5 fail-safe ways to beat procrastination

We've all been there. You've got a project that you really need to get started on, but you're just not feeling it. Instead you find yourself researching tablet accessories you've had your eye on, hunting out new designers to follow on Twitter or deciding that now's the time to try out some desk exercises.

It's amazing how much time you can kill when you ought to be getting on with something important. Learn how to break the procrastination habit with these top tips.

01. Figure out the trigger

Ask yourself some searching questions. What goes through your head when you decide not to start quite yet? Do you not know where to begin? Are you worried what you create won't be good enough? Is it something more physical like tiredness or hunger? 

Like death, procrastination has a plethora of possible causes. If that sounds unpleasant, you could always procrastinate by doing some work instead.

02. Start anywhere

Perfectionism is often the real culprit for procrastination – but it can't be perfect if you haven't actually done it. Make a start and you'll have something to play with and refine. It's daunting, we know, but you probably never think: 'I definitely don't wish I'd started this earlier. Stress is so much more pleasant than sleep.' Just do something. Anything. It'll be better once you start.

03. Turn off message alerts

Some people recommend checking email just once or twice a day, which feels absurd when you're a one-person business. However, studies show it can take more than 20 minutes to get back on-task after reading just one email, so try to find a happy medium, like checking it once an hour. 

The same goes for Slack, Twitter, WhatsApp, or however you like to communicate. Constant alters are a sure-fire way to veer off-course.

04. Break it into chunks

Don't put whole tasks on your to-do list, because that doesn't tell you what you need to do or enable you to keep track of any progress made. Break things down into individual steps. Tick them off and reward yourself for getting each one done. 

A word to the wise: it's best to leave the reward until after you've done the task. Rewarding yourself for thinking about the task is also pushing it.

05. Try a tomato timer

Unnerved by the blankness of time stretching out before you? Try using the Pomodoro technique to contain your work (and your fears). There's a whole host of free apps out there, but they all use the same principle: work for 25 minutes, relax for five, repeat. It works so well that you might even procrastinate from taking the five-minute break.

 This article was originally published in Computer Arts, the world's best-selling design magazine. Subscribe now.

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Anne Wollenberg is an award-winning freelance journalist who specialises in writing about the creative industry.