It’s 10 AM. You should be at your most productive – mailing reports, editing spreadsheets, writing that article due three days ago. So why are you watching the Graham Norton Show on repeat?
Procrastination. Over 70% of students in North America are guilty of this most heinous of productivity crimes. The procrastination count among Britons clocks in at three hours a day. And what about the 76 billion a year it costs businesses?
While nobody’s saying you can’t relax once in a while, a product-less chill-out isn’t always what you want from a workplace afternoon. And though it might be good for creativity, one thing’s for certain: nobody ever got anything concrete done by procrastinating.
Need to beat your productivity demons? Read on.
Procrastination: the nation’s enemy
Procrastination is, essentially, a self-sabotaging behaviour. A study of 237 college students indicated that they were most likely to procrastinate in their peak performance hours – i.e. when they could be getting work done most efficiently. The suggestion is that we procrastinate more when it will hurt us most.
And that’s not the only unhealthy behaviour going on here. Research links procrastination to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and irrational beliefs. Some scientists have even argued that procrastinatory tendencies mimic drug and alcohol addictions; we just can’t stop ourselves, and we pay for it when we don’t.
Apparently 20-year-olds have more of an excuse; we’re still developing our pre-frontal cortex, i.e. our willpower factory. But Richard Branson started his first business at the more tender age of 10, and he didn’t do it by surfing the net for cat videos. Come on, Britain: let’s get serious.
Confronting the beast
If your procrastination stems from a feeling of hopelessness, or the suspicion that you don’t know how to deal with an issue, the answer is simple.
Break. It Down.
As the saying goes, a problem divided into tiny little pieces is a problem halved. .. Sort of. In any case, you are much less likely to put off smaller, manageable tasks than huge, impossible ones.
We all know that you shouldn’t pee where you eat. Well, turns out you shouldn’t work there either. Keep your work and recreational spaces separate; psychologically, it will help you compartmentalise work and relaxation. Aussie writer Zoe Norton Lodge even recommends working in an internet café – whatever gets you out the house.
Perfectionist? Get over yourself. If a writer sat down to write a masterpiece every time they got to work, they’d never finish anything. Don’t set out to get it right; simply get it done. Research shows that perfectionism not only destroys your self-esteem – it ruins your productivity and stops you getting anything started.
(10+2)*5 = job done?
The (10+2)*5 technique is a ‘life-hack’ pioneered by Merlin Mann back in 2005. It can be used to get a lot of small tasks done, or a big task sectioned into many smaller parts. You’ll need a timer that you can reset and five different jobs that you need to get done.
The idea is that, using your timer, you work for ten minutes with absolute focus. Then you take two minutes off to do whatever you want. At the end of the two minutes, return to another ten-minute segment – but working on a different task. Skipping breaks is not allowed. Cutting work periods short is not allowed UNLESS you finish your job. Once you have repeated this process five times, you can sit back and enjoy the feeling of completing an hour of good, hard work.
The idea of the technique is that, eventually, you’ll want to skip the two-minute break. We seriously doubt we’d make it to that point, but at least you’ll get something done trying.
First things first. Let’s get your ‘ducks in a line’ – or, in layman’s terms, your s*** together. Wunderlist is a free software that helps to make to-do lists – but not just any to-do lists. These are fully customisable, collaborative lists that you can prioritise and upload files to easily – making your life, and its organisation, endlessly easier.
Always being distracted by outside sites and social media? Go cold turkey – with Cold Turkey. Use it on your computer, tablet or phone to block sites temporarily, so you can get some work done.
If nothing else can incentivise you, there is one thing that’s bound to: money. No, we’re not offering it; we’re taking it away. Stickk is a site which invites you to wager money and sign a ‘Commitment Contract’ promising to accomplish a chosen task. If the date passes and you’ve failed to get said job done, money is lifted from your bank account accordingly.
The title of this article was ripped from Charles Dickens. Here’s one from Napoleon to finish things off:
“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”
So go forth, my child – and, if you can’t conquer Europe, at least get through your to-do list.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internship jobs and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.