Friday, July 17, 2015

A monkey called procrastination

Sunday, I watched a TED Talk on procrastination by a young entrepreneur and psychology student, Vik Nithy. He explains why our brains lead us to procrastinate and how to avoid it:

Though I can be very efficient, I sometimes find myself procrastinating. I thought for a long time it was because I work better under pressure or the fear of not being able to do what I'm asked, but this video made me realize it was not the core of the problem. My number one reason for procrastinating is the fear of having nothing to do.

When workload is a bit low, I'd rather let an email sit in my inbox and process it just in time to meet the deadline than working on it as soon as I receive it - I'll find a bunch of less important tasks to do instead. At home, I'll push back ironing until 11 pm on Sunday and will watch TED talks for hours during the day instead.

I know I can work fast and without interruption to make sure I'm not late while still producing quality work. But having nothing to do, even if it's the week end and I just want to rest is actually a source of anxiety. 

That's why I postpone washing doors and baseboards this week end. We're renting so we won't do any renovation and furniture can't really be moved around as everything is in the perfect spot. So when I'm done with all those extra cleaning tasks, when I'm fully done decorating, what will be left to do around the house? What will satisfy my need for change? I should know that when I'm done, the first tasks I accomplished will need to be done again. That dust will come back and will occupy me again. That I'll find new spots to clean. That I can always do some yard work instead.

Last week at work was great: I had data to analyze, a plan to get ready to present to my subject matter expert and a clear deadline. This week, I'm almost done with my analysis and only have a few meetings planned. So how do I avoid procrastination?

  1. I define my goals: I always start by defining what I want to accomplish during the week (or the week end!). The plan may change, but at least I have my mind set on accomplishing something. I tend to book time on my calendar to make sure I work on a specific task instead of other that can be less important.
  2. I plan ahead by cutting tasks into sub-tasks: So now I have a goal. But instead of procrastinating more because I don't know where to start, I break down big tasks into smaller tasks. I make list of tests, graphs and equations to perform. I define what's the scope of my cleaning spree and in what order I want to proceed.
  3. I prep well: If I have to stop mid-task to do research, print a document or call someone to get information, chances are I'll be tempted to go back to procrastination. I apply the same rule as for baking: clean your work station, prep tools and ingredients before you start the actual baking.
  4. I don't stop until I'm done: If I stop mid sub-task, procrastination will be more tempting that going back to what I was doing. I always make sure I'm done with my sub-task before I take a break, or that I'm at a point where I'll know exactly where to pick up and what to do.
  5. I do my best to be active when I have energy: Post meal, my energy level drops (especially if I have the opportunity to nap on my couch) so I try to do as much as I can either before meals or 30 minutes after. I used to do my homework and clean my room at 10 pm as a teen: late evenings I'm energetic enough to accomplish a lot.
  6. I reward myself: Sunday, after being done with my bathroom, I enjoyed some down time napping with my cat. And after all my chores were done, the husband and I went outside to enjoy an iced coffee. I've rewarded myself with shopping (I call it self gifts), resting, food, watching a TV show I like, taking a quick break from work to clear my head...
  7. Fill next day's calendar: If my calendar for the following days is a bit empty, I'll spend time listing the tasks I need to do for my different projects. I'll book time (alone or with team members) for the following days to get what I need to get my projects moving.
This process works perfectly most of the time. When it's not enough, I think about time I missed a deadline because of procrastination (being late, not being ready enough for a test / meeting, forgetting to do something). And when neither work, I end up working under pressure to accomplish the task on time.