A tomato with drops of dew on it.

Overcoming procrastination, one step at a time.

Whether it’s a task at work or something as simple as booking a dentist appointment, we’ve all put off doing something we view as ‘less than exciting’ or simply ‘too challenging’, at one time or another.

In fact, according to RateSetter’s 2015 report and YouGov poll, procrastination is costing each of us up to 55 days a yearAnd we’re spending 43 minutes a day procrastinating at work, which is costing British businesses a staggering £76billion a year.

So we’re not alone, but what can we do about it?

Read on to learn about popular techniques for overcoming procrastination – and discover if ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ could be your key to unlocking the energy you need, to avoid delaying what you know you need to do, altogether.

First, let’s look at some of the proven practices for overcoming procrastination.

Link to RateSetter 2015 Report on Procrastination
Click the image to access the RateSetter Report

Parkinson's Law

According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” 

So, if the task isn’t due for a week, it may well take you a week to do it. 

Without the sense of urgency a closer deadline provides, you can get distracted every time you sit down to do the task. 

Meanwhile, according to Nina Grunfeld, CEO & Founder of Life Clubs (experts in well-being programmes), “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”.

One way to overcome this ‘deadline-less’ procrastination, is to define and hold your own (earlier than mandated) deadlines. Thereby creating your own the sense of urgency to get it done.

Enlisting the support of others.

At Finastra, many of our leaders hold regular DEAL (Drop Everything And Learn) times for their teams – dedicated time each month for individuals to focus on their own learning and development.

How about implementing regular JDI (Just Do It) team time? Setting aside dedicated time each week, that is free of meetings or calls, could help the whole team focus on their most important tasks. Knowing everyone on the team is working on something at the same time can be a good motivator and banish the procrastination, as you hold each other accountable.

And if you are ready to go one stage further, why not jump onto a Teams/Slack/Zoom call at the appointed time? Video on, audio off – and work through your tasks, together but apart.

It’s much harder to get distracted or keep wandering away from your desk when you can see all your colleagues sitting there, working too. It’s almost like sharing a big desk in an office…

The Pomodoro Technique

Science suggests we do our best work when we don’t multitask but do break down the overall task into bursts of 25 minutes.

Pomodoro (named after the Italian tomato-shaped kitchen timer) provides a technique and timer to help us focus in bursts of 25 minutes.

Link to Pomodoro Technique overview by How Stuff Works
Click image to access overview by How Stuff Works

Just 25 mins? You can turn off Outlook/Teams/TV/Social media and focus on one chunk of an overall task for just 25 mins, right?


Need someone to help hold you accountable for 25 mins?

Similar to the idea of team ‘JDI’ time above, why not approach a colleague to work your 25 minute Pomodoros with you, so you can hold each other accountable. It does feel a bit weird at first, but I can attest that there is something very motivating about knowing someone else is right there with you.

And whilst I’ve not used them myself, if you work alone, you could also Google search a free online Pomodoro buddy service. Yes, the technique works so well, there are actually websites out there that offer to pair you up with a random stranger so you can spur each other along and hold each other accountable.

Finally on Pomodoro, a cautionary word on timers: Rather than use an online timer, I had a client who wanted a physical, cute timer. Her advice to you, would be not to buy a cheap mechanical one, because the ticking sound will drive you crazy!  

Should I start small or by eating the frog?

There is much research and debate about whether it’s better to start the day with a few smaller, achievable tasks, to prime your brain and ‘set you up for success’ or whether you should jump right into the big hairy task.

The psychology behind the idea of starting each day with a small and easy task or two is to get you in an ‘achieving’ mindset. To be honest, a small or simple task of making the bed or eating a healthy breakfast can achieve the same goal.

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” This phrase has been interpreted to indicate that you should tackle your most challenging task, first thing in the morning.

That said, Mark Twain also said “Never put off till tomorrow, what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well”. Whilst prioritisation is a topic worthy of its own blog, it is worth asking yourself if the frog is truly worth eating. If the item has been on your to do list for 3 months or more already, is it really that important?

All the same, some frogs can feel more like elephants…

So, how will you eat your elephant?

When all is said and done, if the task is truly important, it’s not going away.

My Grandma had a saying ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’. I’d argue that the same applies to the large items we procrastinate on.

Breaking larger tasks down into manageable elements can make the larger task easier to achieve. If you can accomplish just a little of the overall task, it will feel good. This in itself, will provide the motivation to go on and complete the next little bit of it. So, roll up your sleeves, pick up your knife and fork and dig in, one mouthful at a time.

And if eating the frog felt like too much in one go, you could always set a Pomodoro timer and turn it into an elephant, eating it one mouthful at a time!

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination – the key to banishing postponement once and for all?

I have certainly struggled with this one, only I hadn’t realized it was a “thing” until I had a lightbulb moment a few months ago when a coaching circle peer asked me if I thought I was suffering from it.

So what is it?

According to The Sleep Foundation, “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination describes the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time, that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.”

How often have you watched ‘just one more episode’, read ‘just one more chapter’, or scrolled ‘just one more social media app’ – often because that seems easier than mustering the energy to get up and go to bed. Whilst sleep procrastination is still an emerging concept in sleep science, there is an informative 3 mins video here on why it happens and what you can do about it…

The irony being, if you can conquer this one, you’ll have more energy and focus in the day, so you are less likely to procrastinate on other things.

In summary.

If you suffer from procrastination, you are not alone.

There are many tips, tricks, tools and techniques out there that can help you keep focussed on the task at hand. It’s a question of experimenting to see what, or what combination, works for you – let us know in the comments what other tips you have to share that have worked for you in the past.

Remember, ‘if you want something to be different, you have to do something differently’.

What’s to lose in choosing one of the ideas above and giving it a go this week?

If you’d like some help overcoming procrastination, I’d love to talk with you.

Anna Hiett

Anna Hiett

Anna spent 10 years as the Global Head of Sales Training at Finastra, a large FinTech. Winning multiple awards for her world-class training programmes, Anna now supports busy Sales and Enablement leaders and managers to reach new heights of performance and productivity, to deliver value to their organisations. Anna is the part-time Leadership Executive Coach at Finastra and also has a thriving consulting and coaching private practice.

Head and shoulder shot of Anna Hiett, smiling, against a plain background.
Hi there, I'm Anna!

I’m an ICF certified executive coach and award-winning Sales Training professional, with a passion for sales methodology & process and time & attention management.

My mission with these blogs is to share ideas, to help both Sales and Enablement Leaders reach new heights of performance and productivity.

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