Ep. 5 – Productivity: Hidden Procrastination Habits + Two Quick Tips

Hello, productivity pals. Here are the Bottom Line on Tops (or the BLOTs) from this episode. 

  • We’re going to look at how procrastination and perfectionism are derailers of productivity;
  • We’re going to look at the power of dopamine that can work with us or against us; and
  • We’re going to look at two time-bound tips that can help you tackle your to-do’s.

So let’s learn how to hack your productivity. But before we do, let me ask you a question.

If you got an extra hour today, somebody just came up and gave you this bundle of an hour. How would you spend that time? Just think about that for a moment. What would you do with that found time? 

I’m asking you this because the more you focus on productivity, the more you’re going to find time. And then what you do with it is going to be the return on this investment that you’re making. So give that some thought. Because the more we dig into this space, the more opportunities there are to benefit from all of this education and information.  

So when we’re talking about productivity, think first about why this subject even appeals to you. Are you the type of person who multitasks all.the.time – like during meetings and events or even while watching TV? I used to do it all the time at my kids’ sports events. And if you’ve listened to my earlier episode on multitasking, you already know that it’s a myth.

So I guess I’ll say it this way. Are you trying to do multiple things at once? A lot of us do. Our devices tempt us into feeling that we can. And then we are using our time on weekends or vacations to try to tackle the things we didn’t get done while we were doing all the things at the same time. Or we find ourselves being immediately responsive to all the distractions in the course of a day. 

Can we actually let an email, or a text, or a ping on a device wait until we’re ready for it? Or does that feel too itchy? And think about how you react to found time. What if there’s a meeting or an event or a party that cancels? Do you ever just feel relieved? That’s super common, especially when we’re overscheduled & feeling overdone.  

There’s also a couple of different components of productivity we’re going to dig into today. One of them is called procrastination by productivity. And what I mean by this is I’m never more inclined to go into the kitchen and do the dishes unless there’s something more important that I need to do. More urgent. 

But our brain tricks us by saying, “Wait, if we go get that other thing done, if we check something off the list, then we’ve actually been productive today. No, I didn’t get around to doing that big thing. But I was busy.” 

It’s also a chemical response. When you feel a sense of achievement, regardless of what it is that you just achieved, your body receives a dopamine rush. These neurons that fire together now start getting wired together – they’re linking arms. And when your body feels this dopamine reward, your brain pays attention to it and says, hey, what caused that, and it makes a note to remind you to repeat it. 

So the next time you feel like you want to go online shopping when you’re supposed to be doing something else online, remember you got a reward sometime in the past for what is being called to you in the present that is distracting you. So pay attention to where are you finding yourself procrastinating but calling it productivity. When you are paying the bills or doing laundry or responding to that long list of non-urgent things when you should really be tackling that one bigger thing, or multiple larger things. And I’m just as guilty of this. 

Another way that we procrastinate by productivity is by research. If you’ve ever been looking to purchase something, and you’ve thought: Let me just read all these thousand user reviews. Let me go out and look at some articles on the best way that I should upload this, download this, add this to my cart. I once spent 45 minutes reading reviews of dog food on Amazon before I realized, hey, who’s even writing the reviews of dog food. Seriously. Sometimes, we need to just do the thing. But we convince ourselves that we’re being productive. 

Another way that we can procrastinate is with an old friend to some of us, called perfectionism. I’m not able to complete that, so, I’m gonna procrastinate by being a perfectionist. I’ll tell myself it’s not the time right now. I need to learn more, I need to get certified, maybe I should go back to school, you know what, I’ll just watch a bunch of online videos, and I’m not going to share this with anybody because it’s still a rough idea.

We allow our perfectionism to help us procrastinate because it feels socially acceptable. And, remember, our brain’s job is to keep us safe. Polishing the last 5% of a task for a few more months feels safe

So there are a few things we can do if we’re going to talk about hacking our productivity. And the objective here is mental momentum. This focus uses that same dopamine release to empower further progress, which is why my procrastination-by-productivity friends get all excited when they unload that dishwasher. 

We can use that same formula to kickstart, or to double click on, additional productivity. So here’s a couple things that we can put forward. One is a terrific concept by David Allen, who wrote a book (he wrote many, many books) but this one was about the 2-minute rule. This says that if the thing that you’re thinking about doing or the task in front of you at hand is going to take two minutes or less, just do it now. 

Wait a minute, Kristin, that feels like a distraction. Shouldn’t I make a whole list of all the things that I need to do? Maybe. But remember that procrastination by productivity, I can make lists all day long, I’ve got colored paper, I’ve got color coding on the computer. Ask yourself, if it’s going to take you longer to write down an item on a list than it is to just do that thing, do that thing. Done is better than organized, plus it turns on the engine to mental momentum. So that’s the two-minute rule. 

Most of us will wildly overestimate how long something is going to take. Even reading that one email that came in, it’s like, “I don’t have the energy for it right now.” But really just taking a look at it probably is going to take less than two minutes. So wherever you can, ask yourself: Is this a two-minute rule? 

And even if it’s longer than two minutes, the momentum you’re going to get from getting it done or getting it started is absolutely going to help you feel productive, and sprint forward to the next task. The other thing that you can do, especially with our distracted brain, is to do a 10-minute kickstart

This is where you release your brain from the burden of completion and give permission for progress. I’m going to say that again: The 10-minute kickstart is where you release your brain from the burden of completion and give yourself for progress.

You can say, “Okay, brain, I’m letting you off the Perfectionist hook. All I’m asking us to do right now is to simply start this thing.” And when you start the 10 minutes (which can be a concept or use an actual timer), you’re pushing back all of that additional landscape watching that our brain likes to do, and we say to it: “We can pay attention to all of that in nine and a half minutes. Right now we’re doing a kickstart.” 

And just like the 2-minute rule, oftentimes that task that felt so meaty and so big really can get a good healthy start, or sometimes even be finished within 10 minutes. But using time-bound productivity metrics allows our brain to release itself from the worry, the what if, the perfectionism, and just start it and tell your brain: “All we’re doing here is getting momentum. We don’t have to finish it.” 

Releasing that alone might help you complete something. But more importantly, it helps you start something. 

Finally, as you’re thinking about productivity, remember, it’s a practice. One that is going to require patience and repetition and curiosity. The act of trying anything is already a boost to your brain. Just listening to these last nine minutes has been a practice.

Bonus minutes add up to tangible time. These are the tools that build up your productivity muscles. And you’re already on your way. 

So until next time, take good care.

Show note: David Allen’s concept of the 2-minute rule from his book Getting Things Done. 

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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.