It happens to us all. You know you should be getting on with your work, but… hang on a second, I’d better just go and put a load of laundry in…
Ok, I’m back. Creative people can be especially susceptible to this, especially if you work from home or on a contract or freelance basis.
How many books have you started to write? How many times have you sat down to get started on whatever your work is when… wait a minute, Netflix just released the new season of Orange Is The New Black! Binge-watch time!
Yikes, with deadlines looming and your reputation to uphold, you can’t afford to give in to procrastination. How can a creative kick it and just keep moving? Here are a few strategies.
#1. Know Yourself
Are there certain things that really cause your eye to start twitching and distract you from your work? There’s probably no sense in getting started until that’s out of the way. Whether it’s the dishes, laundry, or any other “busy work”, get these done early so you’re not focusing on them when you’re supposed to be knocking out work. Planning ahead so that you’ve got those kind of tasks done before you’re meant to be working is a good idea.
Knowing yourself is also about acknowledging how procrastination affects you and which distractions usually get in the way of you getting started. Our brain tends to naturally fear big projects and committing to long-term goals. We are prone to “abandoning ship” at signs of distress, but don’t beat yourself up over it, this can make procrastination worse!
This study found that getting caught up in blaming yourself is counter-productive. The best way to move forward is to understand yourself and forgive yourself for the behavior. (Then get on with it, don’t use this as an excuse to give up!).
Start with “busy work” that matters
Those housework distractions are probably not getting you any closer to your goals but perhaps you have other “busy work” that will. Try redirecting your procrastination to take care of tasks such as sending out your invoices or responding to customer queries. At least this way you’re getting tasks done which relate to your business goals.
#2. Be In The Right Environment
This is another reason to get the distracting chores out of the way early. Work environment can have a huge impact on your productivity. Studies show that factors such as air quality, ventilation, lighting, and desk organization can decrease productivity if they’re not taken care of.
Having a work area such as a desk (depending on the kind of work you’re doing) and ensuring it is tidy and organized is a good idea. Mess is distracting, it’s also counter-productive because you’ll probably waste time looking for things.
Temperature is another factor, though you’ll need to experiment with what works for you. Too cold and you’ll waste energy, too warm and you’ll probably end up feeling uncomfortable or sleepy.
Sound is another consideration. Research from Buffer finds that if you prefer listening to music, a moderate level of volume is the sweet spot for creativity.
As for any other distractions such as televisions, mobile phones, social media or email, turn them off if possible. Use software such as Rescue Time to block sites which are known distractions for periods of time while you’re meant to be working.
Have A “Creative Space”
John Cleese has given some very well-received talks on creativity and what it takes to get into that “creative space.” He likens creativity to a tortoise, poking its head out to check that it is in a “safe” environment before it can really come out.
While having your tidy, organized desk for getting tasks done which you need to do all the time is a good idea, having a separate “messy area” can actually boost creativity. This is backed up by research which finds that disorder promotes creativity.
If all else fails you in your home work space, try changing your environment. Get out to a café which has a good level of ambient noise and change it up a bit.
#3. Find A Task Management System
We don’t necessarily mean you need to rush out and purchase the latest “shiny” productivity tool, but find some kind of task management system which works for you. Sit down in the evening and plot out tasks which you need to do tomorrow, highlighting any that are the most important to prioritize.
Different types of systems will suit different people, but here are a few ideas:
- A simple, written checklist.
- Use Trello to create a card per task and shift around to appropriate lists.
- Use a journal/diary such as Passion Planner which helps you to build out a road map toward your goals.
- Enlist task management software such as Todoist which will also sync to mobile.
“Chunking” and Micro Goals
Remember that piece at the start where we mentioned that the brain has a natural aversion to large projects? This can be a big barrier when it comes to simply getting started on a large body of work.
Try breaking bigger tasks down into smaller, “micro” goals. As you reach them, check them off your list. That feeling of at least accomplishing something can be enough to prod you out of procrastination.
Chunking is a good idea of you have different types of work to get through. This means grouping together tasks of a similar type as it is more efficient to do them that way, rather than jumping between different tasks.
#4. Get Moving
If you just can’t get the kickstart you need to move your work along, sometimes moving yourself is one of the best things to do.
Entrepreneur Garrett Dunham is a proponent of exercise for productivity. He brings up a few pointers:
- To get your creative energy flowing, try a “brainstorming hike.” This means taking a small 20-30 minute hike to relax your mind and encourage the the flow of ideas. Stanford research backs this up, finding that there is a direct correlation between walking and creativity.
- Try the Argos method. This involves short bursts (less than 20 minutes) of exercise.
- Try low intensity exercises. The University of Georgia found low to moderate intensity exercise had the same effect of reducing feelings of fatigue.
You don’t need to go far or invest in a whole lot of equipment — one of my favorites is to just get up and do a few mountain climbers or push-ups if I notice my attention waning. Even just a couple of minutes every hour or so tends to be enough to stay on task.
#5. Just Start!
Just getting started is often the problem, so find ways to make it easier on yourself. Factors such as time of day will have a different effect on everyone, so experiment and found out what works for you.
You could also try giving yourself an extra motivator, such as by setting yourself a challenge to get everything done by a certain time. A technique which many use involves setting the goal to finish a piece of work, say by 11 a.m., then rewarding themselves for getting it done.
Procrastination is a real problem no matter what kind of job you do, but creatives who work remotely and set their own schedules seem to have particular problems with it.
Begin by acknowledging yourself and not beating yourself up over it – everyone does it! But don’t let it be excuse not to get started. Get distractions out of the way so you’re not tempted to clean the house or scroll Facebook when you’re meant to be working.
Plan ahead and find a task management system that works for you. Instead of taking a casual approach and dealing with tasks as you go, make a plan for the next day and check tasks off as you complete them.