Let's talk about procrastination

We spend a lot of time thinking about productivity. So much time that we're even writing a book about it! Last week, at our annual retreat in Stowe, Vermont, we dedicated an entire morning to our 32-hour work week experiment. If we want to reduce the hours we work, we have to be sure those hours count. A lot of topics came up - everything from removing distractions, to improved schedules, to how we prioritize our work. The one item that stuck out the most to me was the potential for procrastination.

I think many people look at procrastination as a lazy person's problem. Something that only unproductive people battle. People tend to dismiss or ignore it. The reality is that procrastination is natural, and we all experience it every day. All of us have also experienced what it's like to break through procrastination. In most cases it's that focused task you keep putting off, but then you finally sit down and realize it wasn't as hard as you thought. Or you spent an entire week procrastinating on "the one thing I need to get done" and finally force yourself and finish it on Friday. But what did you do the rest of the week?

For the most part, people are highly motivated and dedicated to their work. What I realized during our discussion is that while procrastination is very personal (and emotional), the way our industry has shifted work in the last several years has encouraged procrastination to be commonplace. We all talk about short attention spans, the number of times we pick up our phones, the constant flip from Slack, to email, to Twitter, or whatever. These are all procrastination enablers.

The next ten times you pick up your phone to check your inbox, think about why you are doing it. We treat it like we're waiting for that exciting package to arrive in the mail, yet there is nothing we really expect to be there. These small "rewards" turn into a never ending loop, eventually leading to look back on the week feeling unsatisfied. In some cases working remotely can have this affect as well. You sit down to write, stare at a blank page, then decide to quickly throw in that load of laundry instead. Reactions like this have trained people into being habitual procrastinators, always looking for something to react to next. If these reactive habits didn't exist, people would most likely get bored. And for creative people, boredom inspires creation.

For our team we look at these introspective moments as an opportunity to improve the way we work. Over the next few months we're going to experiment more on our 32-hour work week. Part of this effort will be recording each day we were able to achieve deep work - a solid couple hours of uninterrupted progress. We'll be experimenting with turning off Slack again, as well as documenting the difference between deep and shallow work. As we go through this process we'll have to think about the overarching systems (schedules, tools, goals) but also, and maybe more importantly, our personal habits of breaking procrastination, getting in the flow, and organizing our time.

The end result of our morning meeting on retreat was that 32-hour work weeks are here to stay. It's now up to us as individuals, and as a team, to make sure we are self-aware about our productivity to achieve our goals and keep it going.


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