I often find myself wanting to postpone something but after forcing myself to actually do it I discover that most of the difficulty was getting over the postponement hump. Especially these days it’s very easy to get distracted - whether it’s checking your email, responding to a few tweets, or clearing notifications on Slack - but it’s important to just focus on the most important task at hand. After starting you discover that the task wasn’t worth delaying and get an energy boost from actually finishing something.
There are a ton of tricks and tools to discourage procrastination and I wanted to share some of my favorites. At the end of the day if you’re not serious about doing the work they won’t help but they do help in turning a healthy process into a valuable habit.
- Plan tomorrow out today: It’s easy to go home at the end of the day and then spend the following morning figuring out what you should work on. Instead take the time at the end of today to figure out your priorities for tomorrow. This allows you to get a jump start on the next day since you don’t have to spend the effort figuring out what you should be doing.
- Do the difficult stuff first: Difficult tasks take time and energy and you’re better off doing it when you’re at your peak. For me it’s in the morning when I’m distraction free and I try to get as much done during that time as I can. Similarly, if you have a project with a ton of components you want to derisk it by working through the riskiest pieces first rather than delaying the uncertainty and ending up with an unpleasant surprise.
- Schedule your tasks: Many people use a todo list but I find a much stronger form of this to be actually putting down tasks as calendar events. This forces you to dedicate time to the task and you have no excuses for not working on what you committed to doing. Of course your estimates will be wrong but all that means is you dedicate some future time to finishing it up. A side benefit of this is that you end up becoming much better at estimated how long various tasks will take.
- Avoid distractions: This is an obvious one and arguably should not even be on this list but the more distractions there are the more distracted you will be. Extreme versions of this are to close every program you’re not using and even install apps that won’t let you do anything but the task at hand. Instead of resorting to those it’s more important to train your mind to focus.
- Try the Pomodoro technique: I used this in the past with moderate success but the idea is to break your day into chunks: 25 minutes to work on a task, followed by a 5 minute break, repeated until you’ve done this 4 times and earned yourself a longer break. I’ve found it a bit too structured for me since when I get in the zone I want to remain in the zone instead of having to think about the next break. Many people swear by it though.