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Beat Procrastination and Reclaim Your Day

Would it be silly to mention that I put off writing this post?

I knew I wanted to discuss procrastination, but then I got distracted by magazines, TV, cleaning up my desk, and all those little things that get in the way.

When procrastination starts taking over my day, I pull myself together by following these easy steps.

Do 2-Minute Tasks First

Some people will tell you to tackle your most important task first, but for me, thinking about my most important project deflates my mood. I know my most important tasks will take hours to complete, and other smaller tasks will get pushed off (again). Starting with the most daunting item is sure to make me procrastinate even more.

Look over your massive to-do list and put a star next to the tasks that will take 2 minutes or fewer to complete. Maybe you could send off a quick email. Maybe you could wipe down the kitchen counter. Maybe you could shred a stack of papers.

Being able to cross off a task—any task, no matter how small—on your to-do list will give you mental strength to continue.

Don’t have any 2-minute tasks? Take one of your mammoth-sized projects and break it down into every tiny step in the process. For example, if you need to clean out an overstuffed garage, your 2-minute task might be gathering up all the cleaning supplies, trash bags, broom, etc. and placing everything by the garage door.

Set a Timer

After you’ve gotten your 2-minute tasks behind you, it’s time to dig into the more challenging to-dos. I can get a lot of things done without losing my motivation by working in chunks of time. First, I’ll set a timer for a doable amount of time, usually 15 minutes.

Hey, we can do anything for 15 minutes, right?

I’ll start the timer and jump into the next project. When I begin getting the “I don’t wanna do this” feeling, I remind myself that I only have to do it for 15 minutes. When I see the minutes ticking down on the timer, it spurs me onward. I think, “I bet I can send off this report before the timer beeps!”

I’m amazed at how much faster I work when I’m using a timer. Racing the clock ignites my focus. I have a hot pink Gymboss timer on my desk that I use nearly every day.

 

My Gymboss is great because I can set it up as a stopwatch, countdown timer, and even an interval timer for my workouts (eg, 30 seconds active followed by 60 seconds rest x 8 rounds).

Give Yourself a Reward

OK, you survived 15 minutes of focused work. You might be so impressed by how much you got done that you’ll be tempted to do another 15 minutes right away. Resist the urge to continue working! Give yourself a reward first. You’ll feel good about your progress and avoid burnout.

Find a reward that’s satisfying but not so distracting that you won’t want to go back to your work. Take a 5-minute walk around the block. Cuddle with you dog. Stand up and do some yoga stretches. Read a short magazine article. Meditate or do a breathing exercise.

I like to listen to brief podcasts. My favorites include The Daily Boost, Grammar Girl, and Nova. If you choose to listen to podcasts or music, be sure to limit your break to 5-10 minutes.

That’s my puppy, Skyla, in the background of this picture. I’m sure she’s up to no good.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

After you enjoy your reward, it’s time to get back to work. But before you get started again, review your to-do list. Look at all those crossed-off tasks! You’re making progress!

Choose your next task (or continue the last one) and start your timer again. Really focus your attention on the task at hand. Don’t think about what your next reward will be or what you’ll eat for lunch. It’s only 15 minutes, and then you can take a breather and enjoy another reward.

True, there are some days when you’ll be on fire and it makes sense to work for an hour or 2 without a break. Great! Hold on to that momentum and go with it. But when you can feel procrastination coming over you, use these tips to keep yourself moving forward.

A tiny bit of progress is better than losing a whole day to procrastination. Tweet this!

Is procrastination stealing your productivity? Check out these articles:

27 Ways to Get More Sh!t Done

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

4 Simple Ways to Increase Focus and Get Things Done

Is Fear Making You Procrastinate?

What do you do when you feel like procrastinating?

12 Comments

  1. Molly on April 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    I agree with Sarah, your pictures are adorable!

    I also agree with doing the small things first. It makes me feel so much more accomplished and ready to take on the other, not so small, things. I also reward myself with mini breaks. It makes a difference!

    As always, great posts with lots of terrific advice. 🙂



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Molly! People need to reward themselves more. It makes work so much more enjoyable. What do you like to do during your mini breaks?

      I love goofy pictures, so I’m glad you like them too. 🙂



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Molly! People need to reward themselves more. It makes work so much more enjoyable. What do you like to do during your mini breaks?

      I love goofy pictures, so I’m glad you like them too. 🙂



      • Molly on April 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm

        My mini breaks are pretty simple things- reading, playing with the pups for a little while or eating a snack I especially was looking forward to. 🙂



  2. xvavaveganx on April 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Soooo first of all, your pics are adorable as always! I love your shirt! The cut of it is so great, I love it! I also love the last pic with your gorgeous girl Skyla and that stylish paper clip necklace 🙂 Yup, I noticed it and I kind of love it!

    Anyway, once again you provide amazingly useful AND interesting information. I’m a huge procrastinator and the idea of doing the 2 minute tasks first is brilliant. I totally agree with you that crossing those things off of the to do list is motivating! That is such a great tip! I love your pink timer and rewards are always great 🙂 I need to try and work that into my routine… I think I work really hard and I don’t reward myself enough. I also think it is important to time yourself and take breaks. I really need to figure out how to do this at work on my 10 hour days. I think that taking a stretch break at the top or bottom of the hour is a great way to get back on track if your focus begins to wander!

    Thanks for another awesome post! I always look forward to visiting your lovely site!



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Thanks for the compliment! And I thought I could escape fashion blogging. You’ll love this–the shirt is from Old Navy and it’s only $12! Here’s the link: http://oldnavy.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=77818&vid=1&pid=507719&scid=507719072 There are a lot of pretty colors for summer (long sleeves too). I have 4 of these T shirts.

      Somedays I get nothing done but my 2-minute tasks. It’s better than nothing! I love crossing stuff off my to-do list–so satisfying. 5-minute YouTube clips are good rewards too. I do a lot of stretching because I’m sitting on my butt all day.



      • xvavaveganx on April 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

        Oooh thanks for the link! I’ll check it out!



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Thanks for the compliment! And I thought I could escape fashion blogging. You’ll love this–the shirt is from Old Navy and it’s only $12! Here’s the link: http://oldnavy.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=77818&vid=1&pid=507719&scid=507719072 There are a lot of pretty colors for summer (long sleeves too). I have 4 of these T shirts.

      Somedays I get nothing done but my 2-minute tasks. It’s better than nothing! I love crossing stuff off my to-do list–so satisfying. 5-minute YouTube clips are good rewards too. I do a lot of stretching because I’m sitting on my butt all day.



  3. Shybiker on April 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

    I swear, I think you are me. Your great tips are all things I learned from a long lifetime of struggle and mistakes. You post what I wish I had learned earlier in life — which makes your blog so valuable to us. That, and the pretty pictures.



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Chris takes all my pictures, and I think he does a fabulous job. I love getting a little silly.

      What if we’re separated twins? You’re the one who rides motorcycles and I’m the one who eats all the Twizzlers. It’ll be a sitcom like the Patty Duke Show, but more believable. 🙂



    • Sage on April 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Chris takes all my pictures, and I think he does a fabulous job. I love getting a little silly.

      What if we’re separated twins? You’re the one who rides motorcycles and I’m the one who eats all the Twizzlers. It’ll be a sitcom like the Patty Duke Show, but more believable. 🙂



      • Shybiker on April 28, 2012 at 7:48 pm

        I like that!

        In “The Patty Duke Show,” Patty and Cathy were cousins who looked alike but acted different. Cathy was urbane and sophisticated; Patty was a typical teenager. I think we do have some hidden link.