Given the COVID-19 situation, more of us are working from home, and the rest of our family is doing work or schoolwork at home, too. So it’s easy to get distracted by the TV, kids, social media, or chores—and delay tackling a difficult task.
Procrastination is a challenge at the best of times, and right now, it can be particularly difficult to get ourselves to sit down, focus, and work steadily. If you find yourself procrastinating, I hope these tips are helpful.
9 tips to help you focus and get things done during COVID-19:
- Often we procrastinate because it’s so hard to get started. To fight this, break a task into manageable pieces. Push yourself to accomplish just one step today. Tomorrow, another step. Once we get started, it’s much easier to continue.
- Work uninterrupted for realistic blocks of time—25 minutes, 50 minutes. Then take a 10-minute break. This is sometimes called the “pomodoro method.”
- Protect yourself from interruption. Talk to your family about respecting your “do-not-disturb” time. If possible, work in a space where you’re alone. Note: you may need to re-arrange the way you use your home during this period. For instance, a walk-in closet could become a phone booth, so you get some privacy for difficult calls you need to make.
- Protect yourself from the temptations of the internet. Use programs like Freedom, RescueTime or Self Control to disconnect from the internet or from certain particularly distracting websites. Turn off notifications on your phone. Don’t check social media during work time.
- If you struggle to switch from family life or the latest news into a challenging work assignment, give yourself a transitional task to get into a work mindset. Check the news; then do an easy work-related task for a few minutes, to get into the work frame of mind; then tackle the procrastinated task.
- Set aside a specific time for a task you’ve been putting off, and during that time, don’t allow yourself to do anything else. One of my aphorisms is: Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination. Doing laundry is procrastination if what you really need to do is to work on the annual report!
- Schedule a dreaded task for a time when your energy and focus is high. If you’re a morning person like me, do it first thing in the morning. If you’re a night person, perhaps after lunch is better.
- Ask for help. Often we procrastinate because we’re not exactly sure how to proceed. Ask yourself, “Could someone help me move forward? What information would make it easier to take the next step?”
- We procrastinate more when we’re feeling low-energy. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and some exercise to keep your energy and your self-control high. A productive work day starts the day before.
Here are some tips that are generally useful, but are particularly useful for particular Tendencies. Don’t know if you’re an Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, or Rebel in my “Four Tendencies” personality framework? Take the free, quick quiz here.
Bonus productivity tips for Obligers, Rebels, Questioners, and Upholders:
- For Obligers: Set a deadline. It’s another one of my aphorisms: Things that can be done at any time are often done at no time. Decide by what date a task needs to be completed—and if possible, tell other people so that they’re counting on you to have completed it.
- For Rebels: Think about your identity. “I’m creative,” “Other people can count on me to keep my commitments,” “Nothing stops me from doing my best work.” Or challenge yourself. “No one thinks I can get this done by the end of the month, but I’ll show them.”
- For Questioners: Remember, most decisions don’t require extensive research—another aphorism! And here’s yet another: Don’t get it perfect, get it going. Some Questioners fall into “analysis-paralysis” where their desire for perfect information makes it hard for them to make a decision or move forward. Remind yourself that usually, it’s more efficient to get started than to delay indefinitely.
- For Upholders: Put it on the calendar. Schedule time to tackle that dreaded task, and then do it.
What strategies have you found to help deal with the challenge of procrastination—both generally, and now with the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19?
I recently joined CBS This Morning to share tips for avoiding procrastination while working from home. You can watch the clip here.
Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and all the essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.
I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York City.