Funny how this happens: when I'm putting off a project that needs to get done but is complicated, challenging, or just plain boring, I suddenly become highly efficient at doing other things. If I'm procrastinating on, say, writing an article, I might tackle my laundry, weed out some files, reorganize my business card collection, and clean out the fridge. Why? Because all of those tasks are available to me in my home office, and they're a way of feeling productive even as I'm avoiding what I really need to be doing.
At times like these, sometimes a change of venue is in order. Occasionally, it's as simple as taking my laptop to the sofa rather than sitting at my desk; at other times, I need to leave the house--and its many potential distractions--altogether. If you, too, sometimes fall into the procrastination trap, here's how to get yourself out of it by changing your location, and how to choose a spot that'll let you get things done.
Why It Works
I'm no productivity machine, but I'm generally pretty good about completing the tasks and projects I set out to do. So why do I become a master at avoiding the tricky or unpleasant ones by seeking out something--anything!--else to accomplish? Because I get an immediate jolt of satisfaction when I finish a chore or complete a task for which I can see results, and that satisfaction is like a sugar rush: sweet and quick.
The more challenged I am by a difficult task facing me, the more likely I am to find other things to do as distractions, and when I'm in my home office, there are often distractions aplenty. Taking myself somewhere else--to a coffee shop, to the library, to the park down the street--takes me away from those distractions and helps me focus on what I really need to be doing.
Choosing a Spot
Depending on the degree to which I'm procrastinating, sometimes a change of venue within my house will do: taking my computer to the sofa takes me away from my calendar, phone, projects folders, and the other stuff on my desk and provides a sufficient shot of focus when I've been engaging in low-level procrastination. Other times, though, I need to be out of the house completely, so I'll choose a spot that has other things going on that can serve as white noise but not so much activity that I'll be distracted by something else.
A client I met with this week told me she's been putting off organizing and categorizing her business expense receipts, and she decided she wouldn't get this project done if she tried to tackle it at home. We decided she'd pack up her receipts and take them to the library, where she wouldn't be able to take phone calls, check e-mail, reorganize her bookshelves, or lose herself in other tasks. Because this task requires peace and quiet for her, as well as the ability to spread stuff out while she works, the library is an ideal spot.
Deciding What to Take
Regardless of where I go to focus on a task, I need to be sure to take only what I need to get that task done, and to avoid taking anything I could use as a distraction. If I'm doing a computer-based task, I'll take my laptop, but will usually turn off my WiFi connector so I'm not tempted by the lures of the Internet. If I need to work on a writing project, I'll often take nothing more than a pad and a pen. I generally have my cell phone with me, but I keep it on vibrate and stick it in my purse so I'm not tempted to check it regularly or, say, finally call that friend I've been meaning to get in touch with for months.
I also challenge myself not to give in to temptations at the venue I've chosen. If I'm at a coffee shop, for example, and see a newspaper someone has left behind, I make a deal with myself that I can read it only once I've finished what I came there to do.
Making This Work for You
Want to give this practice a try? Start by identifying a task or project that's important to you but that you've been putting off, and then choose at least part of it to tackle elsewhere. For example, if you've been meaning to update the text on your website, you might spend some time out of your home or office (or wherever you generally work) reviewing a printout of what's on your site now and jotting some notes about changes you'd like to make. (Doing this on paper decreases the likelihood that you'll be drawn away from the task by something online.)
Choose a spot that doesn't involve a lot of travel time, that doesn't offer alternate distractions you won't be able to resist, and that features an environment that matches your working style, whether that means a busy spot with lots of background noise or somewhere with very little going on and almost no noise. And then get down to work!
Me, I'm off to sit in my backyard and spend some time revising my business plan. This task has been on my To Do list for the past week and has been pushed aside by one too many things. The plan, a pad, a pen, and the quiet and sunshine of the yard are all I need at this point to get unstuck.