How to Not Procrastinate

By November 8, 2012Writing about Writing

Shameless publicity stunt, or ingenious productivity boost?  Maneesh Sethi, who blogs for Hack the System, made news by hiring somebody to slap him every time he got off task at work.  It’s funny too, because I’d probably try this myself, but my meager graduate assistant’s salary prevents me from outsourcing my self-discipline.  Thus I’ve had to find cheaper ways of figuring out how to not procrastinate.

1. Keep a to-do list…

Visuals are helpful, especially if you have trouble remembering what you need to work on, and there remains no more popular productivity tool than the to-do list.  Maybe you take down tasks at random throughout the day as they occur to you, or maybe you spend a few minutes in the morning putting the list together (more on that later).  Some of us like checking off, others prefer crossing out.  No matter which category you fall into, nothing particularly compares to that sensation you get when you look down at a complete to-do list.

2.  …as well as a distraction list

Think of a distraction list as the opposite of a checklist.  It’s an inventory of all the unimportant things you feel the urge to do when you sit down to work.  We all know the experience.  You’re trying to read a book for class and you suddenly remember that you haven’t heard the new Kendrick Lamar album on Spotify yet, or you’re doing research online and it occurs to you you still don’t know which way Florida went in the election.  Before you sidetrack yourself, grab a scrap of paper, make a note of whatever it is you wanted to do, and save it for later.  You’ll be shocked at how long the list can grow.

3.  Make technology work for you

I say “make technology work for you” because there are plenty of ways it can work against you.  Like working with music on, or with the TV running in the background?  See how things go without it.  Even if we think these things help us concentrate, the potential risk of diverting your attention is still there.

There are free apps out there for everything you can think of, including for figuring out how to not procrastinate.  Take what we’ve just talked about: the to-do list.  Wunderlist explodes this simple innovation into an elegant task management system, allowing you to cycle through multiple different lists at once, sync them across mobile and traditional devices, and most importantly, share them with others, eliminating miscommunication once and for all.

What about the distraction list?  If your easily subverted by the distractions of the internet, Pocket is a way of saving your interesting finds so you can enjoy them later.  It’s not just bookmarking, either: like Wunderlist, it syncs across multiple devices so you can access your stuff wherever you are.

Also available for free is Way of Life, an app that lets you easily track your progress with whatever goals you set for yourself.  After you’ve tracked your progress for a while, it can provide you with the wake-up call you need to stop procrastinating and get to work.

4.  Streamline your routine

In my experience, I procrastinate most when I haven’t taken the right precautions against things that’ll eat up my time.  What are some examples?  You can plan your day in advance, pack up everything you’ll need, including your food, and get out the door early.  No epic sleep-ins, no complicated lunch plans, no lengthy trips back to the dorm or apartment for a book.  Cut down on time-wasters like these, and you’re that much closer to reaching your goal.