If there’s one thing that marketing professionals all have in common, it’s being stretched for time. It doesn’t matter if you’re an SEO guy, a paid traffic expert or a CMO; chances are your day could do with being about 12 hours longer.
The way most of us try to fight the tidal wave of work is to just work longer hours. We spend dinner time responding to emails, then after dinner it’s social media time, then right before bed we might eek out an extra 30 minutes to check some press release drafts. It takes a real toll on the body, but it’s got to be done, right?
What if I told you there was a better way to get more done than simply burning the midnight oil?
For a lot of people, the amount of work they do in an 9-hour day could easily be condensed into 5 or 6 hours. That’s because in reality, much of the time you spend “grinding” is actually spent procrastinating. You simply don’t notice it because it is so insidious.
How Procrastination Eats Into Your Schedule
Procrastination isn’t always as obvious as playing on the office Xbox instead of writing up a press release. It can be practically invisible, so much so that it can even look like work.
For instance, have you ever been writing an article or blog post and found yourself doing an unusual amount of research for it? Maybe you started looking up the traffic value for a certain site on Ahrefs, but then 20 minutes later you’re looking up the backlink profile of a site you have absolutely nothing to do with.
That is time spent doing things other than the task at hand because you want to avoid the task at hand. It is, in other words, procrastination.
It comes in many disguises: choosing songs on YouTube, checking emails when you know you have none, scrolling through your Twitter feed, re-writing the same paragraph over and over again; the list is endless.
Probably the most common one of all is the to-do list. I have seen people spend an hour writing and re-writing their to-do list for the week because they simply didn’t want to get started on the CSS work they needed to do that morning.
Spending time avoiding the task at hand by doing busywork is such a common problem that it’s impossible to estimate how much productive time it steals each year. But it’s a lot.
So, what can you do about it?
Here are the most effective ways to prevent this kind of invisible procrastination and to get more done each and every day. Apply these methods and the difference you’ll see in your life will be incredible.
Break Down Your Targets
Few people realize that procrastination is inevitable if you don’t set your goals properly.
If you’re going to get things done, you need to define what that actually means. In other words, you need to define your goals clearly.
But the human mind finds it incredibly difficult to grasp abstract, far-off goals.
When the mind can’t grasp a concept – when it can’t visualize what completing it looks like – it sees no reason to motivate you to do it. It releases no dopamine (the goal/reward neurotransmitter), and you feel no compulsion to get it done.
So saying things to yourself like “today I’m going to finish my ebook” is pointless.
You must break down abstract goals into discrete, definite tasks that have clearly defined beginnings, middles and ends. You need to take things like “finish my ebook” and turn them into a list of 20 smaller goals, such as “write 1000 words of the final chapter”, “check the internal links work”, “source images”, and so on.
If you do that, then your brain will be able to properly visualize what the completed tasks look like. As a result, you’ll find it much easier to stay motivated, and you’ll get a real reward when you get them done.
Breaking down tasks into manageable chunks is the most effective, reliable way to reduce the urge to procrastinate and boost productivity.
Practice Completing Tasks
This might sound silly, but this is the most effective way to combat the urge to procrastinate for good.
Basically, procrastination is to a large degree a problem of willpower. It is a deficiency of discipline. We procrastinate when our aversion to a negative stimulus (the hard work) overpowers our commitment to a long-term goal (getting the work done).
To some degree, your ability to diligently complete tasks is dictated by personality. But personality traits only set the boundaries of what your behaviour is likely to be. Within those boundaries, you have a lot of room to craft yourself into the person you want to be.
That applies to willpower too.
We now know that willpower is a skill that you can practice and hone like any other. It is also a skill that applies across a broad range of circumstances. To put that in simple terms, get more disciplined in one area, and you’ll become more disciplined in every other area too.
So how do you do this?
Try setting yourself set tasks to do with definite ends. They need to be tasks that are less appealing than simply doing nothing. It could be washing the dishes, dusting your bookshelves, or arranging your files. Try to complete the task without wavering, taking any breaks, or allowing yourself to become distracted. The better you get at completing unpleasant but rewarding tasks without procrastinating, the better you get at staying focused generally.
As explained above, practicing willpower in one dimension makes you a stronger, more disciplined person across the board. Discipline is a general, transferable skill, and a lack of discipline shows across every dimension of your life.
That’s why someone who procrastinates while studying will probably procrastinate while working, while at the gym, and so on. That’s also why someone who never procrastinates at work will probably never procrastinate anywhere!
So developing your focus skills will have a profound effect on your productivity in every area of your life.
And one of the best ways to do this is to start meditating.
I know this is a marketing blog, but hear me out!
Meditation is essentially where you practice banishing distracting thoughts and focusing on a single feeling, sensation, or thought. It is, therefore, the purest form of mental discipline training I can think of. As such, it is one of the purest and most direct ways in which you can fight the urge to procrastinate going forward.
Try introducing just 15 minutes of meditation to your morning routine. If you get up a little bit earlier in the short-term, then you might be able hone your focus and shave off hours of wasted time in the long-term. A quarter of an hour each day to procrastinate less for life is a pretty good trade-off!