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stress Tag

overcoming procrastination

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about people struggling with procrastination. The pandemic has taken a lot out of us, and we are all a bit worn down. When we put off doing what we “need” to do it makes us feel undisciplined and lazy.  The self-compassion experts tell us that just makes things worse.

Instead of beating yourself up, it is much more effective to figure out why you procrastinate. Then you can take positive action to overcome the obstacle. Procrastination is typically NOT about discipline!  When the system is right and you understand what is happening then it takes much less willpower to move into action.

Procrastination Strategies

If simply intending to do the task worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. There are a number of less-typical strategies you can try to see what will help YOU blow through YOUR procrastination obstacles.

Figure Out Why You Procrastinate – There are many reasons people procrastinate. Figuring out your reason(s) is the first step to overcoming them.  Is it self-doubt or do you just need more information?  Do you need more time for the information to percolate in your head, or do you simply need the stress of the deadline to activate?  Are you unclear if the task is important? Or do you just hate doing it?  Understanding the cause of our individual brands of perfectionism helps us move into action.

Make the First Step Small – focus on getting started. Don’t worry about finishing. Set one mini-goal to get you to sit down and start.

Trick Your Brain – Start with an easy task to stimulate your brain. Take advantage of the “pleasure seeking” chemicals and as soon as you finish the easy/fun task move to one of the “harder to complete” tasks.

Identity Motivation –Use a character trait you like about yourself to help you activate. i.e. – I am a learner, I have perseverance, I am a problem-solver. Then ask:

  1. What kind of situation is this?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What does someone like me do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be thoughtful – then you’ll ask yourself – what does a thoughtful person do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be a problem solver then you’ll ask yourself – what would a problem solver do in a situation like this?

Body Doubling – Body Doubling is having a partner share your space to help keep you on task. They don’t need to do anything in particular. Their very presence helps move you to action.

  • Meet a friend at the coffee shop and work on your “hard” project alone – together.
  • Meet a colleague in the conference room and set your Pomodoro timer.
  • Ask a family member to sit with you while you are getting started.
  • Hire a NAPO Professional Organizer or other consultant to work on your project with you

Change Location – A unfamiliar space can provide just enough stimulation your brain needs to move into action. Weather permitting try working outside, a new coffee shop, or even a new location at work or home. Simply changing chairs at your kitchen table may be enough to shift how your brain is processing the environment.

Freak Yourself Out – Creating controlled stress can help. Make a list of the top 3 consequences of not doing this project. Now make another list – top 3 consequences of not doing this project on time. Not failing can help move you into action.


This is a combo repeat blog post with information from Chapter 4 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon.  Next post we’ll look at the burden of procrastination.

Why Am I Procrastinating

Why Do You Procrastinate? You aren’t the only one asking yourself that question! Without an understanding of why you are procrastinating, it’s hard to figure out what to do about it.

I realized this when I studied my own procrastination tendencies. I learned I usually procrastinated when I needed more information for the next step. Once I understood that behavior, it became easier to figure out how I could learn what I needed to know. Procrastination would also occur when I need more time to think before moving into action. Now that I understand my “why,” my procrastination is manageable.

Read through this list and consider which of these causes explain why you procrastinate. It is often more than one.

What Is Your Why?

Self-doubt — Lack of confidence is a real stopper. It makes sense that it is hard to move into action if you don’t believe in yourself, or you don’t believe what you’ll deliver is going to be good enough. You are probably really hard on yourself. It can be helpful to realize everyone has a degree of self-doubt. It’s what you do about it that drives outcomes.

Need more information — It’s hard to do something when you don’t know how to do it. On the other hand, doing too much research is procrastination in itself. The goal is to find the right balance of information to move you into action. Awareness and asking yourself “what else do I need to get started?” is helpful.

Need processing time — Sometimes you just need time for things to percolate. That good idea you had in the shower this morning? It probably wasn’t a new idea. You were creating the space for that idea to come to fullness. Do you do a better job solving the problem after you “sleep on it?” That is good procrastination!

Need stress — Many people use deadlines to create enough stress to move into action. In last month’s blog post on stress and productivity, we learned about the correlation between stress and performance and that without enough stress, we don’t move into action. Deadline stress can be your solution to getting work out the door. If this is your choice, stop beating yourself up and accept who you are. One warning here: Do you hear yourself saying, “I just didn’t have enough time to do the job I wanted to do?” Some people use procrastination to self-handicap. Delay becomes an excuse for not turning in their best work, or even a way to avoid feedback.

Lack of clarity  —When you’re not clear what is important, you end up spending time on low-value tasks and putting off or not doing important work.

Distaste for the task — It’s hard to be motivated to do a task that you hate doing. If this is the case, consider alternatives. Can you delegate this to someone on your team? Can you pay someone else to do it? Can you take it off your list?

Perfectionism — Does the need to be perfect keep you from doing what needs to be done? We’ll look at this in more detail in future blog posts, but remember – perfect is the enemy of done.


This is an exert from Chapter 4 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon.  Next post I’ll share strategies to help overcome procrastination.

The brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. 

Productivity, Stress and Flow Brain Model

A lot is written today about stress and anxiety. We know exercise, meditation, and good sleep help reduce stress. However, little is discussed about the effects of stress and anxiety on our productivity. In a nutshell, the brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. (Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Productivity for How You’re Wired.)

Here’s the neuroscience:

Neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Model provides a straightforward model to understand the impact of fear and stress on the brain in conjunction with evolution and the hierarchy of brain functions. MacLean describes the brain in terms of three regions:

Brain Stem: From an evolutionary perspective, the brain stem is the oldest part of the brain. It controls bodily functions without thought or effort. This part of our brain operates on “autopilot.”

Limbic System: Next in evolutionary age is the limbic system. This is the emotional center of our brain. It is home to the amygdala, the part of the brain that houses the fight, flight, or freeze response. We have some control over our emotions, but under threat or too much stress, the amygdala automatically “hijacks” our thinking brain and takes over.

Prefrontal Cortex: Newest, and least on autopilot, is our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), our thinking brain. It is here we plan, anticipate, think, and learn. The PFC is where innovation and creative thought occur. It houses our working memory and supports our ability to organize information and draw conclusions.

The PFC and the amygdala compete for control of the brain. When we are our most productive selves, we are functioning from the PFC. However, when there is too much stress, anxiety, or fear, the emotionally driven amygdala kicks in. We move from thinking and being productive to a fight, flight, or freeze state.

When under treat, anxious, or overstressed, our productivity tanks because we’ve moved from our thinking brain to our emotional brain.

Flow

Doing one’s most effective work occurs when a person is in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the architect of positive psychology’s flow state, defines flow as “a powerful and rewarding psychological state that makes extra effort seem worthwhile.”

When in flow work feels like play, time flies (and stands still,) and productivity soars. To be our most productive selves, to be in flow, we need to function from our PFC, our thinking brain.Finding Productivity Flow

When under too much stress, anxiety can be paralyzing. You may relate to that feeling when you get a note from the boss saying “come see me,” or a long-time client calls and says “can we talk?” Just when we need to be at our best, we freeze up and our emotional brain takes charge.

Without enough stress, the brain struggles to move into action. Waiting until the 11th hour to begin a project causes enough stress to move the brain into productivity flow.

Strategies for Getting and Staying in Productivity Flow

The emotional limbic brain almost always wins unless we learn how to manage it. To be in productivity flow we need to employ strategies to help us manage the stress.From overstressed to productive

Knowledge is power! When you start to feel anxious or lose focus, it’s empowering to stop and think — I know what’s going on here. When you realize that what is happening in your brain is the normal physiologic stress response, you can take back control. Deep breathing, a walk, or other calming activity can help, but sometimes simply understanding what is happening is enough to pull you back into productivity flow.

The 5 Pillars of Productivity

A Note from Ellen: I’ve been working on a book. In the coming weeks I’ll be previewing snippets from the book on my blog. It’s important information I want to share. Today’s post is a summary of Chapter 1.  If you would like to learn more, I’ll post book updates here on the blog. It is exciting. Stay tuned! 

These 5 pillars of productivity are core to your productivity success. Whatever you learn, whatever you do, keep these in mind and build from here.

Productivity is a Quality of Life Issue

Productivity is a quality of life issue. When we don’t know what is important, we end up doing unimportant things. We spend our weekends thinking we’ll get work done, yet we’re exhausted and don’t. We end up more stressed and less effective come Monday morning, worried about the work we didn’t do. Finding a way to work better brings greater ease, peace, and happiness to both career and life.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Each of us is wired differently, and what works for one person absolutely may not work for someone else. Being willing to experiment and discover productivity solutions that fit YOU is essential. I discuss this pillar in depth in this post: Productivity That Fits How You’re Wired.

If It Isn’t EASY, It’s Too Hard

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to improve their productivity is making their systems too complex. Too many steps and the systems are destined to fail. Too much time to learn the systems and more time is spent on the tool, with little time spent on the task itself.

Not All Work is Equally Important

Pareto’s principle, the 80/20 Rule, supports the concept that you can achieve 80% of the results in 20% of the time. Learning how and when to apply the 80/20 rule helps free up time for important things, in and out of work. Be deliberate in how you invest your time.

  • 20% of your work/clients contributes to 80% of your profits
  • 20% of your apps are used 80% of the time
  • 20% of your meeting time achieves 80% of decisions
  • 20% of your time yields 80% of the result

 Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Taking the time to plan is the secret sauce to productivity. If you think you don’t have time to plan, you don’t have time NOT to plan. Investing a little time for planning drives the shift from overwhelmed to productive.

The greatest benefit of planning may be the process of thinking things through. Winston Churchill may have been right when he said “Plans are worthless, planning is priceless.” Yes, sometimes plans go awry. However, things go much more awry without them.

  • Planning helps you stop worrying about missing a deadline or an opportunity.
  • Planning helps you to anticipate so surprises are minimized.
  • Planning helps you prioritize tasks moving you towards focused success.
  • Planning helps you use your time well. When you say yes to something off–plan, you are saying no to working on–plan.

overcoming procrastination

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about people struggling with procrastination. The pandemic has taken a lot out of us, and we are all a bit worn down. When we put off doing what we “need” to do it makes us feel undisciplined and lazy.  The self-compassion experts tell us that just makes things worse.

Instead of beating yourself up, it is much more effective to figure out why you procrastinate. Then you can take positive action to overcome the obstacle. Procrastination is typically NOT about discipline!  When the system is right and you understand what is happening then it takes much less willpower to move into action.

Procrastination Strategies

If simply intending to do the task worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. There are a number of less-typical strategies you can try to see what will help YOU blow through YOUR procrastination obstacles.

Figure Out Why You Procrastinate – There are many reasons people procrastinate. Figuring out your reason(s) is the first step to overcoming them.  Is it self-doubt or do you just need more information?  Do you need more time for the information to percolate in your head, or do you simply need the stress of the deadline to activate?  Are you unclear if the task is important? Or do you just hate doing it?  Understanding the cause of our individual brands of perfectionism helps us move into action.

Make the First Step Small – focus on getting started. Don’t worry about finishing. Set one mini-goal to get you to sit down and start.

Trick Your Brain – Start with an easy task to stimulate your brain. Take advantage of the “pleasure seeking” chemicals and as soon as you finish the easy/fun task move to one of the “harder to complete” tasks.

Identity Motivation –Use a character trait you like about yourself to help you activate. i.e. – I am a learner, I have perseverance, I am a problem-solver. Then ask:

  1. What kind of situation is this?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What does someone like me do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be thoughtful – then you’ll ask yourself – what does a thoughtful person do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be a problem solver then you’ll ask yourself – what would a problem solver do in a situation like this?

Body Doubling – Body Doubling is having a partner share your space to help keep you on task. They don’t need to do anything in particular. Their very presence helps move you to action.

  • Meet a friend at the coffee shop and work on your “hard” project alone – together.
  • Meet a colleague in the conference room and set your Pomodoro timer.
  • Ask a family member to sit with you while you are getting started.
  • Hire a NAPO Professional Organizer or other consultant to work on your project with you

Change Location – A unfamiliar space can provide just enough stimulation your brain needs to move into action. Weather permitting try working outside, a new coffee shop, or even a new location at work or home. Simply changing chairs at your kitchen table may be enough to shift how your brain is processing the environment.

Freak Yourself Out – Creating controlled stress can help. Make a list of the top 3 consequences of not doing this project. Now make another list – top 3 consequences of not doing this project on time. Not failing can help move you into action.

Productivity: Post-Vaccine

We used to go to work and come home to relax.  Now we work from home and soon we’ll be going out to relax.  I heard someone say that we really don’t work from home – now we are living from work.  That sounds crazy!  What is clear however, is that things are different. Dependent on your age and where you live, your access to the vaccine varies. Hopefully we will soon all have our “get out of jail free” (vaccine) cards and be returning to our new normal.

I was on a Zoom call last week and we discussed our anxiety around returning to normalcy.  Yes, with this new freedom comes anxiety. We’ve gotten pretty darn comfortable in our yoga pants and bare feet. We’ve built in systems and supports to help us get our work done and live from work.  Now there is another shift coming.  How do we make this transition as healthfully and productively as possible?

It’s about BOUNDARIES!  What you say YES to, and what you say NO to. Building the scaffolding now will support you in reentering in a way that will get what you need, yet not compromise the learning and reevaluating that we’ve had this past year. What supports do you need? What guardrails can you put in place to protect you?

On our Zoom call, my colleague, Susan Lannis of the Time Liberator, posed her questions about our post pandemic behavior, from which I’ve crafted the following questions for you to ask yourself. I suggest you invest the time to journal on this, or open a note or document and write your answers out. Take your time. Give it thought.

  1. What behaviors, actions, or learnings from the Covid shutdown do you want to continue doing – what are you saying YES to?
  2. What behaviors, actions, or learnings from the Covid shutdown do you want to continue NOT doing – what are you saying NO to?
  3. What are the three most important things you look forward to doing post-vaccine?

Now make a list of your boundaries – what you will say yes to, what you will say no to, and what you wish to continue. Here are mine:

  1. What I want to continue doing – What I’m saying YES to:
    1. “No incoming tech” Saturdays
    2. Exercise and yoga classes via Zoom
    3. Speaking engagements via Zoom
  2. What I want to not do – What I am saying NO to:
    1. Going out socially more than 2 or 3 times a week
    2. Networking when it doesn’t serve me
    3. Traveling more than once a month
  3. Three most important things I look forward to getting back to
    1. Seeing my friends and family
    2. Going to the store and picking out what I want
    3. Taking golf lessons

Taking the time to think through and plan will support your success. Good luck as you move through this next transition. Interested in learning more? Here is what is sure to be many articles written about our post-pandemic return.