We procrastinate when we’re stuck: we either don’t know where to start, or what to do next. Happily Kelly Exeter’s discovered a simple procrastination activity that’ll bust right through those mental blocks.
I didn’t know how to kick off this article on procrastination so I did what all good writers do … I procrastinated starting it by spending time ‘researching’ what other people had written on the topic.
Here’s what I discovered: pretty much every article on procrastination starts with the author bemoaning the fact that they’d procrastinated writing it.
Since I’m not one to turn up my nose at something that’s been tried, tested and found to work, I decided that’s how I’d kick my article off too.
Phew. Hard bit done.
Until I went to write the next bit and found I was stuck again.
Given I’d already played the ‘research’ card, I decided to employ the next best procrastination tool I had. I headed to Facebook for half an hour.
Incredibly, when I came back to my article I still didn’t know what to write next (can you believe it?!). And my mouse hand began to twitch the cursor towards Facebook again.
That’s the point where I knew I had to get serious. I had to invoke the one form of procrastination I know actually makes me more productive.
I went for a walk.
The length of my procrasti-walks vary from being ’round the block’ (five minutes or less) to ‘something decent’ (20 minutes to the shops) – but no matter how long or short, the result is always the same: I’m always more productive when I return to my desk.
Why is this?
1. Walking creates space
I’ve heard it said that if you can see far and wide, you can think far and wide. When you consider the size of the space you’re working in compared to the vastness of being outdoors, it’s easy to see how getting away from your desk and spending a few minutes outside can boost your productivity once you’re back in your seat!
2. It changes the environment
There are a few reasons why clicking through to Facebook and YouTube are poor ways to procrastinate, but the main one is this: when we come back to what we were working on, nothing’s changed. We’re still in the same virtual space and physical position that we were in before. Studies have shown that walking through a doorway can actually reset the brain (it’s been suggested this is why we can forget what we are looking for when we enter a new room). So getting up and walking away from your desk is a great way to get your brain to ‘start fresh’ and come at something from a different direction.
3. It gets your brain going
Studies have also shown mild to moderate exercise (like walking!) allows people to perform better on tests of memory and attention. The act of moving our bodies causes our hearts to pump faster which increases oxygen circulation all over our bodies, including to our brains. That’s why, when we come back to our desks after even the briefest walk, we’re mentally sharper and able to focus better.
4. It wakes you up
The sluggish feeling of tiredness and fatigue is a total productivity killer. As mentioned above, going for a walk increases blood flow to all parts of your body. This provides a better energy boost than any cup of coffee ever will.
5. Walking is a form of ‘strategic procrastination’
I mentioned at the top of this piece how I like to do ‘research’ or head to Facebook at the first sign of a roadblock. These are bad forms of procrastination. Going for a walk however is considered strategic procrastination or strategic delay. Because walking doesn’t require any mental exertion, our brain is able to sub-consciously work on the problem that caused the procrastination in the first place. By the time you get back to your desk, it’s almost guaranteed that the roadblock that sent you out the door in the first place will be cleared.
So here’s my challenge to you today. The very next time you catch your hand twitching the mouse towards your browser bar simply push away from the desk, walk through your front door, walk around the block, and then come back.
I’ll be so interested to hear the effect this procrastination activity has on your ability to get through your to-do list.