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Fri, Jan 25 2013 21:35:21 UTC

10 tips to avoid procrastination

Whether you're a web designer, 3D artist, or even an accountant, everyone suffers from procrastination. For some, it may be a minor annoyance, something we rarely face, but for others, actually starting work may be a difficult challenge, and procrastination might well make us lose hours every day due to inactivity. If that's your case, this could be a productivity nightmare, with hundreds of hours or full weeks being lost every year due to this behavior.

There are many studies that try to point out the cause and reasons for procrastination. Usually, stress plays a role, where your mind may simply not want to face a particular task, and so you wait and do something else instead, usually unproductive, in the hope that this task will be less bothersome later on. Of course, it never is, but that doesn't prevent us from repeating the action constantly. While the exact cause may be hard to find out, there are things you can do to avoid delaying tasks, and gain back all of those lost hours.

1. Avoid distractions

It may seem like common sense to turn off the TV, close your web browser, and put down your phone when you have some work to do, but for many people this is much harder than it may look. We all know what usually distracts us, and what else we do when we should be working. You may have a client that needs you to finish a piece of work, but you procrastinate and wait until the last moment by instead checking your email, browsing Reddit, or sending some text messages. Those distractions you tend to go to are the first that should be turned off and put away.

2. Listen to music

While most distractions are bad for someone who tends to procrastinate, soothing music can actually be very good. Because stress is often a factor that makes us delay tasks that we don't want to do, listening to music can help calm us down, and focus our attention on the task at hand. You have to be careful however to stick to calm melodies, and not simply launch your Hip Hop playlist if you know it's going to distract you.

3. Be disciplined with your common tasks

Email is a task that has become very common for many of us. You may talk to work colleagues, clients, friends and family through the same email interface, and you can't just close the tab, you need to stay up to date on any potential request. This is why being disciplined about your inbox usage is crucial. Make use of folders or labels so that your work messages are shown right away, but the mail from your friends and family are stored for when you're done. The same is true with IM or SMS. If you really need to receive direct communications while you work, you need to discipline yourself and set a maximum amount of time for each interruption, like 10 seconds, and then back to work.

4. Try to multitask less

We love that our computers can multitask, and as human beings, being able to do the same, juggling between our emails, browser, productivity software and music player may seem like a great feat, but it is also very distracting and slows each of these tasks down. If you have 5 windows open and you multitask between them, the one that contains your work may only receive 1/5th of your attention. Instead, closing down the other 4 and focusing on just the one task at hand will speed things up by a lot.

5. Use a to-do list

Don't rely on your memory to remember everything you have to do, instead use a to-do solution with reminders, so that you don't have to spend time trying to remember what you were supposed to do, when each task is due, and having to go back to past conversations trying to find the answer. There are many to-do lists out there, some web based, others are desktop applications or phone apps. The important thing however is that the to-do solution that you pick must have reminders, so that it doesn't become yet another distraction

6. Start working even if you have a blank

For many, procrastination isn't so much that they get distracted by another app, but instead they are staring at exactly the task that they should be doing, but they simply don't have any inspiration at that time. So the solution many reach is to put the task off for a while and come back later. Instead, start working anyways, do something, anything, and often you will find that inspiration will come.

7. Have regular breaks and get enough sleep

Working is always harder when you get tired, so having regular breaks and sleeping enough at night is key. You should never work for more than a few hours without taking a break. Ideally, at the top of every hour you should get up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes, clear your mind, then come back to work. Note that the point of these breaks is to increase blood flow and relax your brain, not start something else. You should never give in to the temptation to check your phone, turn on the TV or do something else.

8. Eat well

Just like the lack of sleep can increase procrastination, so can the lack of food. Be sure that you eat healthy and have eaten enough before you start working. Avoid trying to eat and work at the same time. While eating pizza in the conference room while brainstorming ideas is a fairly common practice, when you are alone at your desk, trying to actually do a task that requires your attention, eating at the same time can be just as distracting as having the TV on.

9. Create a sense of urgency

Often, procrastination is enabled by having long deadlines. If something is due for a client in a week, and you know it will take you less than a day to do it, then it can be tempting to wait until the very last day. But you never know what other task will come your way. Think of what would happen if your most important client came up with a new urgent task on that last day, or what if your office suddenly burned down and you had to scramble a new work location, what would it do to your professional image if you were late. By always working as if each task had to be completely as soon as possible instead of by a certain due date, you can help reduce the amount of wait that you allow yourself.

10. Break large tasks into smaller ones

Another reason procrastination happens is when a project seems so big, so monumental, that simply starting it can appear daunting. This is why it can be very useful to break down large tasks into smaller ones. For example, if you are a writer and need to write 200 pages about a subject, the amount of work ahead of you may seem quite big. So instead, divide that project into chapters, and place each of them on your to-do list as different tasks, with the amount of time each should take. Then you can start working on the first one without worrying so much about the full project.

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