You're not alone if you tend to procrastinate. In fact, 95% of us do, according to Piers Steel, a professor at the Haskayne School of Business in Calgary who specializes in motivation and procrastination. In his book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Things Done, Steel writes that modern technology and our busy lives have made it even harder to stay focused and motivated at work.
Harder—but not impossible.
Steel suggests the following tactics to help you get important work done:
1. Distance yourself physically from distractions:
Steel advises following the expression "Out of sight, out of mind." He writes that if you literally distance yourself from distractions, you'll be less likely to be drawn away from the task at hand. If you're trying to focus on something crucial and find that your smartphone is constantly buzzing with calls, texts and emails, for instance, then physically distance yourself from it in order to suppress the urge to respond to every incoming message.
2. Associate procrastination with a negative image:
Steel suggests using "covert sensitization," a technique used to pair a behaviour that you're trying to avoid with an undesirable image of what it can lead to. Imagine you're scheduled for a very important meeting with a client and you're tempted to leave your preparation to the last minute. Then picture an emergency arising at work—or in your personal life, such as your child needing to be rushed to the hospital—that prevents you from finishing your preparations. Then imagine how unprofessional you'll look to your client and the consequences of that, such as losing a major piece of business. Keep this hypothetical situation in mind to motivate yourself to finish your preparation early.
3. Turn off temptation:
In Homer's Greek classic The Odyssey, Ulysses has his ship's crew plug their ears with wax to avoid hearing the Sirens—if the sailors were to heed the Sirens' tempting calls, they would steer the ship into the rocks. Today's equivalent of the Sirens is email, which is forever tempting us away from our proper course. Steel recommends disabling all audio alerts and mailbox notifications in your email program. (In Microsoft Outlook, you can do so in "Advanced Email Options.") Steel suggests holding off checking your email until you complete a given task. He estimates that you'll become 10% more productive if you're not frequently interrupted by email—or by Facebook and other notifications. Over a year, that's the equivalent of an extra month of productivity.