I’m an expert at procrastination. Or as I like to call it, preparing myself to be productive.
My uncanny ability to postpone tasks manifests itself in a lot of different ways. Hitting snooze to catch a few more minutes of sleep, taking an exceedingly long time to make the perfect cup of coffee, and scrolling through all of social media to make sure I’m “well informed” on world events before starting my day are some of my favorites.
It’s like I have to shake myself out of hibernation before I start anything productive, and while it’s no easy task, switching into work-mode is possible (and necessary for my continued existence as a human being). Whether you’re headed to the office, rallying yourself for the gym, or just stuck in a procrastination rut, use these three tips to get yourself on track for a productive day:
1. Start simple
We all know the four words that can throw any morning off track: “Just five more minutes…” For me, those “five minutes” actually mean “half an hour,” and before I know it, I’m scrambling to get out the door fully dressed. The idea of heading off to work is a lot less appealing than staying in bed and dreaming. That’s why a simple morning routine is the key to getting my head off the pillow.
Brushing my teeth, washing my face, and dressing myself are all stress-free, painless tasks that help ease the transition between rolling out of bed and walking out the door, all while transforming me from bed goblin to semi-functioning human adult. When my first steps in the morning are enjoyable moments of self-care in fuzzy slippers, rather than attempts to avoid the dread of typing out a 10-page report, I start my day with an optimistic outlook.
2. Use the “five more minutes” rule to your advantage
I’m still not off the hook after making it to work. Even with a to-do list in my hand, I’m constantly tempted to push off my responsibilities until I’m “ready to do them” (AKA after a bathroom break, a cup of coffee, and a chat about the weather with my coworker). I’ve learned to resist the urge with what I call the “five more minutes rule.” (Yes, the exact thing I’ve banned myself from using earlier in the morning.)
Here’s how it works: I immerse myself in my work right away with total focus and tell myself I only need to do it for five minutes, but I don’t watch the clock. I begin the first step of my task, whether it’s drafting an email, jogging, or outlining a paper, and don’t stop. Once I’ve exhausted (or finished!) the task at hand, I actually look at the clock, time myself for five more minutes, and then set it down. Every time I use this trick, I’m surprised by how much I can produce if I put my mind to it and how quickly five minutes pass when I’m in the thick of work. Jumping into the deep end isn’t easy, but this trick helps me tackle large tasks and shows me just how productive I can be!
3. Incentivize (AKA treat yourself)
Spoiler alert: If you work all day and never give yourself any credit, you’re probably going to end up hating whatever it is you’re doing. I used to make this mistake with writing articles for my college newspaper: I’d try to research, write, and edit in-depth pieces within one day to make room for another. Usually, I’d take on assignments I had no interest in, just to build up my portfolio and keep busy. In doing so, I not only overworked myself, but also stopped enjoying the stories behind what I was writing, which were my favorite aspects of the job. It was only after I started taking on stories that I liked, mapping out the steps over a series of days, and allowing myself to celebrate my milestones that I rediscovered my love for writing. For example, marking the end of a long investigative piece with a night out with friends made me feel as if I had achieved a difficult goal and was being commended for it.
Sometimes, even a little pick-me-up can do wonders for the rest of your day. When I’m pressed for time at work, one of my favorite ways to take a well-deserved break while staying productive is to turn to more mindless tasks like emails or filing and put on my favorite podcast or album as I do it. Find ways to reward yourself for the work you’ve done and remind yourself how good it feels to be productive!
Originally published on August 29, 2018.