Simple Visual Cues to Beat Procrastination and Become Super Productive

Build momentum to boost your performance by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash

Lockdown and stress can cause significant disruption to your health, routine and productivity. Work from home has become an unescapable factor in life. Using visualisation techniques can be of great help to fight procrastination. Below you will find my approach. I have called it “Summit”.

We all know that when you feel stuck and not motivated, it does not help matters. Whether it is the job, relationships or life, many of us can experience a lack of motivation. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps the globe, and lockdown measures shut our lives, staying productive at home has become more challenging.
I suffer as much as you. I am a man of passion and love to lead my research group to fill knowledge gaps that affect us all. Despite my curiosity, I find it hard to motivate myself and do the things I usually love! It is a strange sensation, not feeling the urge to write that new manuscript, not push that project forward or suffer indecision. Guilt wipes out the enthusiasm and passion for what I do well — Frontier research in molecular biology.

Being stuck at home does not help your cause

It is already pretty clear where you can find yourself. In a negative spiral. A situation where motivational issues cause distress and distress reduced my drive to succeed and move forward. It took me a while to realise, but now that I do, I can try to reverse the trajectory towards the positive. The question, however, is how?

One way of turning the tide is to take small steps first and try to build momentum. Taking this action is easier said than done but with a little help, and the tool described below, possible.

Here is how I try to go about fighting my procrastination. It is not perfect and mostly based on my experience. If it helps me, it could benefit you too.

Visual cues

I respond to prompts and realise that visual signals are essential. I love seeing a piece of work taking shape (for example, a story I write that comes together). Visible evidence of progress lifts my mood; it gives me energy and motivates me to continue. That energy helps me push on and build momentum. Power and momentum allow me to spiral upwards and boost productivity. This scenario comes with a big caveat.

You need the initial spark to break the deadlock and create momentum.

In the absence of a visual cue that signals progress and that can motivate me, how do I get started? Here is where the summit mantra comes in.

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

Why Summit?

Summit is my visual representation of a challenge. I am afraid of heights. You can find me clinging on to a mountain crying for help. I hate it. Importantly, my fears set in when I am standing still in an uncomfortable position (with a drop below me, or not standing comfortably) or when I have time to think about what I am doing. I have to move forward.

If I stand still, I slide backwards. I stand still when I am not productive. Procrastination makes me suffer mentally causes a backward slide.

Despite my fears about heights, I enjoy the outdoors and the fantastic views once I reach the top of a mountain. That view (along with finding a pub at the end of a hike) is my reward for keeping panic attacks at bay. The prospect of reaching that view (or the pub) gives me that incentive to move. Once on the move, I stop worrying and start racing to the top.

Summit in practice

I use a visual cue to remind me to push forward. I use a drawing that shows a mountain summit. Every time I walk into my office to start the day, I will see it. Without fail.

Next to my visual cue, I write my project list. My list features significant pieces of work that I need to complete soon. Along with each task, I set a priority level. I have discussed my priority setting system previously, but the critical thing to remember is that for me to climb towards the summit, I have to tackle jobs. I define the assignments relevant to my career goal as most important.

Summit is the visual cue that tells me to start the push.

I make a list of smaller jobs (a significant task broken into small milestones) to start my focussed work. When I complete a small job, I strike it from the list. When I finish a task, I create a physical and visual cue. A cross out to celebrate progress. These little ceremonies lift my mood, give me the energy and momentum.

With momentum comes productivity. A productive day makes me feel better!

The summit mantra and its meaning are personal. Summit helps because I have a strong emotional and physical response when I think about heights. When I reach a peak, I have successfully challenged my anxieties, which triggers a strong positive emotional response. This massive boost is the reward I think of when times are tough.

I hope that this approach or strategy will help you as much as the summit mantra has assisted me. Identify your mantra try to represent it visually. Kickstart your day with this cue and use completion of small tasks to create momentum. I hope this approach will help you fight procrastination or indecision when work is stressful.

Good Luck!

Edgar Huitema is Writer for The Beerologist and scientific consultant at ExtrAnalytics.

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