We all stuggle with productivity, with finally getting up to do [insert something you’ve been putting off here]. It’s different for everyone but the general rule is that it’s an action that releases low levels of dopamine . Maybe it’s exercise or a work project, a difficult exam or decluttering the closet. We know we want to do it and yet day after day we put if off. Then the deadline arrives, it’s time to go to the beach or family comes to visit and if we’re lucky we can try to do it last minute but usually we end up screwed. But why put all this stress on yourself when you could fight procrastination, do the work, and focus on what’s really important.
In my article “The Motivation Fallacy” I wrote that motivation is the product of our actions and not their cause, so a better force to rely on is discipline. After publishing I got some questions how do become more disciplined. I am definitely not perfect in this area but over the years of competitive swimming, running, school work and writing I think that I learned a thing or two about discipline. Here are a couple of methods I use to avoid procrastination and trick my brain into doing things it initially doesn’t want to do.
Start at the end
It’s a well-known truth that the beginnings are the hardest. Getting up to do something and starting can be hard even though after the first grind it’s all downhill. Nevertheless the blank page is still so intimidating and looking at it we can experience a creative slump. That’s because there are so many possibilities to execute the project, so many ways to do the work. What has helped me with that this struggle is to start my work by finishing something on which I’ve been working on earlier. You have to ease into the work flow so maybe answer the emails or revisit your previous work to corect and review it with a fresh perspective. Then you’ll get into the right mindset, go with the flow and the work will become so much easier. When it comes to exercise I would recommend to start with some worm up exercises or stretches.
Think one thing at a time
This is a big one for me. Probably the most helpful technique for those times when you don’t feel like working (out) but you know that you’ll thank yourself later. When I want to go on a run at 5 A.M. but can’t get out of the warm, cosy bed I try to focus on doing things in small steps. I think: “I’m just going to sit up straight on the bed and do nothing else.”, “OK, that wasn’t so bad… I think I can stand up and put my socks on.” , “God, I’m great at this! Maybe now I’ll get changed and put my hair up…” – and so on, I think you get the gist. Don’t think about the big, hard task that you have perform. Instead focus on doing one thing and a time.
Make it official with a planer or a to-do list
Our brain doesn’t want to prompt us and store thoughts which are painful to us. That’s why it tends to forget about these hard tasks and focuses on what’s going to generate high lewels of dopamine – the hormone of joy and a motivational role in brain’s reward system. So instead of working we end up procrastinating: watching the TV, snacking or just scrolling through Instagram. Thus it is essential to make to-do lists, have a planner or some other sort of organisation system regardless if it’s physical or digital. When you write it down it’s officially a thing to do. There are no excuses and you won’t forget about it anymore.
Make it pleasant with rituals
For years and years people have used different switches to get into certain mindsets. For example a lot of swimmers listen to their favourite, motivating song before a race to get into the racing mindset.These sort of rituals that are great when we want to induce a particular mentality but they’re a great way to make getting to work more pleasant too. For Matt D’Avella, a professional filmmaker the trigger is coffee. He ends his morning rutine by making his favourite black coffee and sits down at his desk. It’s a signal that it’s time to get to work. If coffe doesn’t work for you doesn’t work for you consider a different hot beverage, a quick journalig session etc. Do whatever gets you pumped up for the day.
Even if you get yourself to start and beat the urge to procrastinate it can be hard to maintain your focus. There are so many distractions wherever you go as we are bombarded daily with thousands of stimuli and information. Gleaming ads shouting about new discounts, or 5 ways to lose weights, or yes! she finally liked your new photo. If you can get easily distracted seek solitude regardless if you are in the house or at work. Put noise cancelling headphones to cut out external noise and work in silence or listen to music which helps you concentrate.
Create an instant gratification
Your brain loves dopamine. I mean who doesn’t like to feel happy right? That’s why it is important to give yourself some sort of a reward after completing the task. You did it and you deserve it! It was hard but your got your shit together and finished something that was difficult for you. Take a break, read a book, eat something nice or do whatever relaxes you. If you create an instant gratification after completing a task it is far more likely that you will want to do it next time.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been putting off some sort of task. It happens to the best of us. There are tricks to make things easier but the best way to deal with it is to just get it over with. I’m sure it will feel great when it’s done.