It can be challenging to stay productive on a consistent basis, especially with all the distractions of the internet at our fingertips. I'll describe here a few tricks that I use personally to beat procrastination and spend more time creating.
1. Start easy.
Starting is often the hardest part of any task. By choosing a simpler task at the start of your day you get over that initial struggle easier and build decent momentum for the rest of the day. You'll also feel a lot better having already got that dopamine kick from having ticked one or two items off your to-do list.
There's also a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik effect that suggests you are more likely to get distracted the more unfinished tasks you have as your mind will repetitively wander back to those pesky unfinished items.
I usually start with three very easy tasks to begin the day that takes no time at all to complete but fill you with enough accomplishment to move forward through the remaining day. Simple tasks such as making the bed as soon as you wake up, exercising in the morning and answering emails are all productive ways to get started that don't take a lot of time to complete.
2. Keep a To-Do list.
This ties in with the first point, by having small actionable items to complete at the start of the day you will start building momentum to become much more productive with each task. By crossing items off your list you will add a visual-physical element that tells your brain that you have completed a task, this then triggers the reward centre of the brain further increasing your motivation to continue.
You should also order the list so that you have a few easier tasks to complete to start you off with, one or two larger tasks and then prioritise them in order of importance. This makes sure that you always get the most important work done each day and keeps you ahead of the curve.
I used to use a weekly planner for this, making a list of tasks to do each day and another list for the week with bigger tasks, but I always found that the larger weekly tasks weren't always completed as I hadn't allotted time specifically for them. I now plan using Google's calendar app, this lets you schedule in tasks throughout the day in any order you like and has the added bonus of being accessible from any phone, tablet or computer so you don't need to carry a lofty planner round with you wherever you go!
3. Set one or two Daily Non-Negotiable tasks
There should be a few items on your list each day that are essential to your daily practice, or responsibilities that you cannot avoid. These non-negotiables are tasks that you need to do every day to form such a strong habit that you do them without thought or hesitation. For me, this has been daily drawing practices and developing a strong morning ritual. After a few weeks of consistently repeating tasks like these, you will automatically feel compelled towards completing these tasks. We are creatures of habit after all.
Your choice of these non-negotiables are entirely up to you, but they should always be tasks that will further progress you towards your goals. Practicing a skill is a common task to pick as even experts in their respective field must practice every day to continue achieving their high results.
4. Break large tasks down into smaller units.
There is little more daunting than starting a massive, time-consuming task. Hopefully using a few of the methods listed above will ease you into larger tasks like working on long term goals such as creating an illustrated book, or launching a product or web course.
If not however it pays to break the task into much smaller actionable milestones. This helps break up the anxiety that comes with working on long term goals and gives you rewarding steps throughout the creative process and gives you a more accurate vision of how long exactly the entire process will take.
5. Identify the Positive Outcome From Your Action
This is a great way to overcome the resistance you will face when starting a new task and reduce procrastination greatly. Focus on what the positive result of the action you are about to complete is, this could be the satisfaction of the task itself if it is particularly enjoyable, or perhaps the fulfilment of having a finished piece of artwork for example, or even selling an art piece you've worked hard on marketing.
By identifying the positive outcome you trick your brain into focusing on the end goal of the work you are about to do rather than the hours of labour you will need to sometimes put in. For me this has been a useful tool on particularly useful; but less enjoyable tasks, such as admin, and record keeping.
6. Determine a good reason why you have chosen to do a task.
By determining the reason behind you are doing the task you find out exactly what you mean to set out and accomplish.sometimes task isn’t as important as you think they are when you set out to do them originally and can be deleted from your tasks for the day. I often do this when organising my calendar, I set a specific job to do at some point using reminders but if it always seems to fall behind to other more important things it can usually be safe to assume that the task does not be completed and you can stop worrying about its delivery.
Of course, this will be case-by-case and you'll have to use your best judgements but by finding the reason behind the tasks you set yourself you give greater clarity to the more important things and free up a lot of precious time.
7. Be mindful.
Mindfulness means to be consciously aware of the present moment, your surroundings and your inner self. Using mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation you can safeguard against common causes of procrastination such as perfectionism and the fear of failure. This works by reducing the inner monologue through careful listening, by limiting this monologue you have more control over your concentration giving you greater freedom to work on the most important things in the present moment.
Personally, when I feel like I need to recentre my 'monkey mind' I use short breathing meditations to refocus and get back to a more productive mental state. You can try this by sitting in a comfortable position upright, many people like to cross their legs while they do this, however, I usually do this from my desk or at a chair, and taking long controlled breaths. Ten seconds in hold for two seconds and then 10 seconds out is a common rhythm to start with, however, you should try and breathe at whatever pace feels most comfortable. By slowing your breath down in this way you also help to regulate heart rate variability which has also been found to be very beneficial for mental and physical health.
8. Write down the next days tasks the night before or first thing in the morning
Not only does this help keep you organised and focused on your goals, but has been proven to help settle the mind before you go to bed, allowing you to rest much more soundly. You shouldn’t think too deeply about the tasks you put down here as you can always replan in the morning, just spend 5 minutes thinking about the tasks you'd like to complete the next day to give yourself the most rewarding day you can think of and it will do wonders for your mood and motivation.
9. Shut Off Your Phone And Set A Timer
Mobile phones can be powerful tools for inspiration, finding information and networking. But when you are trying to work they often only act as a source of distraction. Turning your phone on silent or do not disturb mode and placing it out of direct eyesight will eradicate the source of distraction. Studies have concluded that just having a phone next to you during a study or working period can actually reduce the quality of the work that you produce.
Time away from your phone, in general, is usually a healthy choice, particularly if you are using it more than you should be, so placing restrictions on its use will train you to become less distracted by the stimuli of having the world in your pocket.
10. Social accountability
This is something that I have tried a few times that really helps keep you focused on larger tasks. Ask a friend or family member to help be accountable with you completing a specific task if you know you might become distracted while doing it. By asking someone to be accountable for you not completing this task you are asking them to help you be committed to it, and should you not complete it you are also letting them down as well as yourself.
11. Give Yourself A Reward For Each Task You Complete
This is a very simple trick commonly used to increase motivation. By completing a task on your to-do list for that day you can give yourself a correspondingly equally sized reward. This can be anything as simple as something sweet to eat, time spent playing a video game, watching videos or using social media. This reward will act as motivation to complete those tasks you are least keen on completing and spur you on to the new one with ease and make them less daunting. You can also alternate between the tasks that are less enjoyable and the ones you know you will enjoy alternating the willpower you will need to complete them. I do this with painting or drawing for example and doing admin and marketing activities.
12. Schedule 'Free time' Throughout Your Day
If you are prone to constant procrastination you may be better off allowing time to indulge it. Schedule in time during your day that you are allowed to procrastinate in. Use this time to do whatever has been distracting you throughout the time you have been working, this could be getting another drink or tidying your desk. I usually do this fairly early on in the day around breakfast as it helps limit the number of distractions you'll have through the rest of the day. By scheduling the time you do this you'll also eliminate the guilt that comes along with procrastination.
You can also use this free time to wind down if you've had a particularly difficult day, sometimes destressing yourself can be just as productive as completing another task. Do whatever usually helps you relax during this time, however, I would advise against watching video content or playing video games during this time as its been proven to prevent you getting into hyper-productive ‘flow’ states of work. Instead, use the time at the end of the working day to do these activities so you can commit yourself fully to relaxing and enjoying yourself while doing it.
13. Understand The Underlying Reasons You're Procrastinating
There is usually a pattern to your procrastination. If you can understand the pattern you can root out the cause of the procrastination and nip it in the bud. Common procrastination triggers for me are the want for another coffee, this usually occurs at specific times of day for me (around 2 pm) when I’m starting to feel more tired after having lunch and need a quick energy kick. You can plan around these habits by scheduling in events (such as having your coffee at these strategic times during the day) that can satisfying the mental itch.
By noticing the thoughts feelings and behaviours you have in the situation you can determine ways to combat the feeling. It can help to write these sensations down. Often perfectionism is a common cause of these feelings and can cause noticeable levels of anxiety and can undermine your will to continue onwards. Once you have determined the root of the issue you can hold yourself accountable in a more positive and self affirmative light.
14. Give Yourself A Hard Deadline, Then Schedule It
This can be one of the more difficult and stressful methods to beat procrastination but is probably one of the most useful ones (particularly for me). The added pressure of a deadline can help spur you on to consistent action as you hold yourself personally accountable for failure should you not complete the assigned job in the allotted time. You should treat the deadline as though you would if your boss or a client had given it to you. sometimes real pressure is needed to motivate you to complete something you have been putting off.
The absolute best way I've found to combat procrastination is to set yourself this hard deadline and keep it on a calendar so you can see exactly how long you have to complete it.
15. Be kind to yourself.
I know this can be difficult for some and you might assume that to be able to beat procrastination you need to be ultra-strict within yourself, but this isn’t entirely true. Studies have actually shown that you're actually more likely, having already procrastinated, to get started in the future with your work should you shown yourself a little compassion for your previous 'time-wasting' activities rather than beating yourself up about it! By being negative in your thoughts you only demoralise yourself further, creating a downward spiral of negativity and procrastination. Be kind to yourself in lesser-willed moments and you'll find greater improvement in your productivity
You might assume that to beat procrastination you need to be strict with yourself, but that's not what science says. If you've already procrastinated, you're more likely to get started on time going forward if you show yourself some compassion for your previous slacking rather than beating yourself up about it.
Repeat these tips until the habit forms. Repetition is the key to long term success.
Hopefully, you'll find something here that works for you to keep you motivated and working on the things you love most.
Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out. Good luck & get creating ;)!