One way or another, we all procrastinate. There are 2 kinds of procrastination: the “life came in the way” kind, and the “I’m just making excuses” way. I’ve been through both, and what I realized was that it only depended on me. If I wanted to stop feeling overwhelmed and go further, I needed to take action. So I did. This post, for instance, was started on Saturday. I was planning the editorial calendar, and came across a few videos on procrastination. It’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time, but procrastinated, pun intended. I wrote the outline and the first 2 paragraphs at that moment, and then had to stop, because life came in the way. This morning, I decided I had to finish it and post it. So here it is, the steps I took to turn procrastination into productivity.
Hitting the Unfollow button
About 2 years ago, I was fed up with the many useless posts on my Facebook wall. I’ve always been very picky with social media, I’ve only connected with people I know in real life to keep in touch. Seeing tacky pictures of strangers my “friends” had liked was taking up a lot of my time. I would scroll endlessly until I came across a few interesting posts. So the natural solution was to hit the Unfollow button. I unfollowed about 95% of people, and kept the ratio to this day. There are people who share interesting things, and then there are people who share, well, cat memes and pics of their naked child. Next, I turned Facebook into an information source, I gathered all the relevant magazines, websites and news outlets that can help me grow personally and professionally. So now even if I do spend a lot of time on Facebook, it’s all to good use. I read massively and I can keep up to date with important stuff. The same goes for my LinkedIn account. As for Instagram, well, I turned that into a breath of fresh air. Visuals charge my batteries, so I try to go over once a day and check out the fashion, photography, nature and interior design updates from the accounts I follow.
Back in the day, I would get excited every time I got a ding on my phone. I associated it with a feeling of accomplishment and self importance. Yeah, I’m laughing at my old self too right now. Somehow those dings got more frequent, and the impulse to check them every time made me stop from the important tasks I was working on. It was stressful, and it scratched my ears and itched my nerves. So one day I did the unthinkable: I went to Settings and shut all notifications down. I didn’t need to know when someone liked one of my pics or commented on one of my posts. I could always see that later and respond. The only alert I have on my phone right now is email, and it’s a blessing for my focus. I mostly work on my laptop, so I see mails as they arrive anyway, and decide if I need to respond asap or not.
Planning ahead & making lists
In the last couple of years, as my job got more complex and I had another child, the amount of things I have to do increased. Sometimes I would forget or remember too late, and I couldn’t afford it. What I did was write down lists. It made me accountable, and I could jot down whatever I needed to do whenever I thought of it. I already wrote about the Wunderlist app in a previous post. I have a generic to do list, which at the moment is 3 planner pages long. 75% of it is finished, and the remaining tasks are due whenever I have enough time. A while ago, I started working with daily to do lists, because I need to work with deadlines. In order to finish something on time, I need to know when it’s due. Another thing I did that made my workload a lot easier was break tasks into smaller steps. Of course, that means starting earlier to leave room to go back to it. For instance, I can write copy in a day, but writing 3 days in a row gives me another perspective. The same goes for design. The following day I’ll always have a new, improved vision. And it eases the pressure, especially when I inevitably reach a dead end with inspiration. This is not multitasking, it’s just focus on delivering something with high quality.
I recently took the 5-day Optimize Your To Do List Challenge from Productive & Free, which has 5 daily lessons. On day one, you are supposed to write down every single task you have to do. On day 2, you should identify your SMITN, or Single Most Important Task Now. I was already doing this without realizing, because among the priorities (isn’t that term a funny pun unintended?) I always chose the most important, the one that had to be finished first. We always see priorities, as in plural, and main priority, written black on white as if it’s not a living contradiction. A priority is a priority, if there are more then it stops being a priority, right? Apparently not in the current age we’re living in. Anyway, let’s move on. Day 3 is about scheduling. I skipped this one, because while I’m committed enough by writing something down, I am not capable to work with schedules. That’s why I love being chaotically organized. Day 4 comes with an important advice: include rest in the schedule. Like write it down in your daily list. If it helps, do just that. I’m self programmed to rest, considering I’m less than 4 weeks away from my due date of birth, so I didn’t need any external reminder. And finally day 5 is for including keystone habits, like reading, journaling, etc. Since no 2 days are the same for me, putting that on my list would only mean postponed tasks. But I do dedicate time to these habits whenever I can. I have days when I catch up on reading or when I plan. Or when I take a break. The single most important thing in this long paragraph? Always choose your SMITN 😉
Saying yes to challenges
It’s in our creative genes to accept challenges. If you’re anything like me, you say yes just to see if you can do it. Challenges help us grow and discover things we didn’t know about ourselves and our abilities. They help us perfect our skills. Overall, they make us feel better. If anyone told me 3 years ago I’d leave my job and do marketing in a startup, I would have never believed them. Of course it was tough at first, and there was a lot of self learning and self improvement going on in the background, but here I am 2 years into it. I am happy with where I am professionally. On the other hand, I’m aware I have to improve constantly. Here’s where the challenge part comes. Every day brings challenges, whether it’s something I’ve never done before or a deadline that appeared out of the blue.
The Pomodoro method
At the beginning of this year, I read about the Pomodoro method somewhere. It comes in handy, especially if you work from home and you have to organize your days to fit a lot of things. The philosophy is simple: work in 25-minute slots and then take 5-minute breaks. The lesson you learn is focus, focus, and then focus some more. Because you only have little time, you will concentrate better and be able to do more. Naturally, it can’t be applied every time to every task, but it does help you get more organized in the long run.
Taking a break
Who doesn’t love a good break? For me, a good break is when I get to lie down 5 minutes with my eyes closed and try to close the too many tabs my brain has open at that moment. An even better break is when I have enough time to go on a small shopping spree. Getting away means getting refreshed and rebuilding your energy. We work in bursts, let’s face it. If we know ourselves, we know when we are at our best and we should take advantage of it. There are days when I can’t focus, or when I don’t feel like doing anything work related. I turn those days into family days or me days, just because I can. But the next day, I’ll recover the time I spent doing something else, it doesn’t stop me from reaching deadlines.
In the end, I just want to leave you with 2 pieces of thought: your planner is your new BFF (if it isn’t already) and you don’t need to work hard, you rather need to work smart.