I think I’ve spent my whole career trying out the next cool productivity software or system. It almost always fails. I tried as many of these things as I could but it just falls by the wayside. Basecamp, Reminders, Todoist, Trello, Bullet Journal, Post-It Notes… Jira. I’m joking on that last one; who would voluntarily use that…
Constantly checking feeds, Twitter, Hackernews, Reddit, BBC. It becomes a feedback loop where you get that hit of dopamine every once in a while when you visit a site. Holy shit a new notification on Twitter. This is the shit I live for!
Before I know it, my energy is sapped. The chance of me getting any meaningful work done is as slim as that fucking guy across the road who is really into fitness and makes me feel bad about how I’m not. Anyway, I digress…
It’s Not About Routines
I thought for a long time my occasional forays into procrastination filled days were a fundamental problem with my mind.
I read articles, saw people exclaim I must have ADHD, I listened to podcasts and I wondered why I’m such a terrible person. Why can’t I get as much shit done as that super-productive developer I see on Twitter always knocking stuff out? Why am I feeling like I have to keep treading water just to keep my clients/boss happy? I’ve tried every fucking morning routine going and I’m still feeling like a dick.
Only when we have learned about the weaknesses of our own procrastination can we kick the shit out of it. You can’t beat an opponent without knowing it intimately. We’ll get to know your procrastination intimately, and just when it begins to trust you we’ll take it out back like a loyal aged dog and pop it right in the back of the head.
Step 1: Stop Using Your Phone
Let’s start reducing the time you spend on screens. To do that, let’s remove anything from your phone that doesn’t provide real value to you in your real life. This should include (all may not apply to you specifically of course):
- Social media apps
- Email (if you can)
If you find yourself picking up your phone to “check-in” on something. Delete it straight away. It’s not a good use of your time and is probably part of an addiction to checking things rather than something that you really need to do.
Your smartphone probably has a browser that can help you re-access all of the above if you really wanted to. This was a problem for me. I use Screen Time to enable content restrictions that block every single website except Google (since this provides me real value for looking up local businesses etc).
My wife is the only one with the 4 digit passcode that will disable it. No impulsive disabling / checking anymore.
Hide The Apps
On my iPhone I move every single application into a folder named “.”. I then move that onto the second screen.
My phone dock has four apps: Phone, Headspace, Things and SMS:
Your Phone Now Works For You
You’ll find your phone should be something that now reflects that things you truly want to spend your time on. In my case, this is mostly, but not limited to:
- Taking photos
- Listening to music
- Listening to audiobooks
- Headspace meditation app
- Banking apps
- Parking apps
- Guitar tuner
What you’ve done now is to ensure that your phone is reflective of your true needs and genuine interests. You can go monk-level crazy with this stuff and I may go into detail here about what I do in a video one day. For now you get the point I guess.
What Does This Have To Do With Procrastination?
I want you to have as clear a mind as possible that isn’t cluttered with potential distractions from devices that can be controlled. You probably already have many other distractions in your life already, so keep the ones you can control to a bare minimum.
Step 2: Block Distractions On The Computer
I will keep this one short. Try your utmost best to block distracting websites on your computer using something like freedom.to or by just manually editing your /etc/hosts file (if you’re on a proper computer).
This is gonna suck. It’s going to hurt and you will quickly realise and be able to recognise the feeling that led you to want to visit that attention destroying content source.
One of the biggest things that can get you drawn into procrastinating is to go into a crazy website checking loop where you loop through Twitter, Hackernews, Reddit, BBC, etc in the hope for a new bit of information that probably has no real relevance to your life.
If we can stop this feedback loop we can start to become more aware of when it’s happening and ultimately why it’s happening. That’s the end goal. It’s that understanding of procrastination that allows us to kick the shit out of it. That mother-fucker!
Step 3: Love Your Brain
I’m going to list two things here that I’ve found to have a profound impact on my ability to stay more on-task and to notice when I’m drifting. I of course recommend paying due attention to both:
- Sleep: When I don’t have a good amount of sleep, my brain just can’t muster the energy to focus on heavy work. This is really important and now that you’ve blocked access to time-wasting things on your phone, this should be a bit easier.
- Meditation: This is where the magic happens. It’s not a quick fix, but learning to meditate and sticking to it as-daily-as-possible will help you notice your mind wandering off-task and will help you associate the emotion you’ve got that caused that mind wandering.
For meditation, I use the app “Headspace”. It’s truly incredible although I might be biased because the CEO has a British accent and I’m a bit a little bit patriotic 🇬🇧. I’m hoping with enough meditation I’ll be as spiritual as this guy:
For sleep, I use alcohol. Just kidding. I think. Sometimes. Don’t judge me.
With these three steps in place you can now start to devise your battle plan against procrastination.
Step 4: Get To Work
Now go about your daily working life like normal. Except this time when you instinctively go to grab your phone to check a feed or to visit a distracting website try to right there and then stop yourself and think: How do I feel?
For me it seems to have been a combination of the two emotions “Fear” and “Boredom”. The latter is now getting much easier to manage since by not having access to junk food content, I have started reading more and my brain is getting more attuned to staying focused for long amounts of time.
For the former, fear seems to crop up when I approach a task that is daunting or that I don’t really know enough about. Whenever I used to read about that and people recommended to “break it down to small chunks”, I’d always think “Fuck off (wo)man, you just don’t get it”.
In a sense this is still a problem I face although in a lesser capacity, but I’m now aware of that. Procrastination is actually my mind trying to tell me something that I’m not attuned enough to realise in the first place. Maybe that means I may actually need to break things down a bit more. Maybe it means I need to understand the problem a bit more. At least I now have something a bit more actionable in my arsenal in order to battle this psychologically interesting phenomena.
Note: I think procrastination is quite normal and I don’t think you should see this article as one of those “always being productive” things because I think they’re really damaging. We all need downtime, if you’re trying these things but still just can’t make progress, maybe you need some time off to rebuild your energy and enthusiasm for your work.
What Are Your Tips?
If anyone reading this has some tips of their own, I’d be really interested in hearing them since I want to focus on this topic a considerable amount through audio / video content that you can ironically consume when you should be working.
Feel free to email me your thoughts on the subject since I would very much appreciate it: