I want to talk about how this relates to our future self, because as we talked about in episode 53, studies show that we’re really bad at relating to that future self. I talked about one study that showed that our brains recognize our future selves just like we recognize celebrities: as people we kind of know, but not really, and that feeds into this idea of procrastination.
Since we have a hard time thinking about our future self, we instead focus on the current version of ourselves, the one that can derive pleasure from the bad habits, and we ignore our future self, the one who will pay the price for that bad behavior.
Procrastination is an extension of this. It’s a coping mechanism that’s gone awry to avoid negative feelings like fear, dread, and anxiety. So, we’re trying to avoid those feelings that we feel when we think a task is important. We do various things to procrastinate, ranging from doing useless things like looking at cat videos, to scrolling mindlessly through social media. Or, focusing on insignificant tasks like cleaning or busy work. Generally, it’s not a time management problem; it’s an emotion management problem.
You’re pushing things to the top of your priorities just so you can avoid the scarier tasks; the bigger, more important tasks.
One one of the best things you can do when you find yourself procrastinating is to question yourself and ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re currently doing. When you recognize that, you can start to get to the heart of what you’re avoiding and why. So, simply ask, “What am I doing right now, and why?” This works especially well if you’re doing something mindlessly, like scrolling on the phone.
Try putting on music without lyrics when you’re getting some writing work done. This is a tip that comes from my assistant, Liz. She started doing this and says it seems to take care of the distracting part of her brain really well, and allows her to focus. When she’s doing things around the house, or tasks that don’t require any heavy thought, like doing dishes or laundry, she puts on a podcast.
I hope that these ideas give you a little bit of a springboard for how you can combat procrastination. I think one of the first steps, honestly, is recognizing that you’re struggling with it, and then just begin to look for the patterns.
What I’m mostly seeing here seems to be analysis paralysis: spending a lot of time thinking and not enough time acting. So, since you’re a thinker, let’s go with that strength. Use it to your advantage. Start with figuring out a goal that you feel would help you get your life organized, and brainstorm all that you need to do to accomplish it. Then break it down into small parts, just like the action roadmap download that I have.
Let me give you an example. If you’re worried about finances and you want to get in touch with an accountant, but then you get worried about what the accountant might need, and you don’t know where those papers are, and then it starts spiraling out of control. We have to stop. Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Stop and think about the first step. Don’t think about what papers you need to gather; just focus first on contacting the accountant.
That first step is just figuring out who to contact, asking friends and family for recommendations and doing a little bit of research.
The biggest key is what I call giving your task/goal a container. Contain the amount of time you’re allowing yourself to do each step. Give yourself a deadline for each of those tiny steps, because if you’re prone to analysis paralysis, it’s easy to allow that one little step to drag out. So, give yourself two days to research, and then move on to the next step.
Small steps lead to bigger victories. Give yourself a five-minute rule. Work on a task for five minutes. Now, how you spend those five minutes doesn’t really matter, it’s the ability to get started on the work. Five minutes is enough to get momentum going without feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Who doesn’t have five minutes? Then you can stop after those five minutes are over, and you might just find it’s easier to come back for another five minutes, and then 10, or 20, and you start building on that.
I hope that helps give you a few ideas. Go with that five-minute rule, don’t fight against your strength, which is doing a lot of thinking. Figure out how to work those things to your advantage.
I love this question. I’m always thinking about how to instill productivity and positive, mindful living into my own kids. As a former teacher, I did that with my students. And I’ll tell you what I’ve learned: As parents, we’re always focused and worried about raising happy children. Oftentimes, that’s at the expense of raising competent or autonomous kids.
We all want our kids to be happy, obviously, which is why it is so hard to watch them fail. We want to rescue them and make it better, but that’s not really a realistic life, is it? It’s not setting them up for success as they grow up and encounter the real world.
I used to tell the parents of my students that allowing their children to fail is a gift they need to give. It’s okay to fail when you’re 10. It’s an easier lesson to take in, and quite frankly, there’s less at stake.
But it also allows your children to see that failing isn’t the end of the world. It’s an opportunity to grow and to learn, and it allows them to see that the choices they make affect the outcome they receive.
When we save our kids from failure, we’re actually failing to allow them to see their future self. We’re willing to trade the present happiness for the future on both sides of this future. What happens when we make good choices and when we make bad choices? We have to allow them to see their options so they can begin to understand that in their future self, and as they grow up, begin to make choices of their own. Psychologist, Wendy Grolnick, has spent time studying failure in children. She did a study where she observed mothers and children in a playroom, and then she would label the mothers as controlling or autonomy-supportive. In other words, moms that let the kids figure things out on their own.
The kids were then put in a room by themselves and asked to perform tasks. The striking results showed that the children who had controlling mothers gave up when they were faced with a task they couldn’t master right away, and the others did not. Parents rescue their children from failure because it feels good, but in the long run, it doesn’t teach your kids to become more independent and better organized.
Kids can do more than we think they can, and we need to let them figure that out. They can do dishes and clean without being bribed, but things won’t be done as well or as clean as you doing them yourself while they’re figuring it out. You have to be okay with that. Praise the effort, not the outcomes.
But you’ll notice, when kids have ownership over tasks, they feel more of a sense of accomplishment, the same as you and me. When we take this ownership away by constantly ensuring their success, whether that means doing their homework for them or saving them when they’ve procrastinated on a big project, we take away the opportunity for them to feel like they played a major role. Allowing your kids to fail is an investment in the future self.
I understand that feeling. I worked out of my own home for a very long time, and so I know it’s easy for that time between work and home to really blur. Let’s start with addressing balance. Balance is bogus. You’ve heard me say that before, and that’s because sometimes you need to lean in harder on your work or in your personal life, and there isn’t balance there, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be harmony between the two.
Let’s use the bike analogy. When you’re riding on a bike and you need to go in a direction, whether it’s turning left or right, you have to lean into different areas. You have to have imbalance in order to go in a direction.
So, when these lines between work and home are blurred, it’s even more important to make sure you’re counterbalancing from time to time and you’re taking the time to really make sure that you have the harmony in your life. That’s why it’s even more important to actively plan and set clear boundaries between the two parts of your life.
Setting up a specific schedule, just like a regular job, will help guard that time. Instead of just doing work when you feel like it, or once you’ve taken care of the things around the house, or vice versa. When you have a flexible work schedule, or you’re setting your own times, you need to make sure you’re treating work and family like priorities. Each deserves its own container and focus.
The transition from one role to the other can deplete that mental energy and take the focus away from what you’re actively engaged in, whether that’s work or a family dinner. You want to make sure to develop strategies to transition between your two roles more effectively so you have less disruption during that focus time.
These were some amazing questions about being more productive at work and home. I’m so glad that many of you have submitted questions like these and are trying to be your most productive future selves at work and at home. If you have a question or productivity problem you’d like me to answer, submit your question here for the next Ask Tonya episode!