Are You a Procrastinator? Check This Out!

Are you a procrastinator?

Given the opportunity, I’m convinced that all humans have a propensity towards procrastination. When our impulses get the best of us, we end up doing what we want at the expense of something that we need to do. Case and point: it’s the Monday morning after a mind-blowing The Last Dance episode. You know you have work to do, but a colleague just sent you the link to a blog post with analysis on last night’s episode. Before you know it, you’ve not only read this link, but clicked five other subsequent links and now you don’t have time to get caught up before the meeting starts.

Was it worth it?

At the time I’m sure you thought so, but when you stay late to finish up a project, you’ll probably have some regrets. To resist the urge to defer important tasks, you’ll need to implement systems that eliminate distractions.

There are infinite reasons that people procrastinate. I’ve identified several that have plagued me at one point or another. In addition, I’ve tried to be mindful of others that seem apparent from my interactions with others. Since we have a diverse set of procrastination triggers, some things may resonate with you more than others. As such, you should focus on the ones that apply to you.

Knowing the causes of procrastination will help you identify triggers and develop strategies to avoid those behaviors.

Email

If you spent a day in any workplace, it would quickly become apparent that emailing is the primary cause of procrastination for most people. Although email is a great form of communication, I find that it’s greatly overused.

People check their emails religiously before, during, and after work. Some people I know connect their cell phones to their work email so that they can check it around the clock. The latest gossip, important updates, client contacts, and spam flood our inboxes at exorbitant rates. There’s also the fear of being uninformed or missing an important message from someone. In anticipation of this, it’s understandable to see why people feel a need to check it constantly. We all love the building anticipation that occurs after sending an important email as well as the rush of clicking a newly received email. 

This disrupts the flow of our day and consumes vast swaths of time that could best be used elsewhere.

Tim Ferriss’ book the 4 Hour Work Week taught me that reducing email consumption is essential. He claims to email as little as once per week or month, but I find that unrealistic, so I put my own twist on this idea– “emailing twice a day keeps the headaches away.” To maximize your productivity, you need to minimize your time spent emailing. Consider how much of your time you dedicate to emailing. Before getting into my solutions, I want to establish responses for potential arguments against my recommendation.

For one thing, if you always respond instantaneously to clients or even colleagues, they will expect an immediate response regardless of whether the email they sent has any importance. This is not sustainable in the long term if you want to enjoy your time off, generate meaningful output, or finish on schedule. You don’t want to have constant anxiety over emails, I’ve dealt with that before and it’s not fun. Plus, most emails you receive aren’t urgent.

What if a client needs something faxed over or your boss needs a report?

Two things: you should’ve anticipated this ahead of time and added it to your initial email. Also, if your client or boss really needs something, they’ll call you to let you know. The truth is, email can wait.

Check your inbox strategically. Rather than letting someone’s email dictate when I read and respond, I put myself in complete control by choosing when I’m going to respond and how much time I’m willing to spend emailing. The first time I check email is when I get to work. Typically, I use about a half hour (max) to catch up on emails when I enter the office. The reason I check when I get to work is so that I can look at emails I received the previous afternoon and emails from that morning all at once.

The other time I check email is right before I go to lunch. There are probably new messages by this time, so it gives me the opportunity to review what’s happened throughout the day. The advantage to checking before a lunch break is that most jobs give you a finite amount of time to eat, so if you want to eat, you must be extremely concise and efficient with your email usage.

When I’ve sifted through my inbox and deleted all unwanted mail, I then go back and open the leftover messages. You should only respond to emails that absolutely require a response. Some emails are strictly informative, they might sound something like “I just wanted you to know that _______.” For these types of emails, I either don’t respond, or I say “thanks for the heads up” then press send.

The other type of email you might receive is question driven. Some questions can be answered simply by saying yes or no; others require more detailed responses. Even so, you want to be as concise as possible. I tend to overthink emails that have open-ended questions, so to limit myself –sad but true– I set a timer for two minutes on my phone. My logic is that if it takes more than two minutes to respond, I should be calling them instead of responding in an email. Make sure you get to your point quickly, then move on.

A final note on emailing. If you think that your wording could be misinterpreted, I would recommend calling instead—you don’t want something that could work against you in writing. Although I always prefer email to calling, circumstances where you want to avoid ambiguity are best dealt with over the phone to avoid future confusion and thus a waste of more of your time clarifying.

Unstructured Time

When people are left to their own devices, everything changes. Suddenly, there’s no one telling you what to do, with ten different things you could be doing to be productive, and another ten things you want to do instead. Most people find ways to get distracted by email, the rabbit hole that is the internet, and peers. The biggest differentiator between those who procrastinate and those who get things done is how they deal with unstructured time.

Create routine and structure. By creating a routine, you are ensuring that your time is used wisely, rather than letting it slip away.

Since I’m a teacher, most of my time is spent teaching, but there are also other responsibilities I need to take care of. I have very limited time to work on administrative tasks like grading and other paperwork, so I really need to be efficient and effective during my off periods. My career has made it necessary to trim the fat and focus on the big things that need to be done. This exact situation might not relate to everyone, but you can still schedule your corporate job time to be more effective using these tricks.

Before I start the day, I have a checklist of three things that I need to get done. They are listed in priority so I complete them in the order in which they are listed. Your routine can be as simple as what I described above, or it can be more complex. The most important thing is that you set priorities and execute. When you begin implementing routines, your mental toughness will be tested because there will be many temptations and opportunities to deviate from your plan. Even if you’re tired or in a bad mood, you need to fight through the urge to watch funny YouTube videos or rant to peers.

Maintaining focus and sticking with the routine even in these circumstances is essential.

Another thing you can do to help maintain focus is set alarms on your phone or calendar reminders on your computer. Setting alarms to finish something you started or calendar reminders to inform you of upcoming deadlines are great ways to manage time. These also help to create a heightened sense of importance surrounding your notification and make it more likely for you to finish. To set calendar reminders, you can use Google Calendars, Microsoft Outlook also has a user-friendly notification system. Although I’m more of a pen and paper kind of person, I’ve also been extremely intrigued by Monday.com. which helps you schedule your life and set priorities all in one place.

Once I figured out how to eliminate the root causes of procrastination, my productivity soared. It was like adding extra time to my day. The ultimate reward was leaving work stress free because I simply didn’t have anything left to do. My newly found sense of daily accomplishment also gave me the luxury of a clean conscience leaving work, which allowed my mind to be present in whatever I was doing after work. Previously, I would have been worrying about what I had to do the next day, but by eliminating procrastination I got my desired life back. Just remember that the temporary benefits of procrastination pale in comparison to the long-standing impact of feeling fulfilled each day with no regrets.

Meetings

Usually, meetings end up wasting time and energy that could best be used elsewhere. There are meetings that serve legitimate purposes, but they are few and far between. Even “productive” meetings are flawed because they take too long or at the very least longer than they should. Meetings often get side-tracked, digress, and devolve into something completely different than the original intention. Then there are the completely pointless meetings: I once got a calendar invite to discuss staff breakfast week. Yup, that happened.

There are some meetings that are necessary and there are some that are entirely avoidable. The meetings you should be culling through are those suggested by peers for ambiguous reasons and those imposed by management that seem superfluous.

Aside from the no-brainer, definitive yes or no meetings, there are a lot that fit somewhere in between. To determine the necessity of a meeting, ask the simple question “could this be answered in an email?

Most of the time, the answer is yes. For instance, your co-workers want to meet to discuss how a project is going—it’s great to stay updated, but do you really need to meet to be informed? Instead of meeting, wouldn’t it make more sense to send an email update, use a slack channel, or create a shared google doc that organizes this information? Then, if enough people raise concerns around this topic, you can set up a meeting to address the problem and come up with a cohesive strategy to deal with it.

Whenever you can get away with an email instead of a meeting, do it.

Your peers might be resistant to this concept at first, but once they see the benefits, you’re golden. Take the initiative by setting up a google doc, slack channel, or take the lead on an email chain to address your concerns. Suggest that your peers try it once to see if it works. Once your co-workers become accustomed to this stream-lined solution and see the obvious benefits, I bet they’ll never look back.

If a meeting is unavoidable, you can still find ways to be more efficient. The best way to do this is to set meeting norms with your peers, that way, everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations. Two things that I would bring up are a clear agenda and defined time limitations. The agenda should highlight the main topics that are being addressed. Any deviation from this should be shot down—it will just lead to further unrelated discussion. This behavior, if not corrected, will recur at every subsequent meeting. If you add up fifteen minutes wasted here and ten minutes wasted there, it leads to large swaths of wasted time that could have otherwise been used on something productive. A clear agenda will keep the meeting on track and save time.

Final Thoughts

Procrastination destroys productivity and over time deteriorates your quality of life. By eliminating or mitigating distractions during the work day, you will have more free time to pursue what you enjoy with a clear conscience.