Procrastination can range from a little bit of occasional laziness to chronic self-sabotage.
That’s why it’s important to develop practical ways to manage your behavior around planning and productivity.
Here's 14 ways I use to fight procrastination, stay focused, and stay productive:
#1.) Clean up your workspace!
A messy workspace reflects a messy mind. The more crap you have on your desk, the less likely you are to work with focus.
Action: Clean up your desk. Only keep the bare essentials - everything else can go on shelves, in drawers, or wherever they belong. Out of sight, out of mind!
#2.) Total Silence (use earplugs)
The quickest way to create some focus and get your work done is to just “shut off” all the noise around you with a pair of earplugs.
The quieter it is, the less you’ll find distractions to pull you away from your work. Earplugs are cheap, effective tools to pre-empt procrastination and keep you focused on what’s important.
(if this sounds familiar, it’s because I stole it from Neville!)
Action: Buy a tub of earplugs and pop them in whenever you need to buckle down and work.
#3.) Work at a cafe
There’s something about the idea that other people might be able to see your screen that’ll keep you working - not goofing off on Facebook or YouTube.
You can get that sort of positive peer pressure at an office or coworking space…...or just go to a cafe. There’s even research that shows there’s a level of ambient noise that actually promotes creativity.
Action: Get out of your house and work from a cafe.
#4.) Work at a library
Libraries are sort of like an in-between - they combine the positive peer pressure from #3 with the silence from #2.
Action: Check out your local public library. It’s free, quiet, and probably has plenty of other people hard at work.
#5.) Organize group work sessions
You can create positive peer pressure by getting on a video call with people you know, and sharing your screens. No goofing off - everyone just gets to work, no excuses or distractions.
(this is something we sometimes do at Copywriting Course!)
Action: Organize a group call with a few friends or colleagues and plan to work for an hour. Get everyone on the call, share your screens, and get to work. You can also join Neville’s Facebook Live writing sessions on Wednesdays.
Neville streaming a writing session on FB Live
#6.) Schedule tip #1: organize the workday
The more organized your workday is, the less space procrastination has to creep in. When your day doesn’t have much structure, it’s easy to delay your work or get busy with minor tasks. Before you know it, the day’s over and you’ve barely scratched the surface.
Action: Print out a schedule or use a whiteboard. Break the day down by hour and highlight your most important tasks. Here’s how I do it:
#7.) Schedule tip #2: END the workday
Deadlines might be the best way to fight procrastination - so give yourself a daily deadline. At ____ o’clock, your workday is done. That means you can’t slack off during the day and try to cram your work late at night.
You’ll feel better because you’ll get more work done during the day and you’ll relax / refresh during the evenings. A better work-life balance is one of the best ways to fight procrastination.
Action: Pick a time to end your workday - 6 pm, for example - and really end it. Shut down your computer, get up, and go do non-work stuff.
#8.) Use a timer
Timers can both measure your time and pace your productivity. If you force yourself to work on ONLY one task for an hour, you’ll get a lot done.
Timers are also good for pacing yourself. If you just try and power through everything in one sitting, you’ll probably burn out in a couple of hours. But if you time yourself and work in short bursts, you’ll stay sharp and focused.
Action: I use Tomato Timer. It’s a Pomodoro timer that intersperses 25-minute work sessions with short and long breaks. When I’m writing, the timer also takes up my second monitor so that there’s no temptation to watch cat videos or Netflix.
#9.) Join an accountability group
Accountability groups are great because they’re more than just passive peer pressure. The right group will understand your business and your challenges, then push you to attack your goals consistently. You won’t want to mess up or appear lazy.
Action: You can join niche groups on Meetup.com, or you can just organize your own mastermind. Get a few peers together and commit to a weekly call where you can dig into each others’ business issues and set clear goals that don’t allow space for procrastination.
Here’s a screenshot from an accountability group I’ve been a part of for almost 5 years
#10.) Rank your important tasks
A big workload can feel overwhelming - and it’s really easy to find yourself doing the small, easy stuff first and ignoring the big, important tasks. Busy work can feel good, but it’ll also allow the important things to pile up really quickly.
Action: Make a big list of all your tasks for the next day, and rank them by importance and urgency. I like to choose a top 3 “MUST DO’S”, and I highlight them on my schedule.
#11.) Break down big work into small chunks
You’re less likely to procrastinate if you’re dealing with small, simple tasks instead of big, complex problems.
For example, instead of “write the 2,500 paper”....break it down into “write the outline”, then “write a short first draft”, then “add images”, etc.
(This is also the cure to writer’s block)
Action: Take the biggest task on your to-do list and break it down into smaller checklist items.
Instead of a blank page, give yourself specific starting points
#12.) Use a journal to review AND plan
Planning your tasks ahead of time will dramatically improve your productivity. It’s a lot tougher to procrastinate when you have a list of specific, doable tasks instead of big, shapeless projects.
You can use a journal to track the day’s productivity and set the next day’s task schedule. It’s a 5-minute process, but if you build it into a habit, it's a powerful procrastination killer.
Action: At the end of the workday, dedicate a set time to look at your top 3 tasks for the day. Did you accomplish them? Then set the top 3 goals for the next day.
#13.) Turn distractions into rewards
You already know what distracts you...so plan for those distractions, don’t just randomly let them happen (and break up your work). Whether it’s food, YouTube, a pet, a coworker, you can control when and how you interact. The better your plan, the less likely you are to break up your work.
Action: Your schedule doesn’t just have to be about work. You can actively include things you enjoy doing into your day. Want to catch up on the latest episode of your favorite show? Cool, do that at 6 pm. Want to watch the 10-minute recap of the weekend’s NFL games? Schedule it!
Some scheduled YouTube time, complete with popcorn
#14.) Take physical breaks
When you take a break, try and make it physical as well as mental. Get up, stretch your legs, and try to get some fresh air - even if it’s just for a few minutes. The more you can remove yourself from your work during the break, the more refreshed and ready you’ll be when you come back to the task at hand.
Action: Take your breaks away from the computer and get outside as much as possible. I like getting a drink from the kitchen and then spending a few minutes on my balcony.
Dan McDermott - Danmcd.me