My top tips to beat procrastination in 2020

John Newton, Content Designer at Essex County Council Service Design team with James Pallister

Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.

So said Doris Lessing. She managed to overcome the impossible pretty regularly, writing over 50 novels and winning a Nobel prize. This is one of the many curious titbits I’ve found out while not writing this blog post.

Procrastinating is a fulltime job. It takes guile, skill and far more effort than whatever it is you’re avoiding.

I consider myself a fully paid-up member of the procrastinators’ guild. Whether it’s a work project, writing wedding vows or doing the washing up, I’ve managed to put the pro in procrastinator.

These are my top tips to delete your distractions, put a stop to your idling and shorten your to-do list.

1. Make time

No, obviously not literally. That would be silly.

This is about prioritising what’s important. It’s incredible what a burden a little thing hanging around the bottom of your to-do list can become.

If it’s important enough to worry about, it’s important enough to make time for.

Be honest about how long it’s going to take you. If you need to, push other things back.

This will save you time in the long run.

We’re lucky enough to have delivery managers who support us to work at our best. Sometimes that means lightening the load and letting us rebalance.

2. Take time

Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing

Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

You can’t carry as much if you’re juggling. Take the time that you have and you’ll do a better job.

For me, that means talking to other people on my team. We talk a lot about collaborating but sometimes we don’t apply that to ourselves.

Often, I realise I’m putting something off because I don’t feel confident doing it. Sometimes I realise other people in our team are struggling with the same things.

The time you spend worrying about how to start something, is almost always better spent talking to someone else about how they did it. Walk through something together and suddenly it won’t seem like such a big leap.

3. Get comfy

Nothing, like something, happens anywhere

Philip Larkin

Distraction is a perfect procrastination technique. Whether it’s having one more coffee, a quick sweep of Twitter or putting it off until after lunch.

Sometimes it’s easier to take yourself somewhere quiet, maybe even somewhere pleasant, where you won’t be disturbed and you can give your whole attention to the job in hand.

This isn’t school. You’re not going to get in trouble for not being at your desk. Give yourself permission to do what you need to get started.

Take your laptop to a café and pretend you’re working on a screenplay? Go to the nicest corner of your office? Hide under hoody with your headphones on? If it helps, then it’s okay.

4. Not perfect is fine

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

Sometimes the fear of failure means things stall. Something half-finished is always in touching distance of perfection, whereas something that is finished can feel underwhelming.

This is at the heart of the way we work in agile. Our team is set up around this belief in getting started, not getting startled. This means failing well is part of our DNA.

Don’t be afraid of failing better. It worked for Beckett, he’s another one who won a Nobel prize. Nothing will ever be perfect but it can always be polished. Getting it done is just the beginning

5. Do something

If you’ve tried the first 4 steps and you’re still in neutral, try something else.

Don’t waste your time worrying, recycle it.

Go for a walk. Reply to an email. See if someone else needs a hand with something. Pick something up from your backlog.

Often something unexpected can help you get out of the spiral.

Once you’re in gear, you’ll be unstoppable.

Now stop reading this and get back to taming the impossible.

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  1. Comment by Emma posted on

    My favourite quote is the one from Parks and Rec. It made me laugh, but also resonated an awful lot (as did the whole post!!).

    Appreciate your team sharing so much; the good, the bad and the ugly and will stop procrastinating by reading and commenting on this post and crack on...


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