A Simple Mental Trick to Overcome Momentary Procrastination

Try this next time you feel stuck

Illustration by Drawkit

A few weeks ago I was sitting at home at the end of a long work day. It was a Thursday around 5pm, all my 9–5 tasks were done, and I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to start working on my blog. I had to proofread one article, and do some website maintenance. I’ve been working remote for my 9–5 for the past 2 months and half, and maintaining a consistent/productive work routine has proven challenging. The lines between private life and work keep getting blurrier. Sitting at the same desk (my living room table) all day with barely anything to interrupt the flow or have a small break is really hard.

I usually work on my blog from early morning until 9am, at which point I will switch over to my 9–5, and then back to my blog around 5 or 6pm. On that specific Thursday, I really had to finish this project, and couldn’t postpone it. How was I going to get my act together? Well, I resorted to one of my all-time productivity hacks that has never failed me:

I packed my stuff, got out the door, and rode my bike to a different location.

Create an environment switch

A change in environment has been scientifically proven to sparkle creativity. Why? Because new ideas arise from stimulus. If you’re sitting at the same desk all day, with the same surroundings, you increase the chances of your brain going numb. Before most countries entered lockdown around the world, this was true at the office as well, but you still had options to have breaks, equivalent to an environmental switch.

A coffee break, an extended lunch session, a chat at your colleagues’s desk… But now that most of us lucky enough to have kept our job are working from home 24/7, those breaks are not here anymore. You have to consciously create them for yourself.

Switching it up

Where I live, all cafés, restaurants, even libraries, are closed until at least next month. Therefore, I don’t bike up to a cozy coffee shop but to my office building instead. It’s mostly empty there, quiet and a little bit cold in design, but it does the job of triggering a stimulus in my brain. When I get there between 5 and 6pm it’s only me, a few employees from other offices staying late, and the cleaning guy.

If you can’t bike to the office after work like I do and the cafés are closed where you live, don’t despair. Here are a few more ideas to switch up your environment:

  • Change the location of your working station inside your apartment/house. Go to another room.
  • Put something new on your desk. Flowers, a toy, a book, a piece of art… anything novel helps.
  • Take a break and change your clothes. You’ll be surprised how well this works, and how fresh it makes you feel.
  • Go for a quick walk outside.
  • Call a friend for 10 minutes.

The idea is to get rid of the “static stuff”, to get out of the same loop. It’s not as fun to do it at your place as it is to go have a latte somewhere else, but we all have to adapt for now. Plus, it’s cheaper to stay home.

In conclusion

When I got to the office on that Thursday evening, I not only created a mental switch (and consequently a creative stimulus), I also put myself in an environment where there was not much else to do than work. The place was almost empty and there were zero distractions in sight.

I went to the cafeteria and grabbed a chair at a small table. A guy was there, having a late-night meeting. I popped on my headphones, started listening to rain sounds (another cool focus trick for another day), and I knew that for the next 90 minutes to 2 hours, I was going to get work done 10x faster than if I had stayed at home. When I left to go have dinner at 7:10pm, I was confident I had squeezed every last drop of my creativity and productivity juices for the day, and it felt awesome.

I hope that amidst the current situation, this article will help you find a way to create an environment switch for yourself, and get your creative juices flowing again.

Good luck, and enjoy the journey.

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