted or even as if you’re simply too lazy to work.
We’ve all experienced the demons of procrastination. It’s like the wind is taken out of your sails – or, worse, the wind is blowing your ship backwards.
Not that anyone around you really notices. They’re all busy getting things done.
You, meanwhile, know what you should be doing: a load of work which is outstanding.
You look at the clock. Somehow you’ve lost your head start on the day. How is it that time already?
All the while, mythical sirens try to lure you onto the rocks that have claimed many a productive worker – rocks called “checking your phone” or “jumping on Facebook” or “organising an impromptu meeting”. After all, don’t those things suddenly look urgent?
All the while a voice inside you gains more and more cadence. It says you are lazy. You’re too lazy to work. How did you even land this job, being so slovenly?
You look around your office and people are typing furiously, or they’re on the phone or they’re out at important meetings.
But you, on the other hand? You are lazy, your inner voice says yet again.
And your day continues to slip away.
You’re not alone
I’ve been there.
I’d like to say those days are completely behind me, but I don’t think they ever truly are. You see, procrastination is not just about delaying a job, it’s not just about feeling like you’re too lazy to work. It’s not just about getting distracted by the web and looking on Facebook or Twitter when you should be more productive.
It is, in fact, much more complicated.
What I will say – from my own personal experience – is that the raging voice which says you’re too lazy to work, or that you’re being too easily distracted, is likely very wrong.
You’re not too lazy to work or scatterbrained – not if you’re here reading about how to stop it. So those things are myths that you’re telling yourself.
Best leave them at the door.
And let’s get you started with what you came here for: 10 great ways to stop procrastinating when you feel like you’re too lazy to work
Step one: a step back?!
Oh, the irony of that title. But the most counter-intuitive step is perhaps the most crucial one.
You can do this at your desk, or you can take yourself somewhere different. If you work in an office then go into a meeting room. If you work from home, take a pad and pen and go and sit somewhere else in the house. Just make sure you won’t be disturbed.
What’s crucial is that you set some sort of time limit to the process I’m about to talk you through. Take half an hour to begin with. Then, next time it happens, shorten it to twenty. Eventually try and do all of this in about fifteen minutes.
And whilst you’re doing this you need to adjust your mentality – this way you’ll stop your inner voice from saying that you’re just dragging your feet even more by doing all of this.
So, how do you adjust your mentality?
Well, instead of being self-conscious be self aware. The best way to do this is to pretend as if you are a workplace specialist or a project manager drafted in to sort your procrastination problem out in a professional and non-judgemental way.
By following the steps below you’re going to be methodical in exploring the causes of your procrastination, why you’re procrastinating and how you’re going to stop it.
Step two: you need to run a self audit
Procrastination can be your guide. It can be your friend if you can spot it happening before it’s too late and the day is done. Turn off that voice for a moment that says you’re too lazy to work, or that you’re a scatterbrain. Instead, look at procrastination as a sign that you need to weigh things up.
As your own inner project manager, you now need to do some weighing up about why you are procrastinating.
Ask the following questions:
Are you tired?
If so, productivity can drop dramatically. You need to find a way to compensate for this whilst at work. Could a colleague help you with something? Or maybe it’s worth asking if tiredness is simply making you feel like you’re getting nowhere, when in fact you are.
Also, crucially, if you have to drive or operate machinery, you need to consult company guidelines and your own conscience to see if you are fit to even be in work.
How has your health been?
You could be under the weather – in which case you could be making things worse.
Is there something icky working its way through the office or your family? If so it could be rearing its head. Like tiredness, you need to weigh up your ability to carry out tasks and the safety of yourself and colleagues. By the way, there’s nothing big or clever about staying in work.
Are you taking medication?
Check for side effects you might be experiencing. Speak to HR if it could impinge on your job, or jeopardise your safety or that of others.
Are there other factors?
These are unique to each of us. It could be family conflicts, or simply that you drink too much coffee. I had that problem as a journalist. I’d be doing a lot, but because I drank boatloads of cheap machine coffee I felt like I was getting nowhere.
Bear in mind that if you self medicate or take drugs for recreation then that can have serious consequences throughout the rest of the week. It’s not just a one night thing or a quick pick-me-up.
…What you should do now…
Well, if you turn up a positive for any of these you have to appreciate that you’re not too lazy to work or have a poor attention span.
No, you need to take care of yourself. You come first. If necessary, your work can wait.
And, if you struggle with this concept, then remember that not being in the right condition could have a knock-on effect. Not recovering could ruin the rest of the week for you. It could hold back the productivity of your colleagues – or worse it could make them ill.
Often, not caring for yourself is the most stupid thing you could do, and the worst thing for your employer, no matter what bravado they have institutionalised about pulling all-nighters or swallowing painkillers to finish the job.
Instead, ask yourself:
Do you need to take some time off?
Do you need to get some fresh air?
Would you like some water, food etc?
Step three: the overwhelm buster
Okay, so if you have decided you’re fit to work, then the chances are that things are overwhelming you, one way or another. So you need to get your inner project manager to earn her or his wage and start organising things into a manageable workload.
You see the chances are that when you procrastinate you are not too lazy, or being scatterbrained, but that you are struggling to figure out how to tackle the deceptively large mountain of work ahead.
So, next, you have to write up all your tasks. Create a to-do list. If you already have a to-do list, then refresh it. Check it through.
Then, go through your workload and decide what action needs to be taken right now.
Give each task an A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. An “A” or a “1” is something you have to do today. “B” or “2”is something you can do when the “A” or “1” tasks are done. “C” or “3” are the lowest priority tasks. They earn you bonus points but do nothing special for you or your employer
Now, with this list in hand, you have your priorities in check.
But how do start actually doing these tasks when you are procrastinating?
Well, you need to break it down and break it down until each task becomes broken into small and almost inconsequential jobs.
It’s like teasing at the corner of the task and working inwards. Start with the simplest phone calls, the shortest emails etc and build up from there.
Great, you say.
But what if, after all of this, you still feel like you’re procrastinating?
Step four: your inner voice
Believe it or not you could actually be right to be procrastinating.
I’ll explain from my experience as a newspaper journalist.
Sometimes there were jobs or stories that I could never get around to. I could never quite prioritise them above the others. Guilt would eventually creep in.
But soon, I’d find that this gut instinct played out. I’d hear from someone that the story had nothing in it. Or something would happen which would change the course of events and make it into a bigger, better story.
I’ll be brutally honest: this is not something you can quantify. I suppose you know your gut instinct is working if you are prioritising and trying to get past your procrastination.
It’s fair if you think that’s a bit superstitious, however, so I’ll offer an alternative.
Look at the task you seemingly never get around to objectively: is there a reason, deep down, that you’re not doing this task?
Look at such tasks in terms of the broader picture regarding the jobs on your to-do list. Is this tricksy task getting you/your department/ your company concretely towards success, or are you just going through the motions?
If it is the latter, maybe the task is actually worth scrapping.
So what if you’ve done the above but no, you think you’re definitely too lazy to work today? Well, follow these steps in no particular order.
Step five: use a site blocker on your web browser
There are plenty of great productivity tools on the internet. Google has a load over on their Chrome app store; a notable one is StayFocusd. This one stops you from going on Facebook at certain times – or indeed any other distracting site you want off limits.
But what if, in this modern world, your job is to work with Facebook? You know the problem there, as I do: you go on Facebook to do one thing and get pulled off onto something else. Facebook and social media are designed to do that and do it well. Well in that case, set up StayFocusd to stop you from accessing the site until towards the end of the day.
Step six: turn off your mobile phone
Turning it off might be easy if you work in an office -they’re probably discouraged anyway. However, if you need it on then turn off the wi-fi and data to stop news and social media alerts.
If you keep over-checking for texts – but you need it on for emergencies – then think about handing the phone to a trusted colleague, or creating a routine where you check it only at certain times. Let others in your family know that you do this so they’re not worried if you don’t text back.
And speaking of family/loved ones, make sure they know not to contact you during work hours unless it is an emergency.
Step seven: plan things to do after work so you’re not dragging your feet and running up needless unpaid overtime
If you work somewhere where people clock out after 5.30pm then the danger is that you’ll feel comfortable about staying later. This can mean you are burning midnight oil and getting loads done. However, it often means what you are doing is creating a new tolerance as to how long you can stay at work. In other words, if you feel comfortable pulling a 12-hour shift then you can end up spreading an eight-hour workload into that time. You’re not actually doing any extra work.
To stop this make plans with friends. Plan to meet up for coffee, for drinks or to see a film. Whatever sounds like fun. Ideally make plans with someone who you would not feel comfortable letting down. This could be a date or it could be a new friend who you’re less relaxed about giving the run-around. That way, you’re less likely to ring them up last minute and pull out of meeting them.
And that means you are more likely to race through your tasks to beat the clock during the working day.
Step eight: use the Pomodoro technique to push you onwards.
The Pomodoro technique is one where you work for 25 minutes then take a five minute break. Every two hours you then take a 15-minute break. This helps your brain freshen up. There are plenty of phone and browser extensions that will help.
Step nine: use a “SAD” lamp
I find lack of light can be an issue for me – turning on a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp makes me feel more awake and on the ball. This is definitely one for when you feel like you’re too lazy to work, and worth considering if where you work has poor sunlight coming in. I use one all the time, and I find that on average I seem to stay at my desk much longer when it’s on.
Step 10: future proofing – very important!
Plan for tomorrow. Always plan for tomorrow.
This is a hugely important tip. Once you have climbed the mountain of procrastination, beaten it and made sure that you feel you have accomplished something, then you want to cut down on chances of this happening again. One excellent way of doing this is to jot down the important tasks you want to achieve tomorrow. Put it somewhere you will see it the next morning. This cuts through the overwhelm. Whilst you’re watching telly tonight and sleeping, your brain will help flesh out the little details of those work tasks in a way that doesn’t interfere with your rest.
When you go into work the next day, you will not feel scatterbrained, nor will you feel too lazy to work: you’ll be ready to go.
Great sites that deal with procrastination
These are sites that push beyond the obvious and also give alternative perspectives on the subject:
3 tips for Dealing with Procrastination
Writer and entrepreneur Corbett Barr discusses how you can use the “too lazy to work” and scatterbrain frames of mind to your own advantage. He also talks about how procrastination doesn’t have to be all about you – you can actually use other people to spur you on. This is an excellent article to have on standby whenever you need to look at things in a more positive light: procrastination isn’t something you have to equate with failure. Read and bookmark!
6 common reasons people procrastinate
There’s one crucial area I haven’t looked into, which Coaching Positive Performance does – and that’s fear. Not only does Carthage Buckley’s site provide a to-the-point synopsis of steps you can take to avoid procrastination, but it also looks at how your worries can subconsciously become a roadblock to your own success. In this sense it is a very important read. Fear is something that can easily blind your sense of perspective, and this site addresses this issue very well. Heed carefully what it says.
Stop over thinking, over analysing and enjoy life more
I like this post by Tony Wideman so much I had to come back to my article and add it to the list. This is all about taking action, pushing yourself past overthinking and so getting to the point where you can deliver on your goals. Overthinking is the key component of feeling overwhelmed, so this article fits into my list of procrastination articles perfectly. Read it through for extra tips on what to do when too much is running through your head and stopping you from achieving anything.
Conclusion – and a crucial final thought on procrastinating and feeling scatterbrained or too lazy to work
By now, finally, I hope you will appreciate that just because you’re procrastinating does not mean that you’re too lazy to work. Nor does it make you a scatterbrain.
It often means you’re searching for the right answers to something. It could be how you feel, your health, or that your work environment needs to be tweaked.
One last thing could be that you’re in the wrong job. If you feel this day after day, it may be time to re-evaluate a much bigger picture: your career.
But that’s not for a blog on procrastination, that’s a piece for another day.