You’re procrastinating right now, aren't you? That’s why you’re reading this.
It’s okay, we get it.
Most people have procrastinated at work. Many will have searched “How to stop procrastinating”... while at work. Perhaps that’s how you arrived here!
Few will have found a cure-all approach, because the reasons for procrastinating are many and varied. But we’ve got nine great approaches to try, so you're bound to find something that clicks for you.
First things first though. Spend a bit of time thinking about the root of the problem.
Why are you procrastinating at work?
It can be really tricky to untangle the reasons why you procrastinate. Some things, you’ll never truly know. But there are a few reasons for procrastinating at work that can’t be ‘hacked’; make sure none of these apply to you first.
- You aren’t motivated by your work.
- You don’t feel equipped to do the work well.
- The work you’re doing is likely to be harshly criticised when completed.
- There’s something you really don’t want to do, which you have to do after you finish this work.
- You don’t feel secure; your environment is either unsafe or uncomfortable, or your job is.
All of these things require a broader intervention than just ‘getting back on task’. If you are expecting something bad to happen when you finish work, such as getting critical feedback or having to go and do your least favourite filing tasks ever… well, of course your brain is turning backflips to avoid that happening!
But if you don’t truly know why you’re procrastinating at work (and those scenarios don’t seem to match your experience) then it might be that you’ve just not found the trick that works for you. And we say ‘trick’, but these are tried-and-tested approaches.
Tips to stop procrastinating at work
So let’s get down to business - literally! If you notice any that look utterly counterintuitive, don’t worry; what works for you might be the exact opposite of what works for someone else. You might need to tweak, mix and match or come up with your own alternative. If you do, please join the Pip Club community and hop onto Slack to tell us about it!
1. Create friendly accountability
Being accountable to your boss or your client can be a factor that turns you off of doing work. But creating some friendly accountability with your peers is a fantastic motivator.
It’s relatively simple, too. You can start your own accountability group with friends, family or colleagues. Check in at the start and end of the week with a list of two or three tasks you want to have completed. Don’t go overboard though; think in small, quantifiable steps. Instead of ‘Finish project A’, think about what that actually entails and list those steps as your actions.
Or, you can join an existing virtual accountability group. These are online groups that meet regularly to get some work done on mute, with a few minutes either side of the work session to chat about your goals and progress. It's a lot easier to avoid wandering into the kitchen for a half-hour snackathon if you have to tell a bunch of strangers all about it afterwards.
2. Create some hype with a ‘done’ list
To-do lists? So last year. We’re all about Done lists! Keep a special list of everything you get done each day, or week if you prefer. There’s nothing better than seeing a list of everything you have achieved so far.
You can also work little rewards into the list… on every third (or fifth, or tenth) line, add a little fun activity or treat. Complete three actions, crack out the special chocolate biscuits. Complete ten, pop out for coffee with a friend or watch the next episode of your current box set.
This can also be a handy way to spot trends. Do you do all your creative work first and leave the admin until the end of the week? If so, this next one’s for you…
3. Create some more hype… by eating a frog (or a froglet!)
Eating the frog is a popular productivity approach that entails doing the big, scary task first each day. Getting that admin out of the way first thing on a Monday morning sets you up for a day or week without any more frog-flavoured snacks.
If you’ve tried that and didn’t find it useful, then aim to eat a froglet. This doesn’t have to be a scary, difficult or boring task. Choose something small and simple to help get you off to an easy start. After that, you’ve got something to put on your list! And if you’re worried that that’s where you’ll stop for the day, try the next tip, too.
4. Apply the ten-minute rule
This approach sees you start doing something with the promise to yourself that you can stop after ten minutes. Our brains can talk us out of settling down for hours of hard work, but there’s very little that can be done in the way of mental gymnastics to avoid ten minutes of effort. Then, once you’ve got momentum up… well you’re likely to just keep going.
It seriously works - dive into the science behind it, if you’re interested. And if you don’t keep going… well, that’s ten minutes more than you would have done. And that ten minutes might just be the reason you start again sooner (see tip 5)!
5. Don’t stop at the end
Sounds counterintuitive, right? So, you’re drawing to the end of a task. Perhaps you’ve nearly written a section of a report and you can’t wait to close your laptop. But before you do… write the first couple of sentences of the next section. When you are due to return to work, you’ll be glad you did. Continuing with something is less mentally daunting than starting a whole new something, so those extra few minutes can really help you get over the mental barrier between you and your desk.
6. Find the right setting (not the perfect one)
It can be really tempting to either ‘nest’ or ‘procrasticlean’ to create the perfect environment for your work. But that’s not work. Having a dedicated space for work that you clear up at the end of the day and don’t use for anything else is a good way to avoid this time drain, but it’s not a luxury that all of us have.
So, what can you do to find a clean, productive environment? Well, you can try switching up where you work - either a different area of your home or office, or a coffee shop. Sometimes, a change really is as good as a break. A co-working space can also be a really great environment to work in, even if you have an office you could go to. You could choose to use the space once a week or fortnight, or more often if you’re able to and find it useful.
7. Keep the big picture in view
The items on your to-do list are, more than likely, not your personal or professional goals (if they are, consider breaking them down into smaller activities!). It can be hard to lose sight of what really matters and why you’re doing these dreary tasks. But not if you keep your ‘vision’ in plain sight at all times!
So - what is the big goal that each of these little goals are helping you to achieve? A promotion to your dream job? The money to buy a home or travel the world? The skills to help you launch your own business? Whatever it is, create an image of this dream future of yours and put it where you can see it: your desktop background, your pin board behind your computer, on your wall. Wherever. Then, when you feel your mind wandering, take a few moments to look at your ‘mood board’ and really think about how it will feel when you achieve that goal.
If you need a bit of clarity on what you want your life to look like in a few years, there’s a really great visualisation activity in the write-up/video recap of our Imagination and play for strong team culture event.
8. Try a bit of structured procrastination
Now this is a special approach. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, you probably try to keep the number of deadlines you’re handling to a minimum. But what if… you did the opposite?
You can read a whole lot more about this approach, but essentially: what if you put off doing the most pressing thing on your list, by doing something slightly less pressing? The fear of a missed deadline will kick in eventually or… if you pick up enough items of work, something more important will pop up, so you can do the task that was initially most pressing as a way of avoiding the new, even more pressing, task.
Come to think of it… that’s how some of us at Pip Decks already approach our work. And that’s okay! Provided you don’t actually miss the deadline, if it works… it works!
9. Gamify the experience
Productivity is one area where gamification really comes into its own. There are so many ways to turn your to-do list into an experience instead of a chore. Try some of these:
- Grab a die and assign your top-six tasks a number and roll to discover your fate (read more about how using this approach to bring playfulness to your work, can help different people in different ways).
- Try the X effect: set yourself a daily goal and, on a calendar (preferably one with a square for each day, although a line also works), draw an X if you achieve it that day. Your brain will not want to leave any gaps in your makeshift productivity chart! Some people draw just half of the X (a slash) on the first day they drop the habit, and leave any days after that blank, to allow one day’s grace without a glaring gap.
- Turn it into a time challenge! Unplug your laptop, head to a cafe and see how much you can achieve before you run out of battery. Obviously not possible or advisable for everyone (especially those of us with 20 mins battery life at full charge). Start playing an album and see if you can finish your work before it ends.
There are tonnes of other tips to stop you procrastinating at work - we couldn’t possibly cover them all. Here are a few others to explore if none of these sounded like the perfect solution.
What if none of these tips to stop procrastinating at work help?
Reflect on your energy levels. Are you just done? Is your creative juice running low? Could a nap, a walk or a hobby be more productive than upping sticks and heading to a new location, or creating a mood board? Are you just hungry or sad? If the reason for your procrastination is portable, you won’t outrun it! Take a break to do something for you if you think the reason is more to do with your mental headspace.
The way you approach your work might also need an overhaul. Try using an Eisenhower matrix or another prioritisation approach to make sure you haven’t taken on too much of the wrong type of work. Set a regular routine using this fantastic version of time-blocking.
And if all else fails? Well, perhaps it’s time to look at those five ‘unhackable’ reasons for procrastination mentioned in the intro again.