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Here’s a truth about procrastination: you do less of it when your work is enjoyable. As I’ve written about(and chatted about on the podcast), seven attributes make us more likely to procrastinate on a task:
- Boring (e.g., doing our taxes);
- Frustrating (e.g., learning a challenging new skill);
- Difficult (e.g., solving a math problem);
- Ambiguous (e.g., training for a marathon);
- Unstructured (e.g., undertaking a home renovation project);
- Lacking intrinsic rewards (e.g., not getting feedback while writing a 50-page report);
- Not meaningful (e.g., cleaning up the home office).
The more fun your work, the less likely it is to set off these triggers. You won’t struggle to focus—tasks will attract your attention because they’ll be far less tedious, frustrating, challenging, and so on. There are a lot of strategies for overcoming procrastination. But making a project more fun disables a bunch of procrastination triggers at once, while also making your work more enjoyable. It’s a great strategy.
It will always be a challenge to make some tasks fun (here’s looking at you, taxes). But often, especially when you get creative, it’s possible to make ugly tasks more attractive to your mind. Here are a few of my favorite methods!
- Work less efficiently. Prioritizing productivity can sometimes make us less productive, especially with tasks we’re putting off. Focusing too much on productivity can lead us to fill our time with busy work which convinces our calculating mind that we’re making progress—when what we’re actually doing is spending less time on tasks that are much more important. Slow progress is still progress. Try working on tedious tasks less efficiently, by taking more breaks, tackling them somewhere fun (like your favorite cafe), or by treating yourself—the next idea on the list.
- Treat yourself to time spent on difficult tasks. One quick way to make a task more interesting is to reward yourself for how much time you spend on it. If you’re putting off writing, for example, you can set aside $1 for every five minutes you spend on the task to put towards some unnecessary food delivery later. Another idea: give yourself 30seconds of social media or news time for every minute you spend working out. (The exercise will also combat the negative effects of both.)
- Find a focus ritual that you love. Instead of pressuring your mind to focus, have a focus ritual you love; one that calms you, that you enjoy, and that prepares you to settle into an important task. I personally make a cup of matcha green tea, store my devices in another room, enable the distractions blocker on my computer, put on my noise-canceling headphones, and then get to work.
- Listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook while working on mind-numbing tasks. All three require a varying degree of active attention—for this reason, a podcast or audiobook might only work for the most tedious of tasks. If a task is effortless and repetitive, you might have attention to spare for something more fun, even if it’s just your favorite music.
- Meditate. Developing a meditation habit is a great way to step back from the stories you tell yourself about your work, including those related to the more aversive tasks that are prime for procrastination.
There are countless strategies to make your work more fun—these are just a few suggestions to get started. Ifthere’ssomething you’re putting off, its possible that the task isn’t fun enough. If you have the freedom to shift your surroundings and introduce a little incentive, it’s well worth the effort.