030: How to Beat Procrastination, Part 1



Can’t seem to get that big project done? Trying to get something done right at the last minute, or worse yet, missing the deadline? Procrastination can be to blame.

Join us for part one of our two part series on how to beat procrastination.



00:00 Hello and welcome to Process, a podcast by Effective Remote Work. My name is Justin DiRose, and today we are starting a two part series on how to beat procrastination. Before we dive into today’s episode, be sure to check out our Patreon campaign at effectiveremotework.com/patreon. If you’re a remote worker looking to connect with others or if you found value in this podcast or the community, head on over and sign up today to get access to our exclusive members only content and our remote worker water cooler chat. That’s effectiveremotework.com/patreon.

00:36 So for today’s episode I’m hitting something again that’s a little close to home for me because I’ve been dealing with procrastination and it’s hard. It’s really hard. I’ve been trying to recover from the onslaught of changes that have happened in my life for the last four months and I honestly didn’t realize how hard it hit me, but I was finding myself avoiding some important things to do in my job and in my life because of it.

01:04 I was just tired and I was avoiding some of these tough things. I was avoiding doing my weekly reviews. I was avoiding doing some complex creative tasks just because I was overwhelmed. I was tired, I was beyond my limits and I needed to rest, but I was procrastinating nonetheess. And procrastination is something I know that a lot of us deal with. Either we deal with it regularly or we deal with it every once in a while. We just get in these modes and thought processes sometimes where we procrastinate. Well, let’s take a second before we dive into some strategies today to define what exactly procrastination is. Well, procrastination is essentially avoiding one thing by doing something else and usually the thing that we’re avoiding is something that’s more important or more difficult. So for example, it can be avoiding mowing the lawn by playing video games, which I’m sure some of us when we were teenagers did that.

02:11 It can be avoiding a big project at work by checking and responding to email. I think a lot of us have been guilty of doing that too because email has this sense of urgency with it. Even though the project is more important. Or, and this one’s really easy to justify, we avoid doing one responsibility by focusing on another one. Yeah. That’s something I think that I’ve dealt with at times myself. These are all situations where we’re procrastinating and sometimes we can justify it more easily and sometimes we can’t and sometimes it’s a little bit more masked than others too, but it’s all still procrastination.

03:01 Half the battle is recognizing that we’re procrastinating for one, but there are some strategies that we can employ to get ourselves over the hump of procrastinating because it can be a little difficult to do. This is probably the most brash and straight forward one but this strategy is to just decide and go pick the thing, choose it, use your willpower and just do it. That is the essential strategy is to just get going, but that’s not always enough sometimes. Right. Well, I know when I struggle to just get going on something, it’s usually because I have a feeling being overwhelmed and oftentimes my overwhelm comes from the place of I’ve got either too much in my head or too much in my task manager that I’m seeing at one given time and it’s making it hard for me to make a decision. So there’s two things that I can do. One, if it’s in my head I’ll do a mind sweep and that’s just getting everything out of my head and either onto paper or into some form of digital storage. From there I can process that and evaluate is this important? Is this not, is this something that I’m actually going to do? Is this something that I can even do something about?

04:30 The other side of it is that if I have a number of choices in front of me, I can narrow down my choices. So, for example, if I’m in Omnifocus and I’m seeing all of my projects from my personal life and my side gig that I’ve got going on and I’ve got, you know, my main job all in there, well if I’m working on my main job I can just use the focus feature there and focus on my main job tasks. That cuts a lot of the cruft out. But from there I can also narrow my choices down further if I have more than three that are available. Generally I struggle when I have six or more choices in front of me. So what I need to do is to pick three that I can focus on for the day. This actually hearkens back to the concept of the most important tasks, which we talked about in a previous episode and which I’ll link in the show notes if you haven’t had a chance to take a listen to that.

05:26 But the whole point there is to pick three main important tasks for the day and it gives you a nice roadmap on where to go. And frankly, I find this to be helpful when I’m struggling with a little bit of procrastination or not sure where to go next. When I have my three important tasks or even one important task determined for the day, I have a better opportunity to choose than to just say, well, whatever is in my task list, I guess I’ll just start working that. Usually it go very well for me, especially when I’m in a procrastination mode.

06:01 But sometimes narrowing down your choices isn’t enough. Sometimes you actually have to get yourself going and that is best done by leveraging time and there’s two ways you can do this. The first way is to give yourself a two minute timer and just start doing the work for two minutes. I’ve heard Merlin Mann talk about this and I’ve heard other productivity folks talk about it too at different points in time, but the whole idea is to just start doing the task, so get your brain in the mode of doing it and after two minutes, usually you don’t want to stop doing it because you already have momentum.

06:42 The other side of this is to set a timer. Use something like the pomodoro technique to break down your work into, you know, 20 to 30 minute chunks or set a timer for an hour and a half like I did the other day because I needed a longer uninterrupted space of time to get some development work done. But just the fact of setting the timer saying this is the one thing I’m working on during this timer and if I’m getting done beforehand, great. If not, when I’m done, I’ll take a break and then I’ll figure out what to do from there. Time can be an important and helpful motivator when it comes to actually doing the work and actually getting past procrastination. When you put a time-bound on something, it can give a sense of purpose to the time that you’re using. So say like yesterday when I was working on that development task, when I set that hour and a half timer and chose that one thing to work on, it gave a sense of importance to that time.

07:45 The other side of it is that time can give a sense of urgency. When you have only an hour and a half to get something done, it can give you a sense of urgency to actually get the motivation to go forward. Again, as I’ve referenced Multiple Times on this podcast, Parkinson’s Law, that work expands to the time allotted to it. Well, if you a lot, an infinite amount of time to the work, the work will expand to an infinite amount of time and that often means that there’s procrastination in very large intervals in between. But if you give yourself a deadline, if you give yourself even like that little time block to do something, it puts the urgency on there so that you can get more work done in a shorter period of time to beat, ultimately to beat procrastination.

08:42 But again, sometimes giving yourself a kick in the butt to get going and set a timer isn’t enough and it’s usually because there’s some sort of overwhelm that’s going. We’ve talked about narrowing down our choices, but sometimes when we have a choice that’s in front of us, one choice, the big project, so to say, sometimes we procrastinate on that when the scope is too large and that’s where we need to step back and get some clarity. This is where having a regular review process is really helpful, but sometimes, especially for bigger projects that can either expand or contract in scope, it’s really helpful to even just take an hour and dedicate that time to, I’m just going to get into the details of what this project entails and get down as far as I can to make it a lot easier to bite off.

09:42 So for example, my wife and I and our family just moved. That’s a huge project. You can’t just say “move” and then figure it out and go. There’s a lot of working pieces in there that you have to break down, but if you don’t do that, it can be really easy to get lost in thought and lost in the details and feel really overwhelmed and stressed about it and potentially procrastinate. So one thing that I did through that process was I broke down the tasks into the big ones. Call the movers, go to the store to get boxes, invite some people over to help pack, and then from there you start packing and then you get the movers there and you got to move out and so it’s just understanding the process. Now moving is a little bit easier for process to understand than maybe a big long development project that you’re working on or writing a book – things are a little bit more nebulous or creative in nature.

10:46 Ultimately what you need to do though is take a step back, figure out even in stages like, okay, by the end of this week, do I want to be at this point on this thing? And even having just those little check-ins, those little markers along the way, can really drastically help a person get a context of what happens next and in smaller chunks so that there are a lot easier to digest. Because a lot of times when it comes to procrastination, it’s more about momentum than it is about anything else. When we get a little bit of momentum going, it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to keep moving and overcome procrastination. The hill of procrastination when you’re going up it seems pretty steep, but once you hit the top it’s really easy to get over it and a few of these strategies can help out. Next week we’ll talk about a couple of more including the power of accountability.

11:50 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode, or if you want to connect with other remote workers looking to grow in their effectiveness, head on over to the Effective Remote Work Community at community.effectiveremotework.com. Be sure to join our Patreon at effectiveremotework.com/patreon to get access to our exclusive members-only content. If Twitter’s your thing, you can find me at @justindirose, and the podcast and community @effectiveremote. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at podcast.effectiveremotework.com. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast! My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.


Guilty as charged. :raising_hand_man:t2:

I do procrastinate a lot. There’s always that frog that I need to eat but I’ll find “valid” excuses by doing something else. That’s the price of freedom as a remote worker.

I do believe in having multiple strategies to handle procrastination. There’s no one sure method and I need to change it up every time depending on the situation.

Perhaps, it’s a good idea to print this transcript and pin it on my wall next to the Mac. Then IU’ll refer to it when I need a good push-start.