Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)

Part IV. DECLUTTERING YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Simplify Your Distractions (to Overcome Procrastination)

“Procrastination is like a credit card: It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”

– Christopher Parker

We all procrastinate, but putting things off until later is one of the worst offenses when it comes to cluttering your mind. When you have something “hanging over your head,” you never feel settled or relaxed because it’s constantly niggling at you.

In this age of constant distractions, we procrastinate more than ever. The phone buzzes and we look. The email dings and we click over. We have multiple tabs open on our computers luring us away from the task at hand.

Every distraction is a thief, stealing our determination to do what needs to be done or what we deeply desire to achieve. We have all the excuses we need to begin later, to pick it up tomorrow, or to finish as soon as we read just a few more Facebook posts.

Distraction breeds procrastination, but procrastination is also the result of fear—fear of failure or fear of success. It’s the great “What if” standing between you and the action you want to take. Even though most of these fears are unfounded, we allow them to pull us away from the task at hand.

We also procrastinate because we dread difficult tasks. We don’t want to tax our brains or expend the energy necessary to get started. As you’ve likely experienced, the getting started part is the most difficult. Once you start, momentum carries you forward, but if you keep procrastinating, you’ll never catch that wave of momentum.

Procrastinating not only steals precious time and momentum we could be devoting to achievement, but also our energy and motivation.

The more we procrastinate on something important, the worse we feel about ourselves. The worse we feel, the less motivation we have to get moving on our work. The less motivation we have, the more we procrastinate with mindless distractions. It’s a vicious cycle that traps you in self-recriminations and anxiety.

The first step in overcoming procrastination is awareness of the crippling negative impact it has on your mental state.

Think about this: You likely spend at least one hour a day procrastinating. That’s seven hours a week—nearly a full workday. So you lose 52 full workdays a year to procrastination. What could you do with an extra 52 workdays?

You could:

·                   Write a book.

·                   Start a business.

·                   Build a blog.

·                   Go back to school.

·                   Improve (and build new) personal relationships.

·                   Teach yourself a new language.

·                   Finish several big work projects.

If these outcomes have convinced you about the importance of overcoming procrastination, then we recommend the following daily actions to help you get more done during your workweek:

1. Plan ahead.

Before bed or first thing in the morning, determine your first most important task of the day. Then decide on your second and third most important tasks. Make these tasks related to something critical in your work or business—something that will move you forward, make you more money, expand your opportunities. They shouldn’t be mindless administrative tasks or filler work.

2. Define your why.

Before you begin your most important task, ask yourself why it’s so important. What is the positive motivation for pursuing this task? How will it benefit you? How will you feel when you complete it?

Getting clear on the reasons why you are doing something will help you push through when you begin to feel tired or distracted. You might write down your reasons to have nearby in case you need a reminder.

3. Break it down.

Break down your first most important task into all of the actions and sub-tasks involved in completing the main task. Write down and prioritize every action involved in finishing the task. Then estimate how much time each sub-task will take and write it down.

4. Determine your schedule.

What time of day are you most productive or creative? For Barrie, it’s first thing in the morning, when her brain is rested. However, your most productive time might be mid-afternoon. Organize you sub-task priorities to maximize your most productive time.

5. Prepare what you need.

Make sure you have everything you need before you sit down for your work. Get your coffee, water, or tea and have it on your desk. Have a small, healthy snack like almonds, a banana, or some carrots to prevent your stomach from feeling too empty. Make sure the lighting is the way you want it, and your desk is organized or cleared.

6. Repeat the process.

If your priority task of the day only takes a few hours, then move on to task two and repeat the steps above for this. Once you complete task two, do this for task three as well.

7. Remove distractions.

This is hugely important in helping you stay focused. When Barrie was in college, she would go to a “study closet” in her dorm—a tiny closet-sized room with just a desk and a lamp. If she was serious about a project or preparing for a test and didn’t want distractions or reasons to procrastinate, that’s where she’d go.

Find a space where you can work without interruptions. Turn off your phone. Close all other browsers on your computer, and turn the sound off so you don’t hear any dings from emails. Put a “do not disturb” sign on your office door.

8. Begin with mindfulness.

Before you begin your first sub-task of your most important task for the day, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and set an intention that you will complete your task easily and productively. Visualize yourself accomplishing it and how you will feel when you’re done. But try not to use this moment as another reason to procrastinate. Instead, make it a one – to two-minute mental preparation to begin your work.

9. Set a timer.

If you have a hard time focusing, set a timer for 20–30 minutes (or less if you have a really hard time focusing). Work diligently during that time, and when the timer goes off, allow yourself a short break to stretch, walk outside, close your eyes, or whatever feels rejuvenating. Try not to use this time to check emails, get on a long phone call, or do anything that will steal your productive time.

One strategy that Steve uses to create extreme focus (using a timer) is The Pomodoro Technique , where you focus on a single task for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and then begin another 25-minute block of time. This strategy can be grueling at times, but it also helps him stay laser-focused on his most important activities.

10. Schedule longer breaks.

In between your three most important tasks, schedule longer breaks of 15 minutes to an hour (for lunch). Use these breaks to re-energize by doing some exercise or meditation, or by having a non-stressful conversation with someone.

11. Reward yourself.

After you complete a task or a series of sub-tasks, reward yourself with either the breaks mentioned earlier or allowing yourself to check your phone, emails, or social media for a short amount of time (10 to 15 minutes). Or do something else that feels rewarding and motivating.

12. Schedule mindless tasks.

Beyond your three most important tasks of the day, you will certainly have mindless tasks to accomplish. If you must check emails first thing in the morning, allow yourself a short amount of time to do so (10 to 15 minutes).

Set a timer, and even if you haven’t completed going through the emails, stop for now, move on to your most important task, and come back to the emails later in the day when you’ve completed your tasks. Other mindless tasks like easy paperwork, organizing, or anything that doesn’t take much brainpower can be scheduled at your least productive times of day.