When the going gets tough, the tough work smarter

I’m not a huge believer in the saying «when the going gets tough, the tough gets going», and I very much subscribe to the engineering school of thought of finding smart solutions to repeated problems. If you find yourself struggling with the same thing day after day the best solution will never be gritting your teeth and simply “pushing through” whatever obstacle you’re facing, it is implementing a sustainable system to deal with it. This goes for almost any repeated issue, whether it is conflict at work, a leaky faucet, or that clothes pile on the chair in the corner. Today however, I’m taking on the daily annoyance of distractions and procrastination.

I try to implement as many smart systems in my life as possible, because an efficient system is a great way to mitigate a procrastination-prone mind. This experiment could be likened to running a diagnostic on your computer, only here the computer is your “monkey mind” trying to distract you from work.

When you sit down to work, grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and put it next to you. Whenever you get the urge to do something completely unrelated to your work, write it down on the sheet of paper. It doesn’t matter how slight the urge is, just write down whatever impulse you get. When your break comes, review the list, and see if any of the things were really that urgent. Odds are there will be a lot of “check Instagram”-s and “check Snapchat”-s on the list. Not only does this make you aware of how unnecessary many of these urges are, the list also gives you an opportunity to review what your main “procrastination tools” are, and lets you figure out how to counter them.

Does wanting to use your phone come up a lot? Try to put it in airplane mode in another room. Better yet, turn it off and give it to your roommate, so that each time you want to check your phone, you have to tell that person why you want your phone back. You’ll probably be a bit embarrassed to say “yeah, I want my phone so I can play the latest King game instead of doing my homework”.

Are Facebook or Instagram your greatest vices? Put a timed blocker on your computer, and delete the apps off your phone. The blockers will not be disabled unless you turn off your computer, and having to download the apps again gives you time to think while typing in your password “Do I really want to check Instagram so badly that I’m downloading the app again?” That’ll hopefully be enough of a time gap to set your mind straight again.

Do you find your mind trailing off and singing along to the music you’re listening to? I’m sorry to say, you probably need to find some less stimulating music. Try to listen to soundboards instead, to give you that ambient background noise, and treat yourself during your breaks to whatever music you like.

Do you constantly want to get up to brew more coffee/tea, taking bathroom breaks, cleaning, or doing any other type of pseudo-productive work? For the snacking/caffeine situation, do as you would when reading at the library, and pack a little lunch for yourself, and use a thermos to have hot beverages on hand at all times. If you find studying/working in your home environment disruptive to your workflow, go work someplace else, like in a café or at the school library. If that isn’t an option, grab another sheet of paper and make a simple to-do-list on all the things you want to tidy up or little house projects you want to get done, and set an alarm on your phone for later in the evening. That way your mind is put at ease that you won’t forget it, and you have a go-plan for when you want to tackle the work later.

The easing of the mind is also an important part of the initial list creating, because a lot of what makes us check our social media or click “clickbait-y” headers for blogs or videos is the FOMO aspect of it. When you write it down for later, you know you won’t be missing out, and you can reward yourself by watching that vlog, or reading that article that you wanted to click earlier while working.

Notice that none of these pieces of advice are “just do the work and focus!” or “just think about something else,” because our minds are not created that way. We want instant gratification, and that’s part of the human experience. I think a lot of people are discouraged by seeing how many things productive people get done, when all you’re seeing are the end results of their work. What isn’t obvious are all the breaks and all the mindless surfing and twitter-browsing that went into finishing their projects. Of course, there will always be outliers that do not struggle with procrastination, and some instances will require you to deal with some level of discomfort and boredom, but I’m hoping that this has inspired some of you to deal with some of your greatest time sinks.