Procrastination is often more about distraction than anything else. When you are easily distracted, or there are many things that can distract you nearby, it is easy to procrastinate. With the new year I'm sure many people will be resolving to stop procrastinating. Whether that means your job, school work, or other tasks you need to get done but can't seem to sit down and do, procrastination is a killer. Instead of resolving to end your procrastination, try resolving to eliminate distractions instead. In my experience, distractions are the true culprit. If you've trained your mind and prepared your environment, the distractions are removed and the procrastination seems to fade away.
What distracts you? When you sit down to do some serious work, what do you find yourself doing instead? My biggest distractions come to the fore when I try to write. My biggest ones are:
- The need for order: If I sit down to do something that is not particularly easy (like write a blog post or prepare a lesson plan) I immediately seem to realize that my surroundings are out of order. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't bother me too much that my books are not in alphabetical order or my pens are not arranged in my drawer by level of remaining ink. As soon as I sit down to write, however, I have an incredible (and utterly useless) urge to clean, organize or put things in order. It never fails.
- Perfectionism: How can I expect to write an article when I haven't picked the perfect title?! How am I supposed to plan a lesson on World War II if I haven't found the perfect opening question or activity?! I can't use this PowerPoint presentation because all of the pictures are not perfectly aligned! That battle between attention to detail and perfectionism is one that quite often will stymie me from doing anything particularly productive. Breaking out of that commitment to perfectionism is incredibly important to getting anything done.
- My own inadequacies: Writing for this blog has made this a new distraction for me. I've always been pretty good at the things I try to do. I was a pretty good hockey player. I was an excellent student. However, I've never written for an audience (even the small one I've been able to accumulate at this blog). How can I sit down and write about this stuff when a.) I'm not very good at the stuff I write about (even though I think about it a lot and try to implement it) and b.) there are so many other blogs out there with huge readerships and really interesting things to say.
- The need for constant new information: This might be the number one distraction that constantly begs for my attention. Checking email, checking my RSS feeds, Twitter, instant messaging, and news websites all provide little shots of stimulation that aren't particularly important but take up an disproportionate amount of my time. One of the biggest "tips" that I've discovered I need to do to do anything particularly productive or difficult is to turn all of that off. All of it. No texting, no Twitter, no email, nothing. Breaking the hold that these services have over my attention is something that I work on everyday. Anything that breaks up your attention is something that takes away from you doing truly great and important work. It's tough, but get rid of it as much as possible.
Lastly, I realize the irony of writing an article about distraction when the chances are I'm distracting you by writing this article. Please forgive me for taking a few minutes of your time. However, if this has gotten you to think a little bit more about the role distractions play in your work, I think this initial time investment might be worth it. Now stop being distracted and go do what you know you're supposed to do!