My post Productivity Tips From A Hopeless ADHD Procrastinator is probably my most commented post to date. That’s not surprising, considering that many people these days are either pursuing their creative projects on the side, or starting their own business, and they’re trying to make the most of their time.
Sadly, productivity tips can only offer you so much. If blog posts could change your thought patterns and habits in an instant, I’d be a mix of Buddha and Neil Gaiman by now. We all know that if you want something to happen, you need to put in the work every day. It’s so simple. The world’s best productivity advice could be summed up into 3 words: Do The Work.
But you already knew this, and yet you’re still reading this, so clearly there’s something missing.
For this reason I decided to tackle this topic from a different angle, one that is more geared toward understanding yourself and your reluctance to, you know, actually doing the forking work.
So let’s get down to it.
1. Just because a certain tactic doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause
Our personalities are different, and while some people are very receptive to a certain tactic, others are not.
If you read an article outlining “the productivity trick to end all productivity tricks”, and it’s something you’ve already tried and it didn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless.
Some people respond better to internal incentives, and other to external. For some people accountability is the key (Gretchen Rubin describes these people as Upholders and Obligers), but to others, outside accountability can wreak havoc because we tend to reject expectations – both outside, and our own (appropriately called Rebels).
Since you’re a creative spirit, my guess is you’re more likely to to be a Rebel, or you may actually live with undiagnosed ADHD, so a lot of popular productivity advice won’t work for you. Accept that, and move on.
2. Just because a tactic hasn’t worked for you before, it doesn’t mean it never will
Maybe some circumstances in your life will change. Maybe you need to give it a try for a while, until it grows on you. Maybe you need to adapt it a bit to make it work for you. For example, planning the way “normal people” plan has never worked for me, and it frustrates me that I can’t seem to do it. But I still haven’t thrown planning completely out the window (I just approach it differently, and have a different name for it). There are bits and pieces I can use in my own way.
But, the opposite is also true:
3. Just because a tactic has worked before, it doesn’t mean it always will
Darn it! It sucks, but it sometimes happens.
Either your life circumstances will change, or you will change, and suddenly something that was once bulletproof will start failing.
But likewise, you don’t need to stop using the tactic completely, maybe you just need to adjust it to work with the new circumstances.
4. Keep a journal of what worked, and what didn’t
Your memory is not perfect, and we all tend to forget a lot of useful information that we know on some level. (I wrote more about this in my post You already know enough – Tips to stop forgetting the important stuff.)
First of all, writing what you’ve already tried might give you an idea of what you still haven’t tried. We have a tendency to say “I’ve tried everything!”, but is that really true? Of course it isn’t, but unless you have a written list of all the things you’ve tried, there’s no way to check.
You can dedicate a new small journal, or use your existing one to make notes about productivity experiments. (That’s how I stumbled on my intention journal, and a lot of other systems.) I know it sounds like a lot of work, but unless you’re keeping track of what you’re doing and how it’s working for you, you’re just poking in the dark.
Approach your productivity like a scientist and test, make notes, adjust, test again.
5. Dig really, really deep
I’ve mentioned in my original post that it’s important to find the reasons why you procrastinate. And while we may think it’s always fear of failure, I’ve found that for me it’s definitely not the only one.
Once I got accustomed to the fear of failure and worked through a lot of my issues with it, I uncovered a whole new layer of stuff that was preventing me from working.
Some of it was so deep, I had no idea how to get through it or around it. For example, in my experience, work and anxiety were intertwined. Deadlines, late nights spent working, 12-hour work days (while I was working in a job, plus freelancing on the side) and the stress of never doing enough.
Once I was finally out of that cage and became a sovereign business owner, I rebelled against my new boss — myself, and decided I don’t want to do anything at all. Which is quite impractical, as you may imagine.
Realizing that I was actually running away from anxiety and burnout, not from the work itself, helped me immensely. I decided to implement some safety mechanisms so I reduce deadline-driven anxiety and give myself space to relax and rest.
So, what’s your problem? Sit and stare at a blank wall for a while, and think about it.
6. Do not minimize distractions – eradicate them
One tactic that I’ve found extremely helpful was to simply block certain websites at certain times of day (in my case, until 7 PM) and not look at them even during my breaks.
I’ve tried being mindful before, checking social media and blogs only during the breaks, but I couldn’t make myself get off when my Pomodoro timer rang. The only way I could deal with it is to use an add-on called LeechBlock on my browser.
I wrote more about preventing distractions in my post My Top 5 Tips For Preventing Time Suck & Increasing Productivity.
Now, I’ll be clear — this doesn’t magically make me do the work. In fact, not being able to waste time on the internet sometimes makes me want to waste time in different ways. Which leads me to…
7. Create an acceptable way to procrastinate
We all default to Internet browsing because it’s easy and accessible. Once it becomes less accessible (you’re blocking the sites, or are logged out of your accounts), you need to think before you act, so it’s no longer a mindless reflex.
If you’re going to procrastinate anyway (and you will), it’s time to figure out some productive alternatives.
Here are some examples:
- Writing a blog (this very post is my way of procrastinating from client work right now)
- Doodling (better to do any kind of drawing practice than none)
- Working on a passion project (you know, the one you’ll get around to “someday”)
The last one is a fallback when I say to myself “But I don’t want to do anything!” In that case, doing nothing it is. It’s a great way to rest and recharge anyway – more on this in my post 5 ways to use meditation as a productivity technique.
There are many things I’d rather do, like reading books or watching video tutorials, but that’s not an option because I lose track of time too easily. I keep it to a few options, so I have some freedom of choice (otherwise I would rebel against myself), but not too much that it makes the process of choosing tedious.
This form of procrastinating at least leaves you with some results, whether it’s a cleaner home, a page of writing or a more calm mind. Results build on results, so it’s going to be easier to transition to different kind of creating results, than starting from zero.
The “productive procrastination” is priming you for doing the work you actually want to do – it’s breaking through the inertia (which may look like watching TV or scrolling through your Instagram feed) and guiding you on a gentle slope toward more and more challenging work.
If “cold turkey” approach to productivity isn’t working for you, maybe the gradual approach will.
In the end, maybe the work you do while procrastinating might end up the most meaningful work you do. All my artwork created before 2008 was a result of procrastinating from studying for exams. Those have proven more valuable for my career than the university I dropped out of, so I’m living proof that not all forms of procrastination are made equal.
Any more tips to add?
Please share what has worked for you in the comments – I’d love to hear about it.
If you still haven’t read it, check out Productivity Tips From A Hopeless ADHD Procrastinator where I offer more hands-on tips that you can start implementing right now.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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