Why hello there, loyal readers, on this, a random day of the week that is definitely not when we regularly schedule a new article! Did you miss us?
Do not be afraid! We have neither abandoned you nor forgotten to update the blog. This article is coming to you late for one very simple, completely understandable reason: I was… procrastinating.
Yes, it’s true. Even we, the humble-yet-perfect proprietresses of this Internet blog sometimes suffer from lapses in productivity. It’s a perfectly normal condition that lots of people deal with. Nothing to be ashamed of! We can try again next week. I’m sure I’ll be able to perform then!
But now it’s time we talked about productivity and how to fucking force it even when you’re not in the mood. Because you know what procrastination really is? Besides a completely average and not-humiliating dysfunction, that is?
It’s a waste of money.
You must pay to procrastinate
I have a coworker who not only works full-time at two completely separate publishing houses, but moonlights as a real estate agent, sunsets as an actor, and twilights as a college professor. We refer to him as “the self-cleaning oven.”
He is remarkably productive, and as a result, he’s raking in the cash from his multiple full-time jobs and side hustles.
When I asked him how he finds the time to do it all, his answer was pretty simple: “I never procrastinate.”
Which, as far as rules to live by go, is… annoyingly simple.
When I’m feeling guilty about procrastinating, it’s almost never because I know I “should” be productive for my own personal betterment or whatevs. It’s never because I know I’m “letting myself down.” “Letting myself down” is also apparently what happens when I eat too much pizza in a single sitting, and that’s a decision I will never, ever regret in my entire life I fucking swear to you.
No. I feel guilty about procrastinating because I know that every minute spent scrolling through the most under-appreciated moments in Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Tumblr is a minute I’m not making money.
And the less money I earn at this stage of my life, the longer I’ll be forced to wile away my youth in service to The Man. My path to financial independence—nay, to freedom, is paved with money I earn right heckin’ now. If I’m procrastinating, it means I’m basically pissing away the moments I get to spend as my own master, rather than as a wage slave in The System™.
And in conclusion, procrastination is the patriarchy’s way of insidiously withering our ability to smash it. Thank you for attending my Ted Talk.
The cause of my unproductivity
The most common cause of being unproductive, for me at least, is feeling overwhelmed. When I know I have more to do than I can easily accomplish in a day, I tie my brain up in knots worrying about it all. And that wastes precious time and mental energy that could be used productively.
Over the last week I was on deadline with four projects at work, I traveled to a distant state to attend a friend’s wedding (it was lovely, thanks for asking), I started a new freelance project, and I needed to figure out travel logistics for another trip. On top of that, I needed to wade through several moderately pressing personal emails, deal with my elderly pup’s newfound destructive tendencies (RIP nine pairs of underwear, six toilet paper rolls, an entire kitchen trashcan, and all the carrots in the garden), and find time to do laundry at some point.
It was overwhelming. And so, so much easier to just… read a book. Ah, the oldest form of human escapism! Nothing can harm me, least of all my own self-destructive procrastination, while I’m reading about vengeful, sentient spaceships!
But avoiding everything I had to do didn’t make it magically disappear. Nor did it manifest some magical House Elf or pro bono personal assistant who could just do all the things for me.
Instead it all just sat there, metaphorically staring me down, unblinking and growing almost imperceptibly larger by the minute until everything was dire and terrible.
Procrastinating on what I had to do didn’t do shit to help me. And in fact, it actually hurt me. For I still had to do everything… I just had less time in which to do it.
But how does one force oneself to do it when one is not in the mood?
Do the hardest thing first
Remember how I have the heart of a terrified prey animal during the lean winter months? I’m basically that rapidly-dead quail from Bambi, but with slightly more self control.
Sometimes I feel anxious or intimidated about completing a particularly difficult or important task. And this results in me just… not doing it for hours on end. I put it off and put it off while I do easier/less important shit. And all the while the anxiety is building in me to the point that my worry over fucking up said difficult task is so blown out of proportion that it causes me more stress than if I’d just taken care of it right away!
Which, incidentally, is exactly what I recommend doing.
Do the hardest thing first. As soon as you wake up, face off with the most difficult thing you have to do that day and crush it. The rest of your day will be a cakewalk by comparison.
Don’t ease into your day by answering a few inconsequential emails or reading the news. Do the hardest thing first! Just do it and it’s done. Do it and you’re free of the anxiety and stress that would otherwise build up during procrastination.
Plus, once you’ve got the hardest thing out of the way, you can procrastinate guilt-free! And isn’t that the dream?
The Pomodoro Technique
When I’m finding it hard to be productive and stay focused, I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me back on track.
In the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo developed a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. So, twenty-five minutes of working followed by five minutes of play. Rinse and repeat until the work is done. Cirillo named his technique and the intervals after the Italian word for “tomato” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his intervals.
And it’s really that simple.
The idea is that frequent breaks improve mental agility. There are also proven health benefits associated with getting up and moving around every once in a while instead of sitting in a chair typing for hours on end.
I often use my break pomodoros to do squats, tricep dips, or lunges around my office. It gets my blood flowing, freaks out the interns, and makes me feel smug about my physical fitness while still making progress on my nerdy indoor goals.
You can choose the length of your working and playing pomodoros according to what works for your schedule and workload. For example, today I was feeling particularly restless, so I interspersed twenty minutes of working at breakneck speed with ten minutes of exercise, walking the dog, doing post-travel laundry, or booking travel for the next few months.
You can break it down into smaller or larger pomodoros as you see fit. An hour on, ten minutes off. Thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. Assess your scheduling needs and pomodoro accordingly!
I often find that within a few pomodoros, I hit my stride and don’t want to stop for breaks anymore. Once the work is flowing, you don’t have to force yourself to stop for break pomodoros anymore. Just ride out the productivity as long as it lasts, and then start cycling through breaks and working pomodoros again.
Ah, the Buckeye State. With its vast deciduous woodlands and Rust Belt cities and… metric fucktons of buckeyes, I assume? Ohio is more than just the Queen of the Politically Incendiary Midwest. It is a major tool in your arsenal for combating procrastination.
For Ohio, in the tongue of the indigenous Ojibwe, translates to “only handle it once” (it’s totes true you can look it up).
When the mail arrives, deal with each piece of mail as you pick it up—sort it, recycle it, pay it if it’s a bill from the Late Triassic where they still expect you to pay things by mail.
When the dryer buzzes, pull that shit out and fold each piece as you come to it. Don’t put it in a basket and move it somewhere else in the apartment to languish, developing wrinkles and cat hair as the decade soldiers on.
When you finish reading an email, respond to it! Don’t scroll through the rest of your inbox, averting your eyes from that thing you already wasted time and mental energy on. Only handle it once!
Only handling things once means you never decide to “do it later.” You do it immediately when “it” reveals itself to you. In this way, you’re eliminating your ability to procrastinate on something and getting it out of the way so you can focus on other things.
Also good for defending your home from roving piles of laundry and unsorted mail.
Ok but like I’m literally too depressed to do anything please help
All of these techniques will help you force yourself into a state of motivated productivity. But they’re not foolproof. For some people, the root of the problem starts much deeper.
If you’re depressed, sick, tired, or struggling under the weight of some other horrendous and debilitating circumstance, all of the tactics above just won’t cut it. By all means, you should try. But if it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up.
Instead, get to the root of the problem: your health and well-being, both mental and physical. To that end, here is our advice on learning to cope with your mental health in order to succeed in life:
- Our Master List of 100% Free Mental Health Self-Care Tactics
- Econ Nerd Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Your Big Brain
- Everything Is Stressful and I’m Dying: How to Survive a Panic Attack
- Stop Recommending Therapy Like It’s a Magic Bean That’ll Grow Me a Beanstalk to Neurotypicaltown
Now it’s time to hear from you, oh productive citizens of Bitch Nation! Tell us your anti-procrastination techniques in a comment below!