BSG Bites 2: Procrastinating Perils

I’ll just take a 5 minute break and do a bit of internet shopping for birthday presents – it will be great to find my friend a nice little something and regular breaks are very important for productivity!

Actually, I could probably do with tackling a bit of this laundry too.

Ah, looks like my plant is wilting a bit – don’t want to kill this one too. I’d better give it a quick water.

Back to work.

You know what – I’ll make a coffee first. Some caffeine will definitely help me to focus.

Are we out of milk? The shop is only a two minute walk away, and we are encouraged to go for regular walks… it’s good for our minds and will help me to concentrate later! What else do I need while I’m there? Shall I make a quick list?

Ok. Finally back to work. Quite a bit to catch up on now, and 5 more emails. Don’t stress. It’s fine. I’ve got this; I might just have to work a little late tonight. A bit of music might help me to concentrate – but what? I’ll just have a quick browse.

A funny video has been sent into the group – that’ll put me in a better mood for working. For sure.

Looks like the dog wants to play.  

I am a bit hungry…

Is that the door?

Working from home gives us flexibility and convenience. It can help with our wellbeing, it saves us time commuting, it’s more comfortable, it enables us to spend more time with loved ones, can save us money, let us spend more time on hobbies and it can assist with caring for children and pets.

But for many, working from home is also the perfect environment for procrastination. There are ample distractions, and when your colleagues aren’t physically present to naturally discourage you being away from your desk, and when you aren’t in an office (where there isn’t much else you can do but work – except of course regular catch ups at the tea point), it is easy to seek to be productive in other ways or to become easily distracted from the task at hand.

We often berate ourselves for being lazy when we procrastinate, but we know deep down that it isn’t true: deciding to clean the microwave instead of working isn’t lazy – it takes time and effort, and it needs to be done! It’s not like you’re avoiding work to watch Netflix now, is it? You would never do that – you’re just a great housekeeper. Cleanliness is good for the soul, after all. 

But why do we do it, and most of the time, why do we do it against our best judgment? We are usually highly driven and are accomplished; it wasn’t easy for us to get where we are. We are ambitious and we are hard-working. We know that we should be replying to that partner’s email, finishing that report or reviewing that contract. We don’t want to be working until late doing it and we know that ultimately, by procrastinating, that important task is going to take us longer and cause us more stress. And much of the time, this is why procrastination makes us feel so guilty, anxious and exhausted.

Being kinder to ourselves and treating ourselves with compassion is a helpful starting point. We are living in difficult times and still adapting to new ways of working – even almost a year into the pandemic. Many of us are frustrated, and many are trying to tackle being part-time teachers, chefs and nurses as well as full-time lawyers. Conflicting commitments aside, psychologists say that procrastination may be a form of avoidance that can be brought on by perfectionism and self-doubt (if I don’t start the task, I can’t fail to do it perfectly), stress (productive procrastination can give us instant gratification that makes us feel better about ourselves, and scrolling social media can give our brains temporary distraction from negative emotions) and boredom (we seek excitement and novelty which we might not get from otherwise mundane tasks). This, combined with the challenges of COVID-19 and being surrounded by distractions in our homes, can create a perfect storm for procrastination. By recognising this, treating ourselves with kindness and seeking to identify the root causes of why we are procrastinating, we can hope to boost our motivation and rise to our daily challenges.

The same techniques won’t work for everyone, and it may be a case of trial-and-error to see what works best for you, in order to prevent you from distracting yourself from submitting those time entries by washing the windows, alphabetising your spice rack, serial-ordering miscellaneous household items from Amazon or scrolling endlessly through Instagram.

As a starting point it may be helpful to consider how you will feel when you’ve completed that task you have been putting off. Pretty great, huh? Maybe crossing items off lists works for you. Maybe a chat with your manager about how best to prioritise tasks could help. You might create rewards for yourself – once you’ve finished this task, you can reward yourself with binge-watching your favourite TV show this evening. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider breaking your tasks up into small chunks. Ask yourself – if I were to do this task – what would be the first simple step I need to take? Making that first step will help. If social media is an issue – you might consider deleting your Twitter app during working hours.   

Have a think about why you’re procrastinating and come up with an action-plan to tackle the root cause. But most of all, treat yourself with compassion – procrastination is a complex phenomenon worsened by the pandemic and contrary to now aged beliefs – not laziness or poor time management.

Now, I’m just going to watch some highlights of the best-ever sporting moments. Just for 5 minutes. For a break. Breaks are good. But first – a snack? I now need to take that laundry out of the machine…

By Kate Marrs, PR Officer of the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group