For a healthy mind, body and business

How to avoid procrastination: The House Cleaning Trap

avoid prcrastination - getting sucked in by housework

Some days, I am not proud to admit it, but my home is immaculate. The grouting around the bathtub has been scrubbed and the TV screen shows no sign of my toddler’s face-squashing, hand-smearing antics the day before. Why would I not be proud of such Stepford-esque cleanliness? It’s a trap I can fall into. House cleaning becomes a distraction and the perfect way to procrastinate. So how do you avoid procrastination when you work from home?

Picture it: The kids might be at nursery, my computer open and ready to go and I am stood, mop in hand, cleaning a kitchen floor, which, although a little porridge-smeared from the morning’s breakfast, is not exactly covered in a layer of grime. Then I spot the dust on the mantlepiece and the fluff in the corner, which could really do with that end-attachment on the vacuum, and I am off. 

House-cleaning game is a classic procrastination technique, and one which seems to get me every time I don’t quite know what I’m doing next. When else has my laundry basket developed such magnetism, the window squeegee such appeal? 

As soon as I have focus or a deadline, I can overlook the crumbs on the kitchen bench and the need for the kettle to be descaled and I crack on. Sometimes though, it is really difficult.

It is one of the downsides of working from home. I can find a million and one things to do before actually doing any work.

These five ‘R’s can help you avoid procrastinating

How to avoid procrastination: Refocus

We procrastinate when we choose to do something other than what we are meant to be doing. When we want to avoid that job, anything else can seem more appealing and the temptation to procrastinate is strong. I’m a believer in “eating the frog” which means getting jobs you don’t like out of the way first. Getting into this habit, helps you to start being productive from the outset before you begin procrastinating.

Getting clear on the first step is a good way to get going. Rather than focusing on one large, daunting or unpleasant job, refocus just on the first small step. Rather than thinking about a whole proposal, refocus on the first paragraph you have to write. Rather than focusing on the fact you need to plan a whole event, refocus on the one supplier you need to contact.

Refocus is about narrowing your focus, honing in on the first small task you need to do in order to start the larger job in hand. It makes a task seem more manageable and therefore you may be less likely to procrastinate.


Reward yourself

Celebrations and rewards are an important part of motivation for the brain. When your motivation is high, you are less likely to succumb to procrastination.

This is why making the task as enjoyable as possible is important or ensuring there is a reward involved that makes you keen to do the task.

A lot of people recommend rewards for completing a task. If you are procrastinating, a series of rewards can be useful. Reward yourself for starting the task, reward yourself after completing half an hour of work, and eventually for completion. Once you have started and are in flow, you are less likely to be drawn away and tempted to procrastinate.

Rewards can be as small as a cup of tea or stopping to read that favourite article in a magazine. They are small incentives that you reward yourself with when you’ve met your first mini milestone.


Redirect your energy

Sometimes, I find it’s pointless to try to force myself to sit and work on a job I’m procrastinating on. I’ll inevitably waste more time staring at the blank page or screen. I need to get up and do something else to shift my energy.

Ideas and creative thoughts often come during an ‘incubation period’ when our minds are free to wander a little. By redirecting your energy into something else it takes you away from fixating on an idea of solution that may not be right. When it seems difficult you are going to procrastinate more easily.

Often, concentrating on another task allows my subconscious to get to work, the ideas to flow and before I know it, the motivation to start the real work is there.

So, instead of banging your head against a brick wall, it can be a good time to get out, do some exercise, listen to a podcast, implement some self-care into your routine.

Changing location, doing something physical, or a relaxing enjoyable task can trigger dopamine in the brain and also promote better creativity. This can be an instant energiser and can help with getting my mind and creative juices flowing so I return motivated for the main task.


Rid yourself of distractions

A certain amount of cleanliness, tidiness and organisation is necessary to get work done so, how to avoid procrastination when there’s mess everywhere?

When I’m sitting, twitching nervously at the thought of the breakfast dishes piled up or can see yesterday’s cookie crumbs ready to be trampled into the carpet by a couple of juggernaut toddlers, I need to get those jobs out the way.

For me, a quick vacuum, chucking the lego and tea set into the toy box and keeping kitchen surfaces clear has an instantly restorative effect. Superficially, the place looks tidy and it’s amazing what a quick vacuum can do for the overall feeling of clean! Those few jobs can often be enough to stop the housework from becoming a distraction.

I am possibly portraying myself as a slightly obsessive cleaner. I am not. I do sometimes use it as an excuse to delay work.

Keep your work area free of distractions and if social media is your trap, turn off notifications or mute a particular app. Look at what gets you drawn in and then think about how to minimise its effect on you.

Read more ways to avoid distractions at home here.

Reflect: How to avoid the trap

Understanding why I am procrastinating has been key to me doing it less frequently. Usually, it boils down to a lack of focus and direction, which is how goal-setting can help you avoid procrastination.

If I do not have a specific goal set for the day, or even perhaps for that hour, then I am more likely to wander off course. Importantly, I also have to specify what needs to be done in order to achieve that goal. A short, actionable list will usually suffice.

Here is my framework:

  • Setting the goal
  • Noting the actions needed
  • Prioritising the actions
  • Scheduling the actions

There are more in-depth productivity tips in our print editions of the magazine

Working from home throws up a lot of distractions. What are your worst procrastination habits and what have you found to overcome them?

For super-effective productivity tips on how to manage your time, accomplish your goals and generally start working more efficiently from home, our beautiful coffee table style guides to working from home are packed with expert insights and tips into helping you thrive as a homeworker.

About the author

Louise is an award-winning journalist and speaker who focuses on working from home, remote work and wellbeing. She is the founder of  The Homeworker, which is dedicated to helping you thrive when you work from home. The Homeworker publishes articles that are designed to keep you healthy, happy, fulfilled, and more productive in work and life.


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