How to Improve Your Productivity – Advice from a Retired Professional Procrastinator – The Girl Guide

How to Improve Your Productivity – Advice from a Retired Professional Procrastinator

My worst habit used to be that I procrastinated. In fear of not being good enough or not being perfect, I was doing assignments that could have taken me 30 minutes, ultimately took me hours.

This is how I operated almost all through high school. Even though I was somehow able to make it work for that long, it got to a point where it just wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle for someone inching closer to becoming a real adult. I knew I needed to change something to get my terrifyingly horrible time management skills on track.

 Because of this, I eventually realized that I wasn’t the problem, it was my schedule. So, I reconstructed and experimented with thousands of routines. When I tell you I have tried everything, I mean I’ve tried daily planners, monthly planners, setting early reminders on my phone, and not letting myself do anything fun or social until I completed everything on my to-do list. 

I knew I needed to try something to get my terrifyingly horrible time management skills on track—and that’s where all of these tips come in. Over time, I figured out a few methods and tricks that I now absolutely swear by. Here’s how I completely kissed my chronic procrastination goodbye:

Is Procrastination the Same as Being Lazy?

Absolutely not. Procrastination and laziness are two distinct concepts that are often mistaken for one another. Procrastination is a conscious decision to delay a task that one knows needs to get done, whereas laziness is a lack of motivation to do anything at all.

Procrastination takes effort to actively choose to do something else instead of the task at hand. On the other hand, laziness is characterized by inactivity, apathy, and an unwillingness to act.

When someone procrastinates, they may choose to engage in a task that is more enjoyable or easier but still requires some level of productivity. Laziness, on the other hand, involves doing nothing at all.

  1. Know Why You’re Procrastinating

You can use any combination of techniques that you want, but starting by figuring out why you are procrastinating can be very helpful. There is always a reason for procrastination, whether it’s due to fear, anxiety, or simply an overwhelming task. It’s important to identify what’s causing you to procrastinate so you can address it effectively.

Many people struggle with anxiety and fear when it comes to completing tasks. These concerns are often irrational and exaggerated, leading to avoidance and procrastination. However, it’s important to remember that asking for help can be a powerful tool to overcome these feelings and get things done. So, if you’re feeling stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

  1. Keep Your To-Do List Simple!

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to keep a to-do list as simple as possible. Instead of overwhelming myself with a long list of tasks, I focus on what I need to get done and break down larger tasks into smaller ones. By doing this, I can start working on them right away and make progress without feeling stressed out. In the past, I used to have a long list of 15+ things to do every day, which would make me feel overwhelmed and lead to procrastination. Now, by keeping my to-do list short, I can get through everything more easily and quickly. I’ve also found that reducing the number of decisions I need to make during the day by making them ahead of time or creating habits around certain areas of my life has helped me be more effective and save energy.

3. Have a Productive Morning Routine

Have you ever had a day where you woke up feeling sluggish and unmotivated? Mornings set the tone for your entire day, and I realized that a productive start was essential in keeping my procrastination at ease. That is why having a productive morning routine can be so important. You don’t need to be up at 4 AM to do an intense workout, meditate, shower, and make breakfast for yourself all before you clock into work—this isn’t realistic (for most people). But it’s a good idea to start your day in a way that makes you feel energized and motivated. For me, that means making my bed, drinking water, cleaning my environment, and going for a morning walk. Laying in bed all morning will make me feel sluggish and behind schedule. These simple steps help me feel like the best version of myself and set a positive tone for my day. So, try doing something that makes you feel energized to set a positive tone for your day.

4. Adjust Your Environment

Adjusting your environment is one of the easiest ways to overcome procrastination. One effective method is to eliminate the cues that trigger your procrastination habits in the first place. 

If you find it difficult to work in public places because of the constant movement and noise, you can look for a quiet place to sit down and focus. 

Similarly, if you are like me and can’t concentrate in a messy room, it’s best to tidy up beforehand to settle down and calm yourself to fully concentrate on your work. Removing all physical and digital distractions from your work environment is crucial for avoiding procrastination and maintaining focus on your goals. 

In the past, I used to set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb mode and leave it on my desk while I worked. However, I realized that I often gave in to the temptation to check it, which hindered my productivity. Nowadays, I put my phone in a drawer after activating the Do Not Disturb mode, so I have to physically get up if I want to access it.

This small change has been very helpful in keeping me focused on my work and avoiding procrastination.

5. Take a Break

Don’t forget to take breaks when you’re working hard! Overworking yourself can lead to burnout and even procrastination. It’s important to give yourself time to rest and recharge so that you can maintain your focus and energy throughout the day. And if you don’t get as much done as you had hoped, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just adjust your to-do list for the next day and try again. Remember, we’re only human, and we need balance in order to stay sane.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking a break can increase your productivity. You might ask, “Isn’t taking a break just another form of procrastination?” But the answer is no. The key difference lies in intentionality. If you plan your break ahead of time and set a specific duration for it, then it’s not the same as just putting off your task until the last minute. However, if you find it difficult to get back on track after your break, you could try the Pomodoro method. This method involves setting a timer to help you stay focused during your study sessions and breaks, which can be especially helpful when you’re working on important tasks.

Interestingly, sometimes procrastination can actually be a good thing. Allowing an idea or piece of work to sit for a while can lead to new, creative insights. So, next time you’re stuck on a project, try stepping away from it for a bit and see what happens. This phenomenon is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.

6. Do Your Hardest Task First

The advice to “Do Your Hardest Task First” has been bandied about for years, and good reason. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with distractions and interruptions, it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of our priorities.
When you start your workday by focusing on your most important and challenging task, you can direct your energy and attention toward achieving your goals. This approach can help you gain momentum and build up a sense of accomplishment, which can carry you through the rest of your day. Additionally, by completing your most pressing tasks early on, you’ll be able to free up time later in the day for other important activities, such as meeting with colleagues, taking breaks, or engaging in leisure activities.

The benefits of prioritizing your hardest task are not just limited to productivity and time management, either. When you’re able to complete your most challenging work early on, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed or stressed out as the day progresses. This can help you maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on your work, which can ultimately lead to better outcomes and a more fulfilling work experience.

It’s worth tackling your most challenging task first to boost productivity, reduce stress, and accomplish more.

7. Be Kind To Yourself

Recognizing that suffering and imperfection are part of the shared human experience can be a powerful realization. It can help us feel less alone and isolated in our struggles, knowing that almost everyone experiences these challenges in some form. The benefits of self-compassion extend beyond just overcoming procrastination – it can also improve our ability to deal with negative emotions and other struggles in general. So, even if you don’t struggle with procrastination, practicing self-compassion can be beneficial for your overall well-being.


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