Are you procrastinating right now? Me too, so I thought I’d write some tips that help me stop. It’s easier to overcome procrastination when we understand why we do it. According to the Procrastination Research Group at the University of Sheffield, “procrastination has a great deal to do with short-term mood repair and emotion regulation”. In short, if we feel bad, we put things off.
With the limited hours we have in a day and To Do lists getting longer, there are ways we can harness our focus and GSD (get sh*t done).
How do you drive focus in the present moment? Produce dopamine, naturally. How can we cultivate this in a safer, more sustainable way?
To answer that, let’s take a step back – what is Dopamine? Dopamine is a brain chemical called a neurotransmitter, which talks with the rest of the body by transmitting signals from the brain. This brain chemical allows us to feel pleasure, concentration, bliss, and motivation, to name a few. When there is a lack of dopamine, it’s easy to feel foggy, disinterested, and completely unengaged. This graphic depicts the pathways in the brain that contribute to increased cognitive function.
With that in mind, let’s look at natural triggers that increase our dopamine and encourage us to find a state of flow.
Enter the Flow State
What is Flow? It can be described as an optimal state of consciousness. According to Steven Kotler, it’s those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and all aspects of performance go through the roof. By utilizing flow triggers, we prime our brains to get to work.
Flow state is when you’re fully immersed in the present moment. You could be playing with your kids, going for a run, or working on a creative project. Time seems to dissolve, you don’t even think to check the clock.
“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.” – Lao Tzu
So how do we get here?
Produce dopamine from the inside out:
Are you getting the right nutrition? When we feel our best, we perform our best. Everybody is different and a dietician can help you figure out what’s right for you. I’ve noticed that when I start my morning with a pour-over, a dash of vanilla almond milk, and a teaspoon of sugar, I get a rush of energy for about an hour, followed by a significant crash in not only my physical energy but my cognitive energy as well. Starting at the physical level, a high intake of sugar and caffeine have been studied to have an adverse effect on the body. Here are some steps that I’ve taken to self-regulate:
- Swapping my daily morning coffee for a glass of lemon water or a splash of apple cider vinegar to kickstart my digestion and keep my brain focused.
- Getting a full night’s sleep and prioritizing my morning routine to work for me has increased my focus and motivation when I open my laptop to start my workday.
- My yoga practice has been an incredible tool in my journey. Yoga moves you from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system – which eases anxiety and allows you to enter a more relaxed state.
- Wake up at 5 am. When my days are packed, the first things I stop doing are the things that help me focus. Starting my days gives me time and space to practice yoga, journal, and meditate.
- Plan ahead. I’m a huge fan of free handwriting but also benefit from using a planner. The Best Self Journal has been a great tool for tracking and accomplishing my goals.
These small, but significant shifts have made it easier for me to enter a state of flow when working on projects that require more of my attention. I will say – I still enjoy my coffee, I just drink them for the extra boost on days I could use a pick me up, but I’m always sure to drink two cups of water for every cup of coffee I have.
Switch up your environment:
Part of the battle to overcome procrastination comes with understanding the task at hand is almost never as difficult or painful as we make it out to be. Our brains have a way of creating stories in our head – making mountains out of molehills if you will. As humans, we have cognitive biases – conscious or not, they impact the way we work.
There are easy ways you can switch up your environment (without leaving home!): Choose a new backdrop, buy a plant, rearrange your desk, work in your backyard, put a bird feeder on your window, go for a walk! The novelty of changing your environment produces dopamine which helps tighten your focus and make it easier to get into a flow state.
The first thing I do when I find myself in a slump is to change my environment. I know that if I can sit down for thirty minutes and begin the task at hand, I make it over the first hurdle – sometimes a change of scenery is what I need to get out of a funk.
Create a To-Do list:
I love To-Do lists. Like, so much. The satisfaction I get from crossing something off that list is similar to eating a home-cooked meal after an intense workout. Instead of staring at a blank page, start editing something you’ve already written. Instead of staring at the top of your To-Do list not knowing where to start, check off the small items and use that momentum to build the snowball effect. I first learned about this concept when I was paying off debt, but I found it applies quite nicely to your To-Do list as well. If we identify what exactly we need to do, it helps ease the anxiety surrounding starting the task at hand.
Collaborate with a common goal:
Some people read collaboration and roll their eyes, others get stoked about it. To each their own, but you can’t ignore the fact that some tasks can be more enjoyable working with others in addition to the spike in dopamine one gets when receiving recognition and praise from another person. I recently saw Jason Dingee, a Recruiter in Chicago, mention how he and a colleague created a sourcing challenge. One position, thirty minutes, ten candidates. At the end of the allotted time, they shared their 10 best candidates and whoever has the lowest response rate pays for dinner! Imagine how beneficial this could be if you took an hour a week to jam out some emails with your hiring manager?
We’re human, procrastination is normal. It will vary from day to day, but I hope this shows you that you can have so many new ideas to hone your focus and find your flow. When all else fails, just start. You got this.
*I am not a doctor nor a healthcare practitioner, so please do not accept these ideas as medical advice.
* This post in no way condones the use of illegal drugs that are related to dopamine production.
* Every body is different, and brain chemistry is not easy to understand. If you feel that something may not be “right,” especially in light of the pandemic, speak to a healthcare professional to seek guidance.