I don’t know about you, but I work from home most of the time, which means that I’m surrounded by distractions. Sometimes the PS4 starts calling to me in the middle of the afternoon (when I’m the least productive). Other times I feel like nothing’s going right, so I take a nap or get lost on the internet. And when there’s a huge task on my plate, I’ve been known to put it off again and again until my back’s against a wall and there’s nothing else to do. So how do I (and you) avoid those scenarios and stop procrastinating?
Well, as someone that has quite a bit of experience in these matters, I’ve developed a few techniques that work well for me, and they’ll probably work well for you, too. All it takes is just a few shifts in your perspective, and soon you’ll be knocking things out and checking things off your list.
That, or playing Batman: Arkham Knight, as I have been recently, but I won’t judge.
1. Turn Off the Internet
As I write this, I’m sitting on the bench seat of a 1973 Chevrolet crew cab pickup in a garage that shares space with a chicken coop, somewhere out in rural Arizona. I’m here to take pictures for a book project, but since at the immediate moment I’m in a "hurry up and wait" scenario, I’m taking advantage of the downtime to get some writing done. Since I don’t have internet access, there’s no website that I can surf or use as distraction. And it’s glorious.
Look, for all of the great things that connectivity has brought us, the internet can be a mammoth tool for procrastination. I’ll just pop off to Facebook "real quick," or maybe pull out my phone to check Instagram, and the next thing I know I’ve lost 10 minutes — or worse, an hour. And email can be the same way: I own one computer that I use exclusively for distraction-free work that doesn’t have any email account information at all.
Unplugging is a good way to keep your focus on the task at hand, and therefore, stop procrastinating. It’s not always ideal, sure, but if you can make do, just turn off that Wi-Fi connection for a few. It will help.
2. Snowball Your Productivity
Have you ever heard of the snowball method for reducing your debt? The concept is that you pay off the smallest amount that you owe first, and then use the money that you were using to pay that bill towards the next lowest bill. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, you gain momentum and mass, and what starts off as a small amount can turn into a mammoth boulder. If you’ve got a big task to do, it’s easy to want to push it off for another time. But if you use the snowball method, you can get make it seem less daunting, and lessen the likelihood that you’ll procrastinate.
Take the other day, for example. I had a ton of writing to do, but honestly, I just didn’t want to do it. But knowing that it was important, I started by committing myself just to a paragraph of work — no big deal, and I can knock it out quickly. One paragraph quickly turned into two, and soon I had a head of steam going. The same thing happens with design. I have some tasks that are super repetitive and boring, and I don’t look forward to taking them on. Instead, I commit to a small task within that repetitive one, and that typically expands into getting more of the project done. Sometimes it’s just about getting over that initial hump, and once you do that, you’re golden.
3. Make It Easy
I don’t know about you, but when I procrastinate, it’s typically because the task in front of me seems so daunting that there’s no way it could ever get accomplished. For example, I figured out the other day that I could sell my photos here on Creative Market (I mean, duh, right?). But when I started thinking about it, I said to myself, "So I have to go through 18 years of photos, pick out the best ones, edit them, and then put them up online? Ugh, what a disaster." And then I did nothing. After all, it’s easier to sit still than actually accomplish something.
But if I break a large task into smaller, actionable tasks, it becomes a lot easier. Instead of thinking about the entirety of my photography career as one giant sinkhole of work, instead I can narrow it down to just one photo shoot, or even just one folder. I can create a list:
* Go through one folder and determine which photos are good for resale
* Edit photos from folder
* Post photos on Creative Market
I can then repeat this system until all of the photos are done, and from that point forward, updating them is easy. See? No big deal.
4. Make It Public
If you go back and re-read that last section, you’ll notice that I put it out there in the universe that I could sell my photos here on Creative Market. And by doing that, I’ve now put myself under the gun: if I don’t get something up here by the time this article goes live, then I know I’m going to hear about it. Accountability is everything.
You have the same opportunities. You probably have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, right? Put your intentions out there in a post and watch your friends come to support or chastise you depending on whether you do or don’t do it. I’ve found that sometimes peer pressure is an effective tool to becoming more productive, even if I don’t like it at the moment. Is it stressful? Sure, it can be if you let it, but that doesn’t mean that you have to.
Remember how I started off this article sitting on a bench seat in a garage? Now I’m writing this paragraph while waiting at a car dealership for my wife’s sedan to get its annual service. The chair I’m in pins my arms to my sides, so I’m incredibly uncomfortable, and writing at all is a bit difficult, but I’m still knocking it out. And part of the reason why I’m so motivated to work (and not procrastinate) is because I’ve changed my location.
Sitting at the same desk every day can get repetitive, and sometimes you just have to break out of your comfort zone. For me that can be a drafty garage or the second level of a Volkswagen dealership, but since I’m physically in a different space than usual, my mindset is different. The noises around me have changed, and instead of hearing my dog occasionally rustle on the couch, I have a toddler and his parents watching TV in a playroom. Or the guy that’s sitting across from me currently complaining about how he can’t connect to the Wi-Fi. Or the slight smell of coffee and feelings of good vibes I get when I visit my favorite co-working spot. Those little changes in sounds, textures, feelings, and scenery can all make you feel a bit more productive, and that can push you past whatever hurdles are in your way. It’s hard to goof off on Facebook if you’re worried about other people checking out your stuff, after all.
Put Your Head Down and Do It
So there you go, these are the things that work best for me when it comes to procrastinating. I’m not perfect — not by a long shot — but when I find myself in these scenarios, I have to dig myself out or risk never making any money. And since I like to eat, and I do enjoy having a roof over my head, money is one of those things I need to produce regularly.
And with that in mind, I’m going to get back to work. You should probably do the same.
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