Focus and Procrastination

Photo by Antonio Guillem via Canva

There is always something that needs to get done but too often something pulls our focus. Before we know it, we’ve lost too much time and haven’t made the progress we want. Is there a way to make the two work together?

Sometimes procrastination can help and other times, not so much. When we choose to answer a phone call or an email as a way to not work on a task, it can be hard to get focused again. Then there are the times when you’re stuck during a project. You take a break. Perhaps go for a walk or even play a game of solitaire (my two favorites). When you return to work, somehow you have figured out what you need to do next. The procrastination became an aid not a deterrent.

What’s the difference? Usually it’s your attitude or mindset towards what you are doing. Are you taking the break intentionally or to avoid something? When you are not eager to dig into the task at hand, staying focused can be a challenge. You are more likely to succumb to the negative aspects of procrastination. The short break you give yourself stretches out. By the time you get back to work, more time has passed than you realized. Then we typically beat ourselves up for taking the break. You probably will get it done, but without the enthusiasm that produces your best work.

As part of a blog post on How to Remove Distractors from Your Workday, Naphtali Hoff shares six techniques to help you manage internally driven distractors from your day:

  1. Set Daily Goals – This is familiar advice. My suggestion is to limit the number of goals to two tasks. You can have more on your to-do list but keep your focus on one or two priorities. If you get to anything else, it’s a bonus.
  2. Set Deadlines – Most of your tasks probably have inherent deadlines, but it helps to be specific. Set a time by when you will finish the day’s top priority items. Having a “by when” will help you achieve it as you have a goal you are working toward.
  3. Break Project into Manageable Chunks – Big projects are intimidating. My method is to telescope, microscope, and periscope (see my blog post on this here). Use Telescope to identify by when the project must be completed. (Set your own internal deadline for before that date since life happens.) Microscope by determine a sequence of steps, including daily ones. Focus only on the one you need to complete today. Every so often, pop up your Periscope to see what is coming up. Do you need to alter your daily schedule?
  4. Practice Mindfulness – Meditation is not procrastination. Use all your tools to keep your outlook positive. Record your successes. Praise yourself for accomplishments. Hoff says, “practicing mindfulness meditation is associated with improvement in sustaining focus and attention.” When you feel good about yourself, it’s much easier to get work done – and stay focused at it.
  5. Set a Timer – This allows for what might be called “planned procrastination”. It’s like a workout for a specified period of time. How long do you want to work before taking a break?  Your body needs to move, your thoughts may need to focus elsewhere for a little while. It’s healthier if you get up each hour for a few minutes. After a second hour, you might plan a longer break – to take that walk or play that game. But set a timer for that, too.
  6. Switch Tasks – Sometimes you hit a brick wall. While some form of procrastination to refresh your brain cells might work, consider switching to task #2 on your to-do list. Some may find that doing this needs some transition time, but as long as you know you’re making this change, you’ll start the next task sooner.

Know how your mind and body behave. Identify what is happening when you lose focus or when you’re having trouble getting focused. How long can you work full-out at something before your focus begins to dwindle? Remember that you can welcome, allow, and even plan for procrastination as a tool in accomplishing tasks. When you do this – the time spent procrastinating is less likely to take over your day.