26 September 2023

Done is better than perfect: Beating procrastination at the source

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Evelina Bereni* says the first step to overcoming procrastination is to understand the driving force behind it.

Whether you are neurodivergent or neurotypical, procrastination will tempt you into doing anything other than the one thing you’re supposed to be doing.

Your brain will tell you that now is the best moment to put away 4 weeks’ worth of washing.

It’ll distracted by the misaligned books on the shelf that need to be corrected immediately.

It’ll downplay the importance of boring tasks in favour of doing something more titillating.

To overcome procrastination you need to first understand what’s driving it for you, in this moment.

When boredom is the issue:

Research has shown that we’re more likely to procrastinate on tasks that we find dull, especially if we have a low tolerance for boredom.

Unfortunately, there are tasks in life and work that aren’t exciting but are necessary.

Doing timesheets – tedious – but important for businesses to understand resourcing.

Doing dishes – a “snooze fest” – but if you’re living with other people there’s an expectation that you pitch in.

Here are two ways to get those boring tasks done:

1. Temptation bundling is where we bundle a boring task with something that we enjoy doing.

Your motivation for completing your timesheet will skyrocket if this is also your “favourite music” time.

2. Eat That Frog! It’s as simple as 1) identifying the task that you despise doing but needs to be done and 2) doing it as the first task for the day.

This works because our tank of willpower depletes as the day goes on.

You’re more likely to get that lacklustre task done if you’re doing it will a full tank of willpower.

When you’re a perfectionist

Many people don’t know that there’s a growing body of research linking procrastination with perfectionism.

Sometimes we put off tasks not because we’re lazy, but because we’re anxious about failing.

A “Done is better than perfect” mantra is a good first step, but getting to the “done” part is the challenge.

For this, it helps to enlist an accountability buddy.

Research shows that we make better choices when we’re being watched, even if we’re being watch by ourselves! To make use of your accountability buddy:

  1. Break your task down into manageable chunks
  2. Set a deadline for each chunk
  3. Tell your accountability buddy what you’re working on and when it’s due
  4. Ask them to check in on your progress

If perfectionism is an issue, it helps to reframe your mindset.

Reframing failure from something that is not an option, to something that is necessary in the pursuit of learning helps tame perfectionism just like this example from SpaceX.

When you have difficulty resisting distractions

We have plenty of reasons to procrastinate and they’re constantly hanging directly in front of our eyeballs.

Hello Instagram!

Apps like Flora and Freedom.to are fantastic at creating a barrier between you and your productivity kryptonite.

But there’s one technique I’ve picked up from neurodivergent comedian Bec Hill that has changed my life.

It’s a Kanban style, corkboard in my office with the columns:

  • To Do: all the things I need to get done, broken into small chunks of approximately equal size
  • Doing: the THREE (yes only three) tasks I’m working on right now. I can’t add more to this list unless I replace or complete one of the three that are already there
  • Done: All the things I’ve already completed which gives me those good feels
  • Shelf: All the tasks that are waiting on someone else before I get finish them (so I don’t forget they exist)
  • To Discuss: I’ve added this extra column where I park all the questions or points of discussion I would have sent as emails. I save them all up so I can make the best use of my upcoming meeting and keep the clutter and out of all our inboxes!

To Bec’s point in the Neurodivergent Moments podcast, the physical board works really well because it’s always visible.

So, if I do get distracted, I’ll walk back over to my board to refocus on my priorities.

Then next time your brain is reaching for the duster when you know you should be doing something else, experiment with one of these strategies to beat procrastination at the source!

*Evelina Bereni is a psychologist and Prosci Certified Change Practitioner at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium. She has over 15 years’ experience helping people thrive at work.

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