I’ve talked before about how many executive function skills build on and interact with one another. But have you ever considered time management as a procrastination solution?
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Procrastination can be frustrating, especially if you’re neurodivergent and struggle with executive dysfunction. You might procrastinate all the time, even though you don’t want to. However, with the right time management strategies, you can overcome this hurdle and become more productive.
In this article, we will explore specific techniques designed to help you manage your time effectively. By implementing these strategies, you'll be on your way to greater productivity and reduced procrastination.
Identify Procrastination Triggers
Understanding your personal procrastination triggers is crucial for effective time management. Think about what situations or thoughts tend to lead to procrastination. It could be overwhelming tasks, fear of failure, or even lack of interest. By identifying these triggers, you can develop targeted solutions.
By asking yourself targeted questions, you can gain insight into the underlying causes of your procrastination.
- Which tasks do I consistently delay or avoid?
Take note of the specific types of tasks that you tend to procrastinate on. Are they tasks that require a lot of concentration, involve unfamiliar territory, or lack immediate rewards?
- What emotions or thoughts come up when I think about these tasks?
Pay attention to what surfaces when you think about the tasks you tend to procrastinate on. Are you experiencing fear, overwhelm, or a sense of inadequacy?
- Are there specific situations or environments that make me more prone to procrastinate?
Consider if certain situations or environments (or people) contribute to your procrastination. For example, do you find it harder to focus in a cluttered workspace, a noisy environment, or during certain times of the day?
Addressing Procrastination Triggers
Once you've identified your procrastination triggers, you need to develop strategies to address them effectively.
Break tasks into smaller steps:
If large, complex tasks trigger procrastination, break them down into smaller, manageable steps. Create a detailed to-do list that outlines the specific actions required for each task. By focusing on one step at a time, you can reduce feelings of overwhelm and see more immediate progress.
Practice self-compassion and positive self-talk:
Instead of berating yourself for procrastinating, offer yourself understanding and support. Everyone faces challenges and you need to accept that you will have setbacks. Replace negative self-talk with affirmations that promote motivation and self-belief.
Set realistic goals and deadlines:
Unrealistic goals and deadlines can contribute to procrastination. If your goals are unrealistic and therefore unachievable, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Assign deadlines to each smaller step of a task, so that you have clear targets to work towards and can see the progress.
Seek support and accountability:
Ask others for help in addressing your procrastination triggers. Talk with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor. Let them know what you’re struggling with and what your goals are. They can provide encouragement and hold you accountable.
Practice stress management techniques:
Procrastination can often be linked to stress and anxiety. Implementing stress management techniques can help alleviate these triggers. Participate in activities such as deep breathing, meditation, physical exercise, or journaling to reduce stress levels.
Strategies to Reduce Procrastination
Now that you’ve identified and addressed procrastination triggers, it’s time to investigate possible strategies to use as procrastination solutions. Remember that there are no one size fits all remedies. You need to experiment and test out strategies to find the ones that will work best with your brain and life.
“Eat the Frog” Technique:
The “Eat the Frog” technique means you tackle the most challenging or dreaded task first. I also refer to this as “worst first.” By completing the worst task early on, you remove the mental burden and create a sense of accomplishment. When you dread something and put it off, it hangs over your head like a dark cloud all day as a constant reminder that you still need to do it. By conquering the most challenging task and getting it over with, the rest of your day will run more smoothly because you can focus on more enjoyable things.
Time boxing involves setting a fixed time duration, or a “box,” for a particular task or activity. During that designated time box, you focus solely on the task at hand until the allocated time expires. For those of you who work well under pressure and procrastinate until deadlines are looming, time boxing might be for you. This technique creates a sense of urgency and forces you to dedicate a specific time period to a particular task. For example, allocate 60 minutes for answering emails, 45 minutes for a project, and 30 minutes for a break. During these time boxes, give your undivided attention to the designated task.
In some ways, it can feel like a beat-the-clock game because you’re trying to get the task done. However, the idea of time boxing is that you devote that time to the task regardless of whether it is completed. It’s not about finishing the task, but I know many of you will indeed treat it that way. Time boxing can be especially useful for tasks with no strict deadlines or tasks that tend to expand and fill the available time.
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“5-Minute Start” Method:
Getting started is often the most challenging part of a task. The “5-Minute Start” method helps overcome initial resistance by committing to work on a task for just five minutes. I always tell my clients we can convince ourselves to do almost anything for 5 minutes. So if you’ve been putting something off, make yourself do it for 5 minutes.
Set a timer and give your full attention to the task for that short period. Often, you'll find that once you've started, you're more likely to continue beyond the five minutes. However, there’s no guilt or shame if you do stop at 5 minutes. No, the task isn’t done yet, but it’s further along than it was, so that’s a win. And if you do another 5 minutes later today, you’ll be even further along.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that emphasizes focused work intervals followed by short breaks. I’ve mentioned this technique before because it’s become very popular.
Start by setting a timer for 25 minutes and dedicate your attention solely to the task at hand. After the 25 minutes, take a short five-minute break to relax or stretch. Repeat this cycle three to four times and then take a more extended break of 15-30 minutes. This technique helps improve concentration, combats mental fatigue, and enhances productivity, particularly for individuals with executive dysfunction.
Note—it’s okay if you don’t do 25 minutes. Feel free to adjust what your Pomodoro is. Maybe you need to work in 15-minute chunks because that’s how long you’re able to sustain focus. Make it work for you.
Visual Cues and Reminders:
Visual cues and reminders can serve as helpful prompts to stay on track with your tasks. For many people, simply having a schedule isn’t enough. They need help sticking to it. Visual cues draw your attention and help you stay organized and focused on your priorities. Here are some different ways to incorporate visual cues:
- Whiteboard or Chalkboard: Use a whiteboard or chalkboard in your workspace to jot down important tasks, deadlines, or motivational messages. You can easily erase and update the information as needed, keeping it visible and top of mind throughout the day. I know some people who have a giant whiteboard on their wall and then a small one on their desk. Plus, it’s easy to use different colors for different tasks or priorities.
- Digital Reminders and Alerts: Take advantage of digital tools and applications to set reminders and alerts. Use calendar apps, task management apps, or digital sticky note widgets on your computer or mobile device to display reminders and prompts.
When I’m working with a client, I often suggest the use of alarms/alerts. It doesn’t matter if you have 50 of them set on your phone as long as it works. I suggest that instead of using default sounds, you use different sounds for different tasks. Otherwise, it becomes easy to ignore the sound, almost like background noise.
- Visual Timers or Countdown Clocks: Invest in a visual timer or countdown clock that provides a visual representation of time passing. These devices can be placed on your desk or wall, serving as a constant reminder of the time available for a task or the approaching deadline. There are also time cubes that you flip over for each task.
- Habit Trackers: Use habit tracker apps or physical habit tracker templates to visually monitor your progress on specific tasks or habits. These trackers provide a visual representation of your daily or weekly achievements, helping you stay motivated and accountable. Plus, they’re fun to fill out or color in. Doing so might give you the dopamine hit you crave.
- Color-Coded Systems: Create a color-coded system to visually represent different categories or priorities. Assign specific colors to various tasks, projects, or deadlines. This visual distinction allows you to quickly identify and prioritize your activities at a glance. Don’t make it overly complex though, or it will become too much work to keep up.
Remember, the key is to choose visual cues and reminders that resonate with you. If you don’t care about pretty things, color coding will be meaningless. If watching the clock stresses you out, a physical timer is not the way to go.
Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you in terms of visibility, effectiveness, and personal appeal. The goal is to create a visual environment that supports your productivity and keeps important information and tasks at the forefront of your mind.
Having an accountability partner can make a significant difference in managing procrastination. Choose someone you trust, such as a friend or family member, who can support and encourage you in your journey. Share your goals and deadlines with them, and ask for gentle reminders or progress check-ins.
Being accountable to someone else adds an element of responsibility and can help keep you motivated and on track. For some people, this works because they don’t want to let their partner down. Not meeting a goal or completing a task would disappoint their partner and as people-pleasers, we never want to do that. But make sure you choose someone who will be supportive and not critical.
Procrastination can be a significant challenge for neurodivergent people with executive dysfunction, but with the right time management strategies, you can overcome it. It's important to tailor these strategies to your individual needs and preferences. Experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you. Remember to celebrate your progress and reward yourself along the way. As always, it’s a process, but you've got this!