I have been working from home for a while now, which is a lot more unproductive than an office environment for me and just leaves me feeling even more frustrated. I cannot seem to focus and keep procrastinating until it's too late to do anything which leaves me feeling very guilty. What can I practically do to break the cycle?
The first thing you need to do is understand the basis of procrastination.
We do not procrastinate because we are avoiding a particular task we are doing so because we want to avoid the feeling or emotion associated with the task. Once you can understand why you are avoiding something it becomes easier to address.
So, if you have a presentation to write and can’t get started, preferring instead to do a stock take of the fridge stop for a moment and ask yourself what the thought of beginning the presentation makes you feel.
Perhaps you are frightened that you won’t do it well. Perhaps you feel shame that you don’t know how to begin. Maybe it’s very long and detailed and the thought of it makes you feel bored.
Once you know what the feeling is you can apply a strategy to overcome it.
If it’s fear think about other projects from the past that made you feel the same way and focus on how well they turned out, or maybe have a chat with someone you trust about your anxiety before you begin. That will also help if you’re unsure how to get going but another way of addressing that is just starting and not worrying about the quality until you have made some progress by which time your critical thinking and creativity will begin to kick in.
If it feels boring chunk it down into sections. Tell yourself you’ll do 30 minutes and then have a break and keep going like that until its done. Give yourself something nice to do at the end.
The other thing that will get you moving is shifting your focus away from how much you don’t want to get started and instead thinking about what you’ll feel when it’s all done. We can create a lot of inertia by imagining positive conclusions.
Finally, think about how it feels to end the day having achieved what you set out to. That’s a great feeling, right? If you get started with some work you can enjoy that in a few hours, and then go and sort out the fridge.
Sounds like this new working environment doesn’t work for you as well as in an office so let’s see what you could do to help.
Firstly, do you feel like you have solid boundaries in place for work? With home working, it’s a common scenario that boundaries disappear and we work longer or instead of resting. Do you have a way of switching in and out of work mode? For example: laptop on vs. laptop away in a drawer; moving rooms; changing outfits: a walk before and after work? It’s so easy to attend to work way past our ‘working time’ and become exhausted in the process.
How do you build in breaks? Think about ‘oscillating’ when taking breaks; doing something totally different to the task you were doing before. Going from an online call to sitting on Instagram wouldn’t be felt by the body as a break, but going from an online call to sitting outside with a cup of tea would be. Our minds can only focus for so long before they become exhausted: they need nourishing and restoring in between.
Some practical support may be useful to you right now. It’s so important to get as much stuff out of our heads as possible using lists, planners, and organisational systems. Your mind has limited bandwidth; the fuller it gets, the harder the world feels. Don’t underestimate the power of practical tools for helping the emotional self. You can then choose from the list and set intentions to act.
Motivation is a mythical beast. Sitting and waiting for it to strike is ineffective. You need to create it, and this is done by starting something. Strategies like the Pomodoro technique can be great for guiding our focus and energy when we feel frozen or unable to start. Or do a countdown (5-4-3-2-1) then just start a task from your list.
Can you work differently rather than just at home? For example, take your laptop to a local cafe from time to time, or hire a hot desk. Can you go into the office as and when you need? Our brains enjoy novelty; doing the same thing in the same place will feel tiring and boring. How can you shake it up?
To break the cycle of procrastination while working from home, you can:
- Go into the office where possible. Is this an option for you or do you only have the option of working from home?
- Ask yourself why you procrastinate. What does procrastination look like for you? When are you most likely to do it?
- Eliminate distractions. Write down any distractions that get in the way of working and think about how you can reduce or remove them. For example, let’s say a distraction was a messy work environment then make sure your work environment is how you want it to be before starting work.
- Set daily goals and check in with yourself in the morning and afternoon to see how things are going. You can schedule a check-in on your phone or calendar.
- Set a timer and work on a specific task for a certain amount of time, for example 15 minutes. You’ll probably find after 15 minutes you have gotten into the activity and can keep going.
- Schedule breaks. Have a 10-minute break every hour and do something that feels rewarding like having a favourite drink, playing with a pet, reaching out to a colleague or having a snack.
- Talk to your manager if you realise any work problems are affecting your ability to focus such as feeling like your workload is unrealistic or needing more information or guidance.