I’m coming clean, I feel like I need to be honest with you all right now. I am the queen of all procrastinators. If it wasn’t a massive data breach I would love to screenshot my 3 computer screens that sit in front of me. I have 1 TED Talk open, 3 half written emails, an excel spreadsheet that refuses to finish itself and a YouTube page showing me how to put up shelves. I also have a number of half doodled pieces of paper on my desk, and a load of unanswered text messages on my phone. All of this is happening, and what I’m supposed to be doing is writing a blog post – surprisingly enough, it’s not magically writing itself.
This will not surprise anyone who knows me, and definitely won’t surprise anyone who knows me and knows I have ADHD. ADHD means different things for different people who have it, and the popular image of someone jumping around, being very loud and overly excitable isn’t always true.
My ADHD manifests itself in many different ways. In busy or noisy surroundings I can become over stimulated, I can’t concentrate, don’t know where or how to direct my focus, and so I end up becoming really quiet and introverted because my brain can’t cope with so many things happening at once. I sometimes forget what I’m supposed to be doing, my brain darts from one place to another and doesn’t always register the task I actually should be working on. I interrupt people, a lot, because my brain is working so quickly it can’t wait to burst out with what’s going on in there. I procrastinate, not because I don’t want to do what I’m doing, but because my brain is also thinking about the other 40 things I need or want to do, and tries to start them all at once.
Procrastination is defined as the tendency to delay activities that have to be completed before a deadline. For me it’s not so much the delay, but the piling on of more and more things I also want and need to do on top of it.
But with all of this in mind, I have never missed a deadline, I have never handed in work late, I have always delivered on my promises. Procrastination is about leaving things to the last minute – that doesn’t mean they won’t get done but it’s likely that they’ll happen JUST in time. This can cause unnecessary stress and might mean small setbacks derail projects, but there are measures we can put in place to minimise the negative impact of procrastination, while still allowing the positive space for creativity to blossom.
- Sometimes procrastination is a byproduct of trying to achieve perfection. Rather than just finishing the task you keep tinkering away, endlessly reworking tiny details. This tinkering is procrastination when it starts to have a detrimental effect on you and your productivity. Learn to recognise when something’s finished, and know when to stop! Just getting things done is better than never finishing anything because you want it to be “perfect”.
- Spend time to save time. Make a list of everything you need to do and only work on the things that are on the list. If it’s not on the list, add it, and prioritise accordingly. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, or won’t ever, do the other things, it’s just about making sure you allocate time to each task and focusing on what’s most important right now. Adding “Watch YouTube videos on putting shelves up” to the list so I remember to do it later is better than doing it now when I have other priorities – and better than forgetting to do it altogether!
- Don’t think that you need to work in total silence, silence can be even more distracting. For me, the void of noise gets filled up with thoughts that are entirely irrelevant to what I should be thinking about. Find out what level of noise and distraction you need to work in. I find repetitive, preferably wordless (so I don’t sing along) music. Either Classical or Trance does it for me, depending on what mood I’m in!
- Recognise when and why you’re procrastinating – is it because you don’t want to do this thing, so you’ll do literally anything else to avoid it? Or is it because you just have too much going on? Different reasons for procrastination require different ways to deal with it. Perhaps spend some time breaking important tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces, and never be afraid to delegate the less important ones where you can.
- Work out when you’re at your best, some people are night owls, others work better at the crack of dawn, so schedule the tasks that are the most difficult for your peak times. There’s no point in trying to do hard things when you’re tired or don’t have the headspace for it, you’ll waste time and become frustrated.
- Turn off toxic time stealing social media distractions that don’t contribute to your work (Here is a previous article I wrote about why I dont use Facebook) – i.e. uninstall Facebook, twitter and Instagram from your phone, and allocate time for that, ie do 45 mins work and then let yourself have 10 mins on social media. Social media isn’t the enemy – there’s a time and a place for it – but it can easily take up more time than it needs to.
- Celebrate your success – when you get something done, move away from your desk and make yourself a brew, or have a chat about something non work related. Be kind to yourself.