Procrastination is my kryptonite, as it is for many people.
The ultimate thief of time, the art of distraction, misplaced priorities and time wasting rolled into one. I touched on this a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on the both the chaos and the opportunities presented by the corona-crisis.
This week’s article goes a little deeper into the topic of procrastination.
Most humans I think suffer from a degree of procrastination. This (extremely funny) TED talk on the subject has been viewed over 37 million times, suggesting that I’m not the only one.
High performers suffer too (phew!).
In this fantastic podcast conversation, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits explains that whilst writing his book, he instructed his assistant to change his social media passwords on a Monday morning and not to give him the new ones until Friday afternoon, only for her to change them again after the weekend.
Many of us feel a degree of shame around our human tendency to procrastinate, but I’m going to be brave and say out loud:
- I cannot work productively for 8 hours straight without a break
- Contrary to standard office culture, I believe that taking a walk or going for a run during the working day is a good use of time
- I am unafraid of ditching or avoiding work which does not directly relate to my core objectives
- Sometimes I sit at my desk and get sucked into a social media scrolling hell hole
I want to say (to my clients mostly!) that I don’t think I’m especially worse than anyone else, but that it’s something I’d love to improve (or at least harness for good – daydreaming can actually be a useful problem solving tool…).
I’ve noticed that there are different factors which affect my ability to concentrate, these include:
- The nature of the work I’m doing (especially if it’s difficult / dull / sucks my energy and or takes me out of my comfort zone)
- If my morning started well (in particular, I tend to be less distracted if I’ve exercised)
- If I’ve eaten well, am hydrated and have had enough sleep
- Other things which are going on in my life (outstanding life admin can be quite derailing, especially if the little tasks add up)
- Hormones. Yep. Periods, pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause…let’s get honest here. Natural fluctuations in our cycles DO make a difference. (Would love to hear from other women to know if they’ve experienced similar?)
Alongside these day to day triggers, we are in an unprecedented time where distraction and procrastination run the risk of completely derailing us. Combined with the fact that for those of us fortunate enough to still be working, we have never been needed more.
Right now more than ever, we need to dig deep into our motivation reserves to help us with the most important tasks.
We should also afford ourselves and our colleagues the grace to ditch those things which are not so important.
So what to do?
Two weeks ago, I had two large projects coming to an end. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind and I knew I couldn’t let my clients down (plus I had a week of leave scheduled and needed to be focused on my family, leaving little time for projects overrunning).
Here are some quick tips which have worked for me:
- Set a fake deadline and a fake time limit
Try writing an article or a funding bid in only on hour. Set a timer. Go somewhere quiet.
Break big tasks down into chunks. Set a big deadline for the project as a whole and time limits for each chunk.
- Do your biggest, most challenging task first
Eat that frog!* Getting the hard things out of the way first gives us a massive boost once they’re complete.
Plan out your day the night before so that there is no question as to what you’re going to tackle first and try to have your workstation organised in a way which means you can do this task without opening your email and / or social feeds.
*Interestingly my pal Clair informs me she is completely incapable of eating frogs. I asked if it was because she’s a night owl? She just said that she hates big scary tasks and would rather leave them to the last minute to get them done! Can anyone else relate?
- Promise yourself a reward for successful completion
Coffee? Biscuit? Twitter binge whilst sat in the sunshine? Don’t mind if I do!
You could also take a walk, listen to a podcast, do an online yoga class or text a friend or family member. Last week, my daughter and I got stuck into the new BBC adaptation of Malory Towers which was the perfect reward for having got lunch in the oven.
- Don’t overload your to do list
The pressure to achieve is real. But ‘read and replied to emails’ is not an achievement.
You have a responsibility right now, not to work ALL the hours, but to only do the right things.
What is it that you can do to REALLY move the needle for your charity (clue, if you’re a fundraiser, it’s likely to be tasks which connect you directly to donors)?
- Phoned 3 supporters to ask how they’re doing and let them know how their recent donation is being spent
- Drafted two funding bids and sent them to colleagues for feedback
- Identified our top ten major donor prospects and wrote cultivation plans for the top two
- Clarified with my direct reports their top priorities for the week ahead and set follow up calls to check in on progress. Shared mine with them for two way accountability.
- Hide your smartphone and close down your email
Mine is in the kitchen right now. Sometimes I pop it on airplane mode and am not allowed to release the wifi until I’ve eaten my frog.
- Seek out an accountability partner
A great way to foster connection in a time where we’re all working from home.
Set up a morning video call with a colleague and agree on the things you’re going to complete that day.
I do this with my pal Clair from Plain Sailing and it’s hugely motivating for both of us. She may be unable to eat frogs, but give the woman some external accountability and she’s a powerhouse.
Check in later that afternoon to see if you’ve followed through on your commitments.
What are your tips for banishing procrastination to the unproductive bin of faffing, scrolling, daydreaming?
I’d love to hear your thoughts (and need all the help I can get!).
Thanks for reading,
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