Using positive triggers to stop procrastinating

Multiple times a week I hear from people who struggle with procrastination and motivation. It seems as though these two forces affect all of us in some way. For some, we experience minor urges and tugs. Like that urge you have to check your Twitter timeline when you’re trying to do focus work.

For others, these urges are more powerful. They’re so strong that they create a roadblock between you and focus time. While you want to focus, these urges are pulling you away. You struggle to even get started. Before you know it you’re an hour down a rabbit hole on YouTube, Reddit, Netflix or whatever else your guilty pleasure may be.

Getting shit done is hard. Fighting procrastination is a battle and I by all means am not the perfect role model. Last night I sat down at my computer to take a coding lesson on Treehouse. 30 minutes passed before I actually logged in to Treehouse.

What did I do in those 30 minutes? I checked my reports in Campaign Monitor, cleared my inbox, watched one video on YouTube, uploaded a photo to Facebook and conversed with someone on Twitter.

While some of these tasks may sound productive to you, I was procrastiworking*. Perhaps some of the tasks I did were productive, but it wasn’t mindful. I was using these tasks as a distraction from the more important task I had set myself — a coding lesson.

It’s easy to procrastiwork or get distracted by other ‘productive’ tasks. But these tasks are less important, used to distract us from the bigger ones that take more effort and motivation. We trick ourselves into thinking that our procrastiworking is purposeful and productive, when it’s in fact distraction and avoidance.

I realised that the barrier for me in those 30 minutes was opening up Treehouse in a new tab. That’s all I had to do. Once I opened it, I logged in and got started without another second of procrastination. As soon as the login screen loaded my brain shifted instantly into focus mode.

Noah Kagan, founder of OKDork talks about using positive triggers to encourage him to be productive in the things he struggles being productive with. Here’s three of my favourite ones:

  1. I put my running shoes in my hall way at night. FINE, I can’t get around them in the morning so I go running.
  2. There are happy posters by my door so I try to smile as I leave my place.
  3. I don’t bring a power cord with me to coffee shops so I am limited to how much time I can work and goof off less.

Noah makes it easy to say Yes and difficult to say No. Saying No is what we do time and time again. Browsing Reddit makes it easy to say No to whatever task we should be doing. What would happen if you blocked Reddit, or made it redirect to something else? Would this make it easier to say Yes?

After reading about this I realised that I have some positive triggers of my own:

  1. Every night before bed I lay my clothes out for the next morning. This makes getting up at 6am easier.
  2. I leave my phone charger at my co working space to encourage me to go in each day.
  3. My Kindle lives right next to my bed — there’s no excuse not to pick it up and read each night.

To help me say Yes to Treehouse, I’ve now pinned the log in page in my browser tab to help eliminate the barrier and manual step. This is a new positive trigger that I hope will encourage me to code instead of procrastiwork.

Often what we’re procrastiworking isn’t doing the actual work. If you’re like me, the work is what you love the most. You thrive off it. It fulfills you. Once you get the rhythm of work, the energy flows. I ended up on Treehouse last night for 90 minutes without checking the clock or my phone once. All it took was to stop pracrastiworking and open the damn tab.

Are you procrastiworking because the task is something you don’t want to do? Or, are you procrastiworking the act of getting started?

The sheer effort, energy and motivation to get started — open a tab, log in to something, prepare, clear your workspace, open an application…those can be massive barriers to entry. What’s your barrier?

Other times it can be the size of the task that causes us to procrastiwork. Perhaps you’d like to write a book, host a workshop or learn a new skill. These are huge tasks that if put on your task list, will stay there for a while.

Breaking those tasks down into tiny chunks helps to eliminstae the size factor and encourages you tackle small bits at a time. For example my tasks involving creating this newsletter look like this:

  • Draft the article
  • Edit the article
  • Draft the newsletter
  • Edit the newsletter
  • Test the newsletter
  • Send

I make my way through these tasks over the course of three days — not in one sitting. As I check each one off I get to celebrate small wins. This progress helps motivate me to move on to the next one and keep up the momentum.

Is the size of the items on your task list your barrier? Have a look and see if there’s any that can be broken down into more achievable, bite-sized tasks. Then, focus on achieveing one task at a time.

We all have mental barriers in our life that hold us back from things we don’t want to do. Some of these barriers are necessary, like knowing not to touch a hot stove. Others are excuses we make for ourselves. Identify your barrier and eliminate it with a positive trigger.

Footnotes
*Procrastiworking is defined by Jessica Hische as the work you do (or feeling like doing) while putting off the work you don’t feel like doing.

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