I had never really considered myself a procrastinator...until my first six months in at HubSpot.
The first few months went well. Really well. I had a detailed 100-Day Plan from my manager with projects to achieve, items to check off the list, and clear deadlines. By the time I had completed the plan, I was energized by how much challenging work there was to be done, and by the projects I could tackle that would make an impact on our business and customers.
For some reason this was harder than I had expected. By the end of every day I felt like I’d only dabbled in some projects and hadn’t moved the needle as much as I could have. I couldn’t figure out why: My manager had struck the right balance of hands-on and hands-off, the goals were clear, and I was excited to be starting a new adventure. It wasn’t until I talked to a former colleague who was experiencing the same feelings and challenges that I was that I realized what was going on.
Her definition and ‘symptoms’ of procrastinating were closely reflective of how I had been feeling. I was confused: When did I become a procrastinator? That didn’t sound like me. Then, after reflecting on my previous job I realized that I did, in fact, procrastinate. I had just worked at such regimented companies with overbearing bosses and vanity deadlines, that my procrastinator tendencies had never had the chance to make an appearance.
But at HubSpot, total autonomy isn’t just an idea - it’s how we work. I got more responsibility than I’d ever had when I joined HubSpot; it was the first time I had the freedom to set my own milestones, set expectations with stakeholders, and shape the way our team impacted the company’s bottom line. Combine that with HubSpot’s insanely flexible workplace - work from where you want, when you want, don’t worry about tracking your time off, etc. - and my procrastination was set free, unbound by the absence of micro managers.
This was the workplace culture I had been looking for, but I hadn’t expected to feel such a jolt of culture shock when I’d finally found it. Impostor syndrome immediately kicked in following this realization. “I have such a poor work ethic”, I told myself. “If they find out I’m a procrastinator deep down, I’ll be fired.” I was consumed by self-doubt. Now, don’t get me wrong - I still did work and shipped projects that I’m proud of. But I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential with that voice in my head.
So, I did what Kat would have done before she knew she was procrastinator: I got to work.
To My Fellow Procrastinators...
You know self-doubt and beating yourself up about not solving all the world’s problems by 5PM is not a happy place.
Below are some of the ways that have worked for me over the past few months to take control of my productivity. After speaking to some of my colleagues about this topic, I realized there are actually a lot of people who feel like they struggle with procrastination to some degree. (Even our co-founder admitted to being guilty from time to time.) So, I hope these can be helpful, and maybe comforting, to HubSpotters, and to professionals in fast-paced, high-energy workplaces, and anyone who wants to grow their career and make an impact.
Make Meetings Work For You
When I joined HubSpot, I was one of the few people who came to meetings with a pen and notepad. Laptops are typically the weapon of choice - this is a software company, after all. So I stopped hand-writing my notes and started typing them. I quickly realized that the process of writing things down on paper actually helps me remember the details better and increases my follow-up time, action-planning, and retaining the idea. Why? No idea. But it works for me. Sorry, Macbook.
Don’t Underestimate Your Environment
Tactics like writing your notes instead of typing them are powerful, but they require figuring out and paying attention to how you work best. Stop and take a moment to reflect on when and where you are most productive and build your work and schedule around it. Some questions that have helped me understand my work style better are:
- Are you a lark or an owl? If you are a lark, don’t wait until the end of the day to tackle that task. It will be grueling and probably not your best work.
- Where do you feel most focused? The café is my power zone. There is something about the background noise and hustle that allows me to focus on my work. When I can’t get to a café I recreate the environment with this adjustable soundtrack. Thanks to YouTube, you can find pretty much any background noise to work to.
Identify the Root Problem
After some soul-searching, I found that there are generally two reasons why people typically procrastinate (myself included):
- You don’t like the task at hand. To be honest, this is the harder one of the two to crack. On one hand, you should tell yourself to toughen up because everyone has to do some tasks they don’t particularly love. (Expense reports, anyone?) I’m most likely to leave those tasks until the last minute which, of course, is usually met with that hour-before-the-deadline panic. But the real problem is if you dislike more parts of your job than you enjoy. That’s a bigger red flag and will probably require another round of soul-searching.
- You’re disorganized. Do you have a daily to-do list? Do you review it at the end of the day? Are you aware of all your current projects and tasks? Do you know when each one is due? Do you know which are priority? If you are answering no to more than one of these questions then you’re a little disorganized and it’s likely fueling your procrastination. If that sounds familiar, spend time fixing your operating system. It might feel like procrastinating to dedicate time to organization instead of to the tasks you’re organizing. But it isn’t. Get a Trello board together, set yourself daily and weekly deadlines, and keep yourself honest about staying on track.
Other Tips & Tricks for Boosting Productivity Daily
1. Break big, long-term projects down into smaller tasks. This is a powerful technique because it makes large initiatives less daunting. And, it gives you a place to start. I usually do this by working backward from the finish line. What are the steps I need to take to get from point A to point B? That helps me figure out what my micro-goals are and how to tackle them.
2. Indulge in your power hour. Tap into the time of day that you are most productive and block it off on your calendar. For me, it helps to find a different place to work, other than my desk, during this time so I associate that space with being in Get S*#% Done mode.
3. Commit to a “no meetings” day. I block off Wednesdays on my calendar to avoid meetings one day a week. This gives me a chance to catch up, work uninterrupted, and check in on my to-do list and re-prioritize before the end of the week. This is particularly helpful if you’re in a cross-functional or collaborative role that calls for lots of meetings.
4. Creating accountability. One side-effect of autonomy is that sometimes you’re the only person holding yourself accountable for certain projects and tasks. It’s not always easy to kick into gear without external pressure. Consider implementing a weekly stand up via Slack or live chat with your manager or an accountability partner. This is just the kind of external accountability a procrastinator needs! You could also:
- Ask for clear deadlines from your manager or project collaborators.
- Commit yourself by sending any project collaborators a note saying ‘I will have X to you by Z time.’
- Make sure the task at hand is on your to-do list for that day/week.
- Find an accountability partner. If you know another procrastinator or just someone you can trust, ask them to hold you accountable. They can do this by regularly checking in and asking about your progress.
5. Reward Yourself. Celebrate your wins and recognize what it feels like to finish a project. That might just mean taking a walk outside when you wrap up a task, or taking a break to chat with a friend after you’ve completed a big project.
6. Avoid multi-tasking. It can be tempting for procrastinators to try and complete everything at once. But multi-taking, from my experience, actually makes completing any one thing ten times harder. Focus on one goal, knock it out, and move on to the next thing.
Lastly, Don’t Be Ashamed
Everyone procrastinates to some degree. Whether it’s a new project at work or perhaps that New Year's resolution you made to start jogging to work or to eat healthier, most people need some accountability (internal or external) or incentive to complete certain goals. So don’t beat yourself up, you’re only human.
What matters is that you recognize your weaknesses in productivity, know your strengths, and are proactive about creating a system for you to do your best work.
P.S. Don’t ask me how long I procrastinated over this post before publishing it ;)