There are millions of articles, blogs, podcasts, books, and YouTube videos devoted to overcoming procrastination. The reason is obvious—procrastination is practically human nature. We all do it from time to time.
Unfortunately, a lot of the resources out there base their theory of procrastination on an unreasonable view of productivity: the idea that we can be productive for long periods of time throughout the day without needing to recharge.
Sometimes, of course, we procrastinate when we really could be working. But other times, what we scold ourselves for isn’t procrastination so much as a lack of energy.
We need to take a more nuanced, and more forgiving, look at what it means to be productive. Because when people get a more realistic sense of their own limits, they tend to actually become more productive.
This guide will help you ask—and answer—some common questions surrounding productivity and procrastination.
- First, we’ll dive into what productivity really means and how you may want to change the way you think about it.
- Then, we’ll get to procrastination and how to beat it.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How am I defining productivity?
- How can I redefine productivity for myself?
- How do different tasks impact productivity?
- Do I need more time or more energy?
- I’ve got the time and energy. Why am I procrastinating?
- What is “analysis paralysis”?
- What are some ways to simply get started?
- Where can I find resources and support to help me achieve my goals?
Let’s get started!
1. How am I defining productivity?
If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough done during the day, or you feel like you don’t have the “willpower” to accomplish everything you’d like, first ask yourself how you’re defining productivity.
- Do you consider yourself productive if you’re constantly doing things throughout the day?
- Or would you consider yourself productive if you worked in several bursts to accomplish your tasks, with long breaks in between each burst of activity?
Too often, people only identify with the first definition, and then beat themselves up when they can’t live up to their own expectations.
As you’ll see, sometimes, what feels like procrastination is really just our brain’s way of telling us we don’t have the energy for this right now.
2. How can I redefine productivity to myself?
Breaking free from societal constructs regarding productivity is one of the first steps to doing more of what you want to.
It’s generally expected we’ll be productive Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But the idea that we can actually force ourselves to be productive during those times is actively hurting out ability to get more done.
To redefine how you think about productivity, you need to take three steps:
- Ask yourself what your body needs right now. To get the most done this week, you might actually need more sleep and relaxation, for example.
- Continuously check in with your body and react to changes. You won’t always have the same energy or needs at the same time every week. Keep an eye on it. More on this later.
- Focus on outcomes, not hours. Time spent working is not the same as productivity. Focus on achieving concrete outcomes, rather than putting in a certain number of hours.
3. How do different tasks impact productivity?
Not all work is created equal—or puts the same type of demands on our minds and bodies.
- If you’ve ever waited tables, washed dishes, worked on a factory floor, or done some other type of labor that required plenty of movement, then you know it’s perfectly possible to spend an entire eight-hour shift working, with perhaps a few quick breaks.
- But the dirty little secret of office jobs is that “knowledge workers” simply do not spend the majority of their 8-hour workday actually working. Work that is mentally, rather than physically, taxing can actually drain us faster. Our brains are harder to whip into shape than our muscles.
So, if you’re coming home from a full day of mental work, and your side-hustle or freelancing requires you to be on your laptop, doing something similar, then your problem may not be procrastination—it may be that you just don’t have the mental energy.
4. Do I need more time or energy?
When people ask how they can get more done in a day, the common answer is “better time management.”
And many people could use a hand with their time management. But as you probably already know, making more time for tasks doesn’t mean they actually get done.
👉 The problem isn’t time; it’s energy.
Energy management is at least as important as time management, because your energy and your willpower are basically the same thing.
- If you don’t have any energy, then of course you’re going to turn on Netflix instead of working on your side-hustle. Netflix doesn’t demand any energy from you.
- On the other hand, when you feel energized, it’s suddenly much easier to put aside distractions and get to work. You’ve got energy to spare.
To start managing your energy better, you need to track it, analyze the patterns, and then figure out when you have the most energy to do difficult, deep work.
That may sound like a lot to handle, but we’ve got you covered. Our energy tracker tool will help you get started on the path to better energy management
5. I’ve got the time and the energy. Why am I procrastinating?
We can split tasks that people put off into two categories:
- The things you want to do.
- The things you don’t want to do.
The second category is the most clear-cut. We put off things that are difficult or boring or annoying in some way because we don’t want to do them in the first place.
If you’re working on a side-hustle or a personal project, then these are probably the dreary (but necessary) administrative tasks like doing your taxes, setting up a website, or doing outreach.
But the first category—the things we want to do—is where procrastination can be even harder to beat.
6. What is “analysis paralysis”?
Analysis paralysis describes a different type of procrastination: you want to get started on something, but you get so bogged down in all the details and steps involved that you never actually start.
Usually, analysis paralysis is a product of high expectations. It works like this:
- We want to do things really well, and we know that takes careful planning.
- As we plan out the steps to achieving our goal, we realize our first try probably won’t meet our own high expectations.
- So, we keep planning and “preparing” ourselves to take that first step. But we never do.
Analysis paralysis is tough to beat because it thrives on a positive quality—taking pride in our work. But there are some strategies you can use to get around it.
7. What are some ways to simply get started?
There’s one sure-fire way to break analysis paralysis, and that’s by getting to work. But it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re working on a big project or something you want to be great.
One of the best techniques to get started on something is a variation of the two-minute procrastination rule. It works like this:
- Out of everything you could do to get started, identify the first two simplest steps.
- Then do them—quickly and without worrying about quality.
Our CEO, Shireen Jaffer, has written candidly about how she started her podcast after months of analysis paralysis. She stopped focusing on the big picture and just took the first two steps.
This method works because it gives you momentum. Think about it like crossing a stream by jumping from rock to rock. Once you’ve taken the first two steps, it’s easier to go forward than it is to turn around and go back.
8. Where can I get resources and support to help me achieve my goals?
It’s hard to get started on a project or learn something new if you feel like you’re doing it by yourself.
The great thing about the current moment is that people are more willing than ever to connect. Even if you think you don’t have anyone around you to support you or listen to your ideas, there are tons of opportunities to meet people who will do just that.
Every week, we curate a list of virtual workshops, hangouts, tools, playbooks, and other resources that are a great way to meet people with similar interests and inspire you to get started. 🎉
Also, our CEO, Shireen Jaffer, hosts weekly virtual hangouts to bring people together. If you want to know when the next one is happening or get the curated email update,
Lastly, remember to stay positive. If you don’t work on your project for a week (or a year) that doesn’t mean it’s over and you can never pick it back up. Be kind to yourself and remember that every day is another chance to get started. Surround yourself with inspiration whenever possible, and take the two simplest steps when in doubt. 💜