We so often procrastinate with things we don’t want to do. Most people will leave them until the very last minute, which has a negative effect on the way we live and work. We’ve come up with our top twelve ways to stave off procrastination in favour of becoming more productive, and therefore, a happier and healthier person in general.

1. Eat a frog…

Image of a green tree frog with red eyes Image by Howard Ignatius

There’s a useful quote from Mark Twain that I think is great advice on how to stop putting things off:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

Obviously, this is a very extreme concept and I would assume that Mr Twain wasn’t implying we should do this literally! However, by doing the thing you don’t want to do first, you’ve gotten it out of the way and the pain of whatever it was should no longer be an issue. Writer, Brian Tracy wrote a book on the subject – “Eat that Frog”. Amongst the 21 tips in the book, he suggests to ‘stop procrastinating and get more done in less time,’ we should be:

  • Writing everything down: A goal written on a piece of paper has a different effect than something typed or just said out loud
  • Create ‘success habits’, rather than “bad” habits: making habits that help you to be fruitful and complete your tasks
  • Remember that time management is a means to an end

2. Break bad habits

One thing I know I’m prone to doing when I want to put off a task is being “busy”. By that, I mean, finding other things I know need doing (or just making things up that I think I need to do) to make myself feel like I’m getting somewhere. Really, it’s just another form of procrastination – even if it does mean you get something else ticked off that you’ve also been putting off.

Leaving things until the last minute, especially with deadlines, is a common trait of those who regularly procrastinate. While having the pressure of a deadline looming can bring about a temporary focus (and the mild panic/adrenaline rush is good for productivity in some cases), it’s a risky move in the long run: more stress equals more chances to keep putting things off and procrastinating, thus invoking the vicious cycle.

3. Plan, plan and PLAN

Having a plan is always a good thing. That’s not to say you can’t be spontaneous or do things on the fly. If you’re a serial procrastinator, it pays to have something written down that’s accessible and keeps you focused. Also, setting goals by having tick lists and deadlines is a good way to ‘gamify’ your process to help boost concentration.

Basecamp is a wonderfully all-encompassing piece of kit that we use here in the office to track projects, communicate with clients and within the team, as well as providing the option for multiple ‘to-do’ lists. For those who prefer the simplicity of having fewer features, there are a few examples that might be more up your street: Wunderlist – a very aesthetically pleasing list app that works similarly to Basecamp’s built-in function – and Carrot app – the goal-based “to-do list with personality” that reminds me somewhat of GLaDOS.

4. Work from different places

Image of the front of Irving House coffee shop on Orchard Street with people sitting outside Image by Tanenhaus

Having a change of scenery is an easy way to boost your productivity. One of the places I find most inspiring to work at is coffee shops. I’ve got a somewhat particular set of criteria for which ones I’d choose (my favourite being Foyles, as it’s got coffee AND lots of books around), but I love the noises of that kind of place: just gentle chatting, people going about their day. For whatever reason, it relaxes me and allows me to get into a good flow. The coffee doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’re not a freelancer, but do have the chance to work remotely – either from somewhere like the above or from home – I’d suggest trying it every once in a while. Here at CookiesHQ, we advocate working from other places regularly, as it increases productivity and gives you a change of scenery.

5. Rituals

One of my rituals is to listen to music while I work, as I find it helps me to concentrate and keep out other noises around me. Some people find this practice off-putting in itself, but, whatever the method, the principle remains the same: find something that helps you to keep anything you find distracting to a minimum. Quite a few freelancers and developers that I know use ambient noise generators like Noisli, which uses calming or even just background noises to allow you to get into your flow.

One thing that’s important to remember is to take breaks at regular intervals. Get up and move around; stretch those muscles. If you’re feeling stiff and uncomfortable, you’re not going to produce good work. It’s also very healthy for your back and shoulder muscles if you do stretches at your desk, as staying in one position or sitting incorrectly can lead to poor posture and pain later on.

6. Break things down into more manageable chunks

Scientific management or ‘Taylorism’ is a work-efficiency methodology created by Frederick Taylor in the 1880’s. It suggests that to make tasks more manageable, you should break them down into smaller segments, thereby making them easier to complete. If you do this across your working day, it becomes a far less daunting prospect. Taylor recognised that working people to breaking point was not conducive to a productive workforce. This is something that’s particularly relevant today, what with many people suffering from stress and burnout at work.

The method suggests that you plan your day in 15 minute chunks, then reward yourself for a good day’s work at closing time. This technique is particularly good if you find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time or become easily distracted.

7. Have a system in place

Image of a large tomato on a white background Image by Jonas Tana

Nic suggested that I have a look at the Pomodoro technique“a simple, yet very effective way to improve your work and study techniques.” Developed by Francesco Cirillo, the system assists with improving your productivity and making you work more efficiently. To do this, you ‘work with time, not against it’, ‘eliminate burnout, manage distractions and create a better work/life balance’. Here’s how it works:

  • Before you begin, clear away any distractions: turn your phone on silent, make sure your notifications are turned off on your computer and maybe pop in some headphones.
  • Set a kitchen timer (or use the Pomodoro One app for Mac/iPhone) to count down for 25 minutes.
  • Use this time to get as much work done as you possibly can – hopefully, as you’ll be able to focus better, you’ll get a good chunk finished.
  • Once the 25 minutes are up, take 5 minutes to have a break: check your emails/messages, if you need to. Maybe get up and have a cup of tea or a glass of water. Also, take the time to stretch and move around.
  • Do this for a count of 4 ‘Pomodoros’ – 2 hours in total. This way, you should be able to achieve a solid amount of writing, coding, number-crunching – whatever it is you do – in that amount of time.

8. Find the most effective working time structure for you

Not everyone finds the usual 9am to 5:30pm working structure a positive way of working. For some, it’s not an option to get out of that pattern, so if you do have to stick to that timeframe, there are ways that you can increase your productivity within this period.

For a week or two, write down the times that you felt at your most productive and managed to complete the most amount of work for each day. You may find that you have one large block of time or two or three groups of an hour or so, depending on how you work. If you’re fairly autonomous, try planning difficult tasks for the times you feel at your peak. This way, you can do other things such as manage your email, clear admin work and attend meetings when you are less productive, but you’re still managing to cross things off that to-do list.

9. Have an accountability partner

If you’re still struggling to get stuff done, find an accountability partner. They could be a friend, partner or even just someone you know and trust that is willing for you to be accountable to when completing tasks. It doesn’t have to be restricted to big things, either. Perhaps you’d like to blog more or create something every week. Having someone that keeps asking you “have you done it yet?”, while a little annoying, is a great motivator for finishing things.

10. Set aside time to read

Reading blog posts or articles that are related to your work can be a helpful way to find ideas or just generally gain new insights on the subject. If you do this just after lunch, it can help with the ‘post-lunch slump’ and be a more gentle way back into work after you’ve had a bit of downtime.

11. Make your workspace inspiring

Image of a study with a Macintosh computer set up and lots of Japanese manga books and anime figures Image by Frasbob

When you’re trying to get things done, you need a comfortable space to work. A back-breaking chair and a desk that’s not got enough room to move on is likely to hinder your ability to be productive, rather than improve it. However, as well as your seating arrangements, having things around you that you find inspiring and engaging will boost your morale and make you feel more like achieving your goals. Some people feel that a minimalist space will create harmony for their working environment. You could also put up a few prints with inspiring quotes to brighten up your space.

When you’re at work, if you have a pile of papers that need filing or actioning, pop them in your drawer or store them in a nice looking folder. Also, if you’re someone who is easily distracted by their phone, then turn it to silent or even upside down, so your notifications don’t get in the way. You could turn it off, but I know nobody likes to do that these days…

Personally, I like surrounding myself with books, a variety of vinyl toys and lots of things with which to doodle/write. Why not have an experiment and see what works for you?

12. Look after yourself

Image of a punnet of strawberries and blueberries next to a computer mouse and keyboard Image by Caskrzyp

It’s important when you’re working to do things to take care of your body. It’s a tool, much like your computer, and needs certain things to stay in top condition. Obviously, the basics (plenty of food, light and rest) are necessary, but there are other factors, too:

  • We keep jars of nuts to snack on around the office, as they’re healthier than biscuits. Having fruit or veg sticks, like carrots and celery available is a good way to keep yourself going when you’re working, as they won’t make a mess and you’re also ticking off a few of your five-a-day (and you know how much we like to tick things off).
  • It’s so easy to forget to drink throughout the day until you realise you’ve been working through a banging headache. I like to have a big bottle of water on my desk, as it reminds me to keep drinking water – dehydration’s no joke! – with a goal of 2-3 fill ups of my bottle a day.
  • Take regular breaks, not only to move around a bit as previously mentioned, but to help your eyesight. Eye strain is another cause of headaches. Not only that, but you could end up harming your vision in the long run.
  • Make sure to get enough sleep: not sleeping well or going to bed late will hamper your creativity and, most certainly, your productivity. You’ll find you have a lack of concentration, lose the ability to focus and just generally not feel great. All of the coffee in the world can’t replace a good night’s rest.

Conclusion

I leave you with a very informative video from the self-proclaimed Master of Procrastination, Tim Urban. His witty banter is likely to strike a chord with most people. Even the people at TED seem to think so:

What are your coping methods when it comes to procrastination? If you have some interesting tips, we’d love to hear them. Tweet us @thecookieshq.

Main image by William Lau