Procrastination: the avoidance of work that needs to be done. We all do it. The more you can cut it back, the more productive you are.

To give this a little structure, I roughly divided this in two sections: procrastination before or between tasks, and procrastination while you’re working on a task.

Procrastination before or between tasks

This type of procrastination happens when you should start with something, or when you just finished one of the things on your list. In this downtime, your mind has to make a mental switch to something else. But, your brain is still a bit tired from the previous thing. What happens? You’re going to search for easy ways to postpone: look at social media or your phone, for example. A couple of thoughts on how to improve this type of procrastination:

  • Know when you’ll start. Make a clear appointment with yourself when you’re going to start working on the task you need to do. Make it a habit that you’ll at least get going. Doesn’t matter for how long.
  • Give yourself a couple of minutes between large tasks. You need a couple of minutes to regroup. Just make sure to time box this as well.
  • Have a plan: “if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”. It is far less energy consuming if you don’t have to decide on what to do next. If you already defined that, you only have to get going. And a plan makes your days far more effective, anyway.
  • Match your work with your energy levels: if you’re not already doing this, try to start your day with your hardest, most complex tasks to see if that works for you. Science has proven that the part responsible for making decision quickly gets less effective over the course of the day.
  • Break down large projects in small bites. If you have to finish the task “finish reorganizing department X”, where do you start? Right, Twitter. By having a clear set of things to do, like “create draft of week by week planning”, “contact Julie about contracts”, you know exactly what to do. Less reason to put it off.

Procrastination while you’re working on a task

Also a tough one. While I’ve been writing this, I have checked email at least four times. After writing this I thought a bit about getting a glass of water and hitting up Twitter. All while I really need to ship this post and get some sleep. Couple of things to do to make this better:

  • Use a timer. Most people work better with some pressure. Setting a clear deadline will help resisting distractions.
  • Eliminate distractions. Switch off your wifi, sign off your social networks, go in flight mode: these things really work. I’m using StayFocusd to limit time on social media.
  • Get company. It often helps to get others on board to keep you on track. Make it a challenge with a coworker to work with full focus until a given time. Let others know when you’ll finish a given task and have them remind you about it.

Most importantly: change your approach when you don’t see noticeable improvements over time. Keep improving and revisiting what keeps you from finishing the tasks you need to finish. The procrastinator that gets a little bit better every single week is a completely different procrastinator and a totally changed person in a year.