It’s hard to ignore that burnout is on a rapid rise, even before the pandemic people were struggling with increased pressures to deliver more. And, even now in the thick of the pandemic, burnout has accelerated.
From Zoom fatigue, pandemic doom, lack of human connection and loss of purpose. Much is fuelling the alarming rate at which many of us are currently burning out.
This is a little thought that I picked up from fellow creative Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like a Artist and Show Your Work.
In today’s world, our attention span is probably shorter than your average goldfish. Plus, we’re constantly distracted by notification after notification. So, we have to constantly fight for periods of focus and moments to embrace our creativity.
Don’t you just hate it, when you’re determined to get something done but all you can think about is watching that next episode of Stranger Things. In my experience, this is the start of the freefall to procrastination paralysis.
It starts off so innocently as, “maybe I can watch 15 minutes of the next episode and then do my work” to quite quickly descending into 4 hours later, where you’ve now watched 2 episodes and become so lost down your Twitter feed that you forgot what it was you were even supposed to do in the beginning.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Many of us, including me, can fall into this at any given moment.
It’s not that you don’t want to do that important thing you’ve set out to do. It’s just that your looking at the future view of how much time and effort overall, that it will take to complete. And this can be crippling for the mind.
I mean who looks at their schedule and jumps for joy when they see an action that will take up most of their day? no one that’s who, not one of us is doing that. The popular response for most of us in this situation is to become paralysed by the thought of “shit, this is going to take forever” and then procrastinate for the rest of the day.
Not only do we contend with the dread of our time investment but we are constantly distracted by the barrage of notifications that light up our devices. From Twitter to Slack and your email client. The brain is fighting off distractions everywhere.
So, now I’ve given you possibly a pretty accurate account of how you’ve not been getting shit done on most days. Let’s talk about strategies to find your focus, prioritise your work and avoid being paralysed by indecision.
Strategies to get shit done
Watch this TED talk from fellow human, procrastinator and all star writer Tim Urban on how to fight the procrastination monster. Tim knows the struggle is real.
Use this 7 point framework, which has helped me for many years, to find your focus.
Just pick one
We all know that feeling, looking at our to-do list and thinking “Shit, there’s a lot of stuff on there”.
This is pitfall number 1. We all give ourselves too many things to do. We put crazy expectations on our bandwidth and become overwhelmed, paralysed by fear and run to cashew butter and Netflix (those last two might be just me!).
The simplest solution to this is revolutionary. Just pick one thing. Yes, you read that right, pick one thing. Not 3, not a couple, just pick one thing you’ve been procrastinating over and lock onto completing that task like your life fucking depends on it.
Start today not tomorrow
Another popular pitfall and one I experienced when writing this piece.
You tell yourself, “Yeah, I’m going to do this, I’m going to write that thing and change the world. But, let’s do it tomorrow”. You have to stop that shit right now. Once you’ve locked onto your one task, strap in and hunt that thing down.
Avoid entering into more procrastination about when’s the best time to start. I’m telling you, it’s right now. Don’t wait, jump in and do it.
I forget who introduced me to this little productivity tip of joy but whoever it was, I love you.
Time blocking is a simple action that has yielded so much more creativity and output in my life that I’m not quite sure what I’d be doing without it. Although, I could imagine the alternative reality would involve bingeing on Netflix and chocolate.
Time blocking is super simple. It’s just blocking out dedicated sections of time with no interruptions. This means no phone, no distractions from the world and especially any form of notifications. I even switch off my Wi-Fi when I need to get real shit done.
Although, this sounds super simple (and don’t get me wrong, it is), many often fail to make it work.
This mostly comes down to setting ridiculous lengths of time like 4 or 5 hours where they say they will be ‘creative’ and ‘productive’ but end up staring at the wall. The sweet spot is in allocating a time span where you can really focus and then break off when your mind begins to wander.
Personally, I like to do this in 90 minute blocks and then reward myself with a 15 – 30 min block of doing whatever I want. This allows me to focus and keep the monkey mind from wandering.
Block out designated sections of time with no interruptions. Find a time span that works for you but I recommend no more that 120 minutes blocks.
Focus on the next 5 mins
Super simple but highly effective.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the task at hand, take a breath and just focus on the next 5 mins.
Ask yourself, what can I do in the next 5 mins to get myself moving? You just need to get started with something, anything, even writing hello on an email.
Even a small action is still an action.
Seek out why you are really procrastinating
Sometimes, it can be helpful to understand exactly why you’ve been procrastinating over a specific task.
Are you afraid of something? Maybe you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
Get a notebook or open up a word doc and write down the answer to this question, ” I’m avoiding this task because…” And see what shows up. Understanding what’s keeping you from getting shit done will help you unlock your ability to actually get shit done.
Tackle the real tough stuff at your peak times
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Personally, I hate the mornings and my most creative moments have come well into the after hours. For others this is different, some of you will be fresh, awake and full of creative juices in the morning. Recognise what time works best for you and schedule the real tough stuff then.
No-one wants to tackle the shit that gives them nightmares when they are half asleep.
Block out the distractions
Turn off all notifications, lock yourself out if you need too. Build a distraction free environment as much as you can.
Random email, text or Slack notifications are a killer to getting shit done. It might be an idea to implement a structure around how often you check your messages. For example, you could commit to check your emails twice a day, say once in the morning and again late in the afternoon.
Let people know your unavailable by setting clear statuses on Slack, MS Teams, Whatsapp or your collaboration app of choice. An OOO is not out of the question. Take control of your environment to protect your time.
The Eisenhower matrix: prioritising tasks by urgency and importance
A popular method adopted in many workplaces. This matrix can help you define what’s important and what’s not. Learn more below and here.
Learn how to say no!
Protect your time and your sanity. Learn how to say no to the requests which don’t contribute to the work you need to do. You might think being the person who says “yes” to everything is going to make you loved by all. But, in reality, the only output will be the loss of your own time and being controlled by others agenda’s.
You’ve read a bunch of stuff and now it’s time to take action. Getting this far and reading all these strategies will mean nothing if you don’t use them. Take some time, reflect on how you can use some of these strategies and get shit done.
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.