How to Turn Procrastination into Motivation

This pandemic has been rough! Most of us have been struggling to be productive, getting less done but spending more hours "working." If you're like me, you've lost several hours to irrelevant emails, internet rabbit trails and "research." There's nothing wrong with little breaks from work (actually these are necessary), but if you get to the end of your day and find you've been watching cat videos the whole time, there's a problem.

The common solution to this is to tell yourself to "work harder next time." Unfortunately, that doesn't often work, and may lead you down a trail of shaming yourself, causing you to seek solace in cat videos even more (they are SO CUTE).

Here's a solution that is more realistic: next time you catch yourself procrastinating, notice what you're doing. Then turn that into a reward for making real progress on your goal. For example, if you find yourself reading the news, say "wait a minute, I really need to be working on my TPS report. Ok, if I finish that, then I can take 5 minutes to read this article." The pattern is: "If I do X [attainable chunk of work] then I get Y [thing I've been wasting time doing]." Thusly, like a Judo master, you redirect the pull of the object of your procrastination into a carrot to get your work done.

Another variation is to set a timed deadline where the reward evaporates if you don't get X done in time, i.e. "if I get X done by 10:25am, then I can spend 5 minutes on that article." This can be especially productive, as it helps you push past perfectionist tendencies to just #getsh!tdone. If you don't have a small-enough, discrete chunk of attainable work for X, then simply make X = 1 hour of work on a larger project. 

I find this technique helps me when I'm really struggling to focus. Rather than beat myself up, I make a compromise: if I can just push forward and make this bit of progress, then I get my "cookie." This is similar to the 5 Minute Rule in that it motivates me to get back on track. Once I get going, it's easier to keep going. Also, this is similar to the Pomodoro Technique in that you're taking a short break after getting work done. Conceivably, you could go so far as to organize your day into 25 minute chunks of work (one pomodoro) followed by 5 minutes of reward (cat video).

However you decide to do it, rewarding yourself is a great way to snap out of procrastination and get back to being productive. I hope this helps next time you find yourself binge watching Smarter Every Day. But don't be too hard on yourself, we are in a pandemic.

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