When was the last time you left a project to the last minute while fiddling with miscellaneous things like thumbing through Facebook? Not too long ago, we’ll bet.

We all procrastinate. There are a myriad of reasons why, but it is far from what is commonly thought to be plain laziness. “Whilst it is easy to see them as the same, it is important to make a distinction between the two. Procrastination has little to do with doing nothing. Instead, it’s about doing everything else but the task at hand,” says psychologist Dr Joel Yang of Mind what Matters Psychological Consultancy. “A key contributing factor is doubting one’s competence. No one likes to fail and that belief can likely lead to avoiding the task.”

Pictured: Dr Joel Yang of Mind what Matters Psychological Consultancy

To get your productivity on track and save you valuable time whether in the office or if you work from home, read on for our tips.

Prioritise your to-do list

Evaluate and set just one or two bigger, high-priority tasks to tackle for the day, and don’t add too much to your list. Ensure that each is something relevant and can be achieved realistically.

Break it down

Facing a monumental assignment can feel overwhelming and leave you wanting to throw your hands up and deal with it later. If you often struggle with this, break your workload down into manageable, bite-sized chunks instead. Create a specific timeline and allocate a period for the completion of each portion.

Effective planning

Establish a practice of planning out your to-do list for the week or day ahead, and ink it in your notebook or in a task management app, whichever resonates with you the most. Be specific about the tasks as well as the timeline in which you plan to finish each task.

Cut out the distractions

Social media (like that “quick” Facebook check) and instant messaging apps are obvious culprits but e-mails and even multi-tasking can also derail productivity. Not only do distractions waste parts of the day, you’ll also need time to get your focus back.

Ways to minimise temptation: Disable notifications from your e-mail, social media and messaging apps. Also close the 20 tabs you have open on your browser, except for those you’re actually working on. Instead, schedule pockets of time to check on them every half an hour or after a certain part of your work is done.

Design a smart and enjoyable workspace

Declutter your area to minimise unnecessary distractions. Think about having plants, the surrounding colours and find a spot with natural light. “Productivity is variable depending on the type of home office one may work in. If a brand emphasises boldness and confidence, then red is a good match,” says Dr Yang. “But generally speaking, light pastel tones are found to be more soothing to the eye and can help to boost periods of attention.”

Design: Chia Ching Kai

Set reminders and lock in a deadline for yourself

“Keep yourself accountable. Write it down and place it somewhere you will always see. It could be on your bathroom mirror, your mobile phone wallpaper, or on your refrigerator door,” Dr Yang shares. For tasks without a deadline, set it on your calendar or book an appointment in advance, like that spin class you’ve been putting off.

Recruit external support

Tell your work buddy, partner or family members about a goal you’re trying to attain and ask them to hold you to it. You can also hold each other accountable for your plans, and check in on the other’s progress regularly.

“There seem to be benefits to low-level procrastination, like
stress-reduction, in the short term. however, research indicates that
chronic procrastinators suffer more and perform worse than others.”

Dr Joel Yang

Recognise your productive periods and use your time effectively

For instance, if you don’t feel creative most mornings, start with something else like administrative work so your plate is clear for when your creative juices are flowing. But if you possess more energy in the first few hours of the day, this is the time to complete tasks that are the most challenging.

Reward yourself periodically

Celebrate each small win along the way as you advance towards your ultimate goal, be it a good cup of coffee, or a date night out with your partner after a tough project. “This conditions your brain into making a positive association with the change and reward, and makes you less likely to veer towards procrastination,” Dr Yang shares. In the same vein, combine a mundane chore with something that’s more enjoyable, like a pumped-up playlist or filling in that spreadsheet in a nice cafe.

Interior design: Wolf Wolf

Let go of perfectionism

Obsessing over perfection is fuel for procrastination. Simply dreading the thought of performing a task poorly can put some people off taking it on entirely. While you should certainly strive to perform to the best of your abilities, recognise that accomplishing a task can take time, and will more often than not, be imperfect. In other words, lower the bar and take that first step towards your goal.

Simply get started

Ultimately, it boils down to taking action. It may sound easy but it’s often the hardest part. But once you commit and get into the momentum of it, you may find that you don’t want to stop until you’re done.