Hi, my name is Linda and I’m a procrastinator.

Inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous rules of habit change described in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, the first step to overcoming a bad habit like procrastination is to admit that you have it. I’ve learned that getting over procrastination is an ongoing process that requires sticking to your habits over a longer period of time, which is the reason why I used the word overcome in the title, not overcame. You may have a month or two of increased productivity and relapse again into former ways if you haven’t developed a solid understanding of how the habit works.

In a nutshell, the steps to changing a bad habit involves:

Does the habit loop sound familiar? Not quite? Below is a diagram I have drawn to explain the key components of a habit loop.

Duhigg identified the breakdown of a habit, which looks like this: Cue > Routine > Reward. You may for instance try to change the cue or the routine when you want to turn a bad habit into a good one.

In the past I’ve tried experimenting to find out why I procrastinate, but sometimes I seemed to  easily fall back into moments or days of unproductivity. Recently, I’ve made some adjustments to my workflow based on two revelatory moments (one of which includes insights from Duhigg’s The Power of Habit) and accompanying tools. These insights and tools have actually helped me to overcome procrastination and have significantly improved my productivity. Of course, before indulging in any tools, it’s important to first understand your tendency towards the way you work.

Gretchen Rubin wrote about the Four Tendencies, a set of guidelines for understanding how we respond to expectations. Namely, we have outer expectations (answering a request from a friend) and inner expectations (going for a daily run), which determine our “Tendency”. The four tendencies are Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels, and are each explained in Rubin’s diagram below.

Once I found out that I was most certainly an obliger, it shaped the way I look at my actions and goals. I had known for a while that I needed accountability, but after taking the quiz, I had gained headstrong confirmation that I needed to incorporate accountability into my work process.

In fact, most people are obligers. Have you ever resonated with the thought, “I can always make time for other people but I can never take time for myself”? It means that you could be an obliger too and perhaps one of the biggest keys to actually carrying out the goals you set for yourself is accountability.

When you’re a freelancer who is also an obliger, working from home could single handedly be one of your greatest weaknesses to getting things done. For many, it is both distracting and can make you lack motivation, which is why so many opt to work at cafes and co-working spaces. The sight of other people working around you can invigorate both the need for human interaction and allow you to focus on your work. I’ve found that when working from co-working spaces, my productivity rises and I’m also a happier person by having lunch with other human beings. Since moving abroad, one of the best decisions I’ve made has been joining a co-working space where I’ve been lucky to meet lots of friendly faces and create a network of opportunity.

Some days I’ve got to stay at home. Maybe I have to incorporate grocery shopping or meditation or house cleaning in the middle of my day. Or maybe it’s just way too far and cold for me to reach an office today. So I use this virtual coworking tool I’ve recently discovered, which has quickly become my holy grail for productivity.

It’s called Focusmate and basically it allows me to create or join a session with another co-worker. We open a video chat on the scheduled session and we each state what we are working on, then we get straight to work. Once the 50-minute session is over, we check in again to see how we went. And it works. There’s no need for your Focusmate partner to understand specifically what you’re doing, as long as it makes sense to you. On my very first session, my partner who had been on Focusmate for a year, told me that it actually helps you develop a focusing habit over time, and that to me is the beauty of using a tool like this.

I typically use Focusmate for:

For the first time in a while, I was able to take a guilt-free day off to see a friend and do some window/wedding shopping because I had been so productive in the three days prior. I now spend less time on meaningless distractions and use at least 5-6 hours to my full potential. I was able to complete my custom wedding website in a week thanks to my Focusmate buddies. I can’t wait to see what else I can accomplish using this method over time.

I can only begin to think of the other things I can accomplish using the accountability from virtual co-working. I can also schedule 50-60 minute sessions to help reach my dreams in other areas:

I’d love to hear your experiences. What have you tried to help stay focused and motivated? Comment below on this discussion and let’s help each other to improve.